Across various sectors, there is a growing imperative to prioritize sustainability and environmentally responsible practices. There is growing recognition that recycling is one of the most effective ways to reduce our environmental impact, conserve valuable resources, and create a more sustainable future.

This glossary aims to demystify the terminology and concepts associated with recycling practices. This glossary is designed to provide you with the knowledge you need to make informed decisions and take meaningful steps towards a greener, more responsible future, regardless of whether you are deeply involved in sustainability efforts or just beginning to explore the potential of recycling for your organization.


Air Quality Impairment

How the air we breathe is tainted by either human-made or natural particles, liquids, or gases. This contamination encompasses various sources, from factory emissions to the exhaust from our vehicles.



A term used to describe materials capable of decomposition by living organisms like bacteria or fungi. Some biodegradable materials can be used for composting. Items that biodegrade slowly contribute to landfill accumulation.


Commonly Recycled Materials

The materials that are typically included in curbside recycling programs.



The process of clearing forested areas, often to make way for agricultural development or human settlements. Deforestation disrupts the absorption of carbon dioxide and other pollutants from the atmosphere, impacting soil, groundwater, and local climate.


Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

A government agency founded in 1970, tasked with safeguarding human health and the environment through consumer and business programs.


Fuel Economy

A measurement indicating how many miles a vehicle can travel on a gallon of gasoline, known as miles per gallon (MPG). Higher MPG values indicate a more eco-friendly vehicle with reduced reliance on non-renewable resources.


Global Warming

A term describing the increase in Earth's near-surface temperature. It is often associated with rising greenhouse gas emissions, particularly carbon dioxide. Scientists generally agree that the Earth's surface has warmed by approximately 1 degree Fahrenheit in the past 140 years.


Hazardous Waste

Products in households or businesses that are ignitable, corrosive, reactive, or toxic (e.g., used motor oil, oil-based paint, auto batteries, gasoline, pesticides). Proper disposal is crucial as these products can harm the environment. Many have eco-friendly alternatives.


Industrial solid waste

Industrial solid waste refers to non-hazardous, solid materials generated by manufacturing, construction, and industrial processes, excluding hazardous waste.


Kyoto Protocol

An international agreement involving 137 developed countries, aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. Adopted in 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, it set targets for emissions reduction. The United States signed but did not ratify the agreement.



Improperly discarded waste found on streets, sidewalks, lakes, and in the environment in general.


Municipal Solid Waste

Waste generated by households, commercial establishments, industrial offices, or lunchrooms not classified as residual or hazardous waste. It encompasses all items destined for landfills, regardless of recyclability. Source-separated recyclables are not included.


Non-Renewable Resource

A resource that cannot naturally regenerate or replenish and is thus finite. This term commonly applies to non-renewable energy sources like coal and oil, which deplete Earth's reserves.


Organic Product

Items produced with fewer harmful chemicals like pesticides, often considered a more environmentally friendly choice. Organic products are commonly associated with food and may also refer to carbon compounds formed by living organisms.



Material used to wrap, protect, identify, describe, display, promote, and maintain the cleanliness of consumer items. Reducing excessive packaging benefits the environment.



A term indicating that a product or its packaging can be recycled. However, the availability of recycling programs for specific materials may vary by location.


The process of diverting materials from landfills and reprocessing them into new products. It is one of the Three R's and is indicated by the recycling symbol.

Recycled Content

A symbol featuring a chasing arrow diagram found on recyclable products. It represents the collection, processing into recycled products, and consumer purchase of items with recycled content, thus closing the recycling loop.



A concept related to systems that can maintain long-term viability within the current ecosystem, typically involving the use of renewable resources. Sustainability implies the ability to persist indefinitely, which is achieved through renewable resource utilization.


Three R's

A set of principles crucial for sustainability: reduce, reuse, and recycle. These steps involve reducing resource consumption, reusing products, and recycling materials to minimize waste.



A process in which worms decompose organic materials (e.g., vegetable scraps) in a controlled environment, producing nutrient-rich soil amendments.



Used water from homes or businesses, including human waste, rainwater runoff, and factory discharge. Wastewater can be treated in certified plants and reused for various purposes.


Xerography Recycling

Xerography is a photocopying and printing process used in photocopiers and laser printers. Xerography recycling refers to the environmentally responsible disposal and recycling of materials used in this process, such as toner cartridges, drums, and other components. Recycling these items helps reduce electronic waste and conserve resources.


Yard Waste Recycling

Yard waste recycling involves the collection and processing of organic materials from yards and gardens, such as grass clippings, leaves, branches, and other plant debris. These materials can be composted or turned into mulch, reducing the volume of waste in landfills and providing valuable organic matter for landscaping and gardening. Yard waste recycling helps promote sustainability and environmental stewardship.


Zero Waste

While not a specific recycling process, the concept of "Zero Waste" is a holistic approach to waste reduction and sustainability. It aims to minimize waste generation, promote recycling and reuse, and ultimately send as little material as possible to landfills or incineration. Zero Waste initiatives encourage responsible resource management, efficient product design, and community engagement to achieve sustainability goals.

With this specialized recycling glossary, we hope that you have gained a deeper understanding of the terminology and principles required for successful recycling activities. Environmental awareness is no longer just a trend, but a necessity, and recycling can offer many benefits, including a reduced ecological impact, cost savings, and enhanced reputation. Remember that recycling is more than just a task - it's a mindset that can spark innovation and contribute to a more sustainable future, whether you are an individual or an organization committed to sustainability. By embracing the insights contained in this glossary, you can have a significant impact on shaping a brighter and more environmentally responsible future for all.

Why not explore our recycling bins and various waste management solutions the next time your organization needs to take action?