What's the difference between "Recycled" and "Recyclable"? How about between "Product Stewardship" and "Extended Producer Responsibility"? Does "Zero Waste" really mean "zero"?? And what about all those other "R" words floating around besides "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle"? Well here are a few words and phrases to see how well you're following what used to be thought of as just needing to take out the trash. Words in italics have definitions here of their own. And, of course, they are alphabetical.
#1 Plastic: PET, PETE, or Polyethylene terephthalate, which is why we call it "PET". The extra "E" at the end is because "PET" is a copyright (think evaporated milk). It is used for containers such as soda bottles, and has the property that the fizz won't leave your soda as it would if you packaged it in #2. All the numbers are part of the Plastic Resin Code.
#2 Plastic: HDPE or High Density Polyethylene. No, it doesn't say "hope", it's a "D" for the 2nd letter. It is used for milk jugs, regardless of color; laundry detergent bottles; and a whole host of other items. Yes, #s 1 and 2 have been the most often recycled. Now that includes 5's, and almost no containers are 3, 4, or 7 any more. No, 1, 2, & 5 aren't the only ones where the technology exists to recycle them. Check with your own program, (ours is at the bottom of the page here) which, by now is probably encouraging you to disregard the number and think more in terms of shape like bottles, jars, jugs & tubs, and uses like for food, beverage, and personal care products. All the numbers are part of the Plastic Resin Code.
#3 Plastic: PVC or polyvinyl chloride. Yes, when used to make bottles it's a different formulation of the same stuff that makes PVC pipes. (Flexible vs. rigid, plasticizers that are probably phthalates; if you want a chemistry lesson, go find another source. Do you see me talking about "thermoform" plastics here? No, you do not.) Compared to PET bottles, it's rarely seen these days in anything that should go in your recycling box. That's a good thing, because of the chloride. It has too many of the same properties as PET, so separating them at a MRF was challenging. Yes, PVC is often used for blister pack -- that clear, stiff plastic that holds a tool or toy on a cardboard backing and needs a blow torch or chain saw to get in to. NO blisterpack may not go in your recycling almost anywhere. #3 containers are usually not really wanted either, even if your program claims to take # 1 - 7. But you probably won't see any. And always listen to what your program tells you. All the numbers are part of the Plastic Resin Code.
#4 Plastic: LDPE or Low Density Polyethylene, Frequently used for "film" plastics, like Plastic Bags. If it's a film plastic, keep it AWAY from your recycling box. Do NOT put a Plastic Bag in your recycling box by itself; do NOT put a Plastic Bag full of other Plastic Bags in your curbside recycling; do NOT put your Recyclables in a Plastic Bag and put it out for collection or drop it at a transfer station. Bad things will happen. It will blow down the street as litter; or it will be left behind; or all your good Recyclables will be left behind, too; or it will get to a MRF and they will throw out the whole bag of good Recyclables because no, they don't have time or machinery to rip it open; or it will get through the human pickers at the MRF and will tangle up in the cogs and star separators and conveyer belts and pointy things at the MRF and they will have to shut the whole place down and spend hours each day not sorting Recyclables, but just cutting twisted Plastic Bags off of everything they've jammed, costing everybody a lot of money, and it will ALL BE YOUR FAULT. DON'T DO IT!! I mean, please take them to a retail store that accepts them for Recycling instead. Better yet, use Reusables and stay away from Single-Use Plastics everywhere you can. All the numbers are part of the Plastic Resin Code.
#5 Plastic: PP or Polypropylene. Frequently used for tubs like for yogurt. It's highly recyclable and currently quite valuable, except that some places don't have access to places to recycle it, but we do! Check with your local program. In Greenfield, yogurt tubs are a "yes", but you are encouraged to think about shape and use and not worry about these pesky numbers. Be careful with coffee cups, though. There are hot cups made of a polypropylene foam (looks almost like EPS foam) that are not recyclable. In the cup family, only clear plastics are recyclable here. All the numbers are part of the Plastic Resin Code.
#6 Plastic: PS or Polystyrene. There are 2 basic forms: one is rigid and brittle like in those red plastic Solo cups ubiquitous at beer parties; and the other is "expanded" polystyrene foam called EPS, like the coffee cups that are banned in Greenfield. See ordinance language here. "Styrofoam" is a trade name and usually used wrong. That's actually "blue board" insulation which is " Greenfield doesn't want any of them in our recycling, Yes, the technology exists, and if your program has access to an EPS densifier, there is a chance of getting EPS recycled. Once upon a time, McDonalds wanted to prove their EPS "clamshell" packaging was recyclable, and they subsidized a bunch of programs to get clean EPS recycled (theirs usually had ketchup on it.) When McDonalds withdrew its subsidies, the market pretty much fell apart. EPS is 95% air, so the issues of getting it recycled include transportation, space, space, and space. McDonalds, I've heard, now wraps their Big Macs in some sort of coated paper. I don't know from personal experience. All the numbers are part of the Plastic Resin Code.
#7 Plastic: OTH or Other. Yup. That means just what you think: it's not made of just a #1-6, so it's either some other plastic like a polycarbonate, or it's a layered or combination plastic like ketchup bottles used to be before they decided that #1 was good enough to squeeze after all. Or maybe it even means PLA. All the numbers are part of the Plastic Resin Code.
PLA: This isn't a plastics code, so even if you see it on the bottom of a cup, don't look for it here. Go look for it alphabetically.
Boxboard: Along with Paperboard probably means thicker paper products, perhaps like a cereal box. If you are marketing grades of paper, get a copy of the Paper Stock Specifications, or talk to your market about what they'll take. Otherwise, you probably don't need to know more than that. As a consumer, check with your recycling program about exactly what they'll take, Most programs these days accept cereal box cardboard either in with Corrugated Cardboard or with Mixed Paper, or in the Single Stream Recycling program.
Brush: Brush is a kind of yard debris that is generally larger than sticks and smaller than trees and stumps. Each municipality decides how and if they will collect it curbside or accept it at a transfer station, and where they draw the lines. As organic material, it's a shame to put it in the trash, a Landfill, or burn it; and some kinds, in some places, are banned from those wasteful practices.
Bulky Waste: Definition varies by state or even by municipality, but generally refers to large items requiring special handling apart from routine curbside trash. It can include Construction or Demolition Debris, Clean Fill, White Goods, Brush, and possibly furniture. Or not!
Cardboard: Usually means Corrugated Cardboard, but might mean Paperboard or Boxboard. It's not really a technical term.
Chemical Recycling: One of those phrases like the word "natural" that doesn't really mean much (at least until you know more about it.) Usually or always this is a term associated with what to do with post-consumer plastics. The standard, vanilla, "recycling" that we all know and love is sometimes called "mechanical recycling", because the processes to turn used plastic into new products include mechanisms like shredding, chipping, pelletizing, and melting before re-extruding or molding or whatever to make a new plastic product. "Chemical Recycling" might just possibly include some processes that turn plastic back into plastic, though one worries about at what financial and environmental cost and with what percentage that returns to plastic. But more likely it is some fancy, expensive, not-yet-to-scale, therefore not really proven technology that basically uses the plastic as fuel. Anything that turns a product to fuel does not count as recycling. Read the Break Free From Plastic (BFFP) Movement Position on Chemical Recycling, or even more detail here. Or read the Ocean Conservancy's Policy Position on Chemical Recycling.
Circular Economy: We currently have a fairly linear, extractive economy. We remove natural resources from the earth by mining, cutting down trees, etc, make them into things, use them, then throw them "away". Except that there is no such place. In nature, one plant or creature's "waste" is another plant or creature's food. We need to model our whole way of life after this principle or we are all in a lot of trouble. There have been books written about this and it won't all fit here, but if you've never watched the original video The Story of Stuff, do yourself a favor, take 21 minutes, and watch it now. It's fun! Then check out some of their other videos, too.
Closed Loop: A closed loop system is any one that goes around and around without decaying or becoming linear, needing new inputs. For our purposes, see Circular Economy. Also check out discussion under Downcycling.
Compost, noun: The good stuff left after Composting.
Corrugated Cardboard: The 3-layer cardboard with that wavy layer in the middle (that's the "corrugated" part). Highly Recyclable if clean. Can be made into new corrugated cardboard, but not into higher grade papers like writing paper. Kraft Paper is usually considered the same grade for recycling purposes. That means paper grocery bags can usually be recycled right along with corrugated cardboard. To Recycle a paper product, you basically put it in a giant blender with water (and maybe bleach) to make a mush that then goes over screens and on rollers to make a new paper product. Every time you do that, the fibers get a little shorter until they fall through the screens. Therefore, paper is not infinitely Recyclable, but does need the addition of new wood products over time. This is why China has historically liked our cardboard for Recycling: we still have longer fibers, while their cardboard shows evidence of their dearth of trees.
Design for the Environment: To go back to the drawing board and make a product have a smaller environmental footprint. This would mean with no toxic materials (or at least fewer or less-toxic ones), fewer materials overall, and less (or no!) packaging. It would be one that is more reliable with less need to repair, that is easier to repair when necessary, that has a longer overall lifespan, and can be reused, recycled, and/or dissasembled at the end of its life. Contrast this with planned obscolesence, which seems more common these days. A phone where the battery can be replaced and perhaps is held together with screws or snap-in parts would be a better Design for the Environment than one with glue and rivets. Dispensers in grocery stores that display and dispense tubes of a product can save having to package every tube in a box. Some things seem obvious, but don't forget there are competing forces, and not just the profit motive, though that's a big one. Health and safety laws require some practices. But, for example, some manufacturers have figured out they can print large amounts of required information on a small piece of paper that is folded up and fastened on the package, saving the large box others feel is necessary to contain instructions, ingredients, or warnings. Or, while a glass bottle is infinitely Recyclable, transporting heavy objects uses lots of fossil fuels; multi-layered pouches are not yet Recyclable, but over their lifespan they might still produce fewer greenhouse gases. There aren't always easy or clean answers.
Downcycling: Reusing or Recycling an item or material, but not into the same thing it used to be. Soda bottles are downcycled into fiberfill for jackets or into carpeting, for example. Mixed plastics might become a plastic lumber product. This is a vast improvement over using virgin resources once and then discarding them, but some day the jacket and the carpet and the bench will be at the end of their life. Can they be Recycled again? Maybe, but very possibly not. See also Closed Loop, Circular Economy, and Upcycling. Metals can be Recycled essentially forever. Paper can be Recycled several times, though the fibers get shorter each time. Glass can be Recycled forever, except that contamination gets in the way. Textiles are most frequently downcycled or occasionally Upcycled. Plastics are most commonly discarded, burned for energy, or very occasionally Recycled. We need to improve those ratios. Instead of a Closed Loop circle, downcycling could be represented by a spiral going the wrong way.
HOWEVER, be aware that sometimes downcycling yields the better overall environmental outcome. The math is tricky, because there is always one more environmental standard to check (greenhouse gases? water usage? toxic materials?) but it is necessary to look at what other material is being replaced. For example, instead of landfilling glass, it could be made into new glass in a closed loop, or made into fiberglass, or an aggregate, or pozzolan. Pozzolan takes the place of some of the cement in making concrete -- a VERY large contributor to global warming. Pozzolan is so much better for global warming than burning limestone, that the overall impact makes pozzolan far better overall than even a closed loop glass-to-glass process. And it's a fair amount better for smog creation and for energy usage, too, while being roughly comparable for eutrophication, human toxicity, and water consumption. Thanks to David Allaway of OR DEQ for this example. For serious math geeks only, look here.
Dual Stream Recycling: Compare Single Stream Recycling. A method of putting Recyclable materials out for collection in two basic categories, generally paper products and commingled containers. It has the disadvantages of being more complicated for residents and needing more collection containers to separate materials, and of needing separate trucks or separate times or separate compartments in the collection truck, which means whenever one compartment gets full, it's time to go empty, even if the other isn't full yet. It has the great advantage of generally cleaner, less contaminated Recyclables. Broken glass in the paper stream doesn't just get little chunks of glass into the paper (and the equipment!) but it gets glass dust into the paper. Not good. Also paper doesn't like getting that grape juice on it that your neighbor didn't rinse out of the bottle. We know you didn't do that, because you are good and rinse your containers. Thanks. Dual stream sometimes gets less stuff because of the extra separation the residents have to do, but is generally cheaper to sort at the MRF even if it's a bit more expensive to collect curbside. And really, how much more complicated is one separation?
Energy-from-Waste: See Waste-to-Energy. A term the industry is sometimes trying to substitute to change the focus away from the fuel and toward the benefit.
EPR: See Extended Producer Responsibility.
EPS: See #6 Plastic
Expanded Polystyrene Foam: See #6 Plastic
Extended Producer Responsibility or EPR: Compare to Product Stewardship. EPR is a mandatory type of Product Stewardship that includes, at a minimum, the requirement that the producer’s responsibility for their product extends to Post-Consumer management of that product and its packaging. There are two related features of EPR policy: (1) shifting financial and management responsibility, with government oversight, upstream to the producer and away from the public sector; and (2) providing incentives to producers to incorporate environmental considerations into the design of their products and packaging. This definition was developed in 2011 by the growing Product Stewardship movement to harmonize the way the terms were being used in the US. The signatories include the Product Stewardship Institute, the Product Policy Institute, and the California Product Stewardship Council. In states, and smaller jurisdiction there are currently 124 EPR laws (changes quickly; don't count on this number being up to date!) in 33 states on 15 products, including batteries (primary and rechargeable), carpet, electronics, mattresses, mercury lamps, mercury switches, mercury thermostats, packaging (new!), paint, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, refrigerants, sharps, and solar panels. Massachusetts lags many of its neighbors, with only laws for mercury products and pharmaceuticals. Bills are in play in 2021/22 for paint, mattresses, packaging, and to amend pharmaceuticals. See Legislative Advocacy** (**but under construction)
Garbage: Animal, vegetable or other organic wastes resulting from the handling, preparation, cooking, serving or consumption of food. Putrescibles once commonly collected separately to feed to pigs. There is pretty good agreement that this is what it means, technically, though common usage might just mean what you want to get rid of.
Greenwash / Greenwashing: Per Wikipedia, "Greenwashing: is a form of marketing spin in which green PR (green values) and green marketing are deceptively used to persuade the public that an organization's products, aims and policies are environmentally friendly and therefore ‘better’; appeal to nature." For an example of trying to greenwash an oh-so-jolly plastic bag, see here. For an example of trying to pretend a bag is biodegradable, see here.
Incinerator: An old term, generally considered pejorative in the Municipal Solid Waste industry, that in this context means a place that burns Trash (or coal, or a variety of other nasty things), but does not make electricity with it. Once upon a time, not only were there large incinerators, but many large residential and commercial buildings had their own incinerators right there in the basement. Yuck. They date from the days before most pollution controls were used, or even existed, and are the original reason Waste-to-Energy facilities are presumed to be major pollution-belching factories. By comparison, modern Waste-to-Energy facilities, are, at worst, only minor pollution-burping places, though some components are still of high concern. Most places have outlawed most incinerators, but there are probably exceptions, grandfathered-in facilities, and bits of excitement hidden in plain sight somewhere where people's complaints and health have been ignored. When "Incinerator" is used to mean "Waste-to-Energy" facility, it is often to sway public opinion towards envisioning old incinerators. Or sometimes it is just through ignorance or use of a different dictionary than this one.
Kraft paper: Generally brown (though can be bleached to white) paper such as that found in brown paper grocery bags. It is usually recycled in with Corrugated Cardboard.
Landfill, noun: These days landfills, except the closed ones, are all required to be "Sanitary Landfills." That means they cover the trash with dirt every night to minimize the rats and frustrate the seagulls. Since October 1991 Municipal Solid Waste landfills were required to be Subtitle D landfills, meaning, among other things, they need liners for leachate containment. Read all about it from the EPA. Just remember that eventually all landfills leak. That's pollution going into the ground and water. And they smell. That's pollution going into the air. Unless we go back to throwing away nothing but pottery shards, this will be true. When protesting Waste-to-Energy facilities, compare pollution to landfills, not to no pollution. We have to focus on toxics reduction and waste reduction, not just on different sorts of disposal. Trash from Western MA generally does not go to landfills unless they are out of state, for bulky waste, or for ash from a waste-to-energy facility. So when people talk about saving things from "the landfill", eh, not quite.
Landfill or Landfilling, verb: Some people seem to think this isn't a verb. For those in the industry, it absolutely is. To landfill something is to dispose of it in a landfill.
Lifecycle Analysis or LCA: A complicated attempt to figure out how much a product adversely affects to environment, usually over a number of metrics like greenhouse gas emissions, energy used, and water consumed, while taking into account the production/extraction of the raw materials for the product (mining, harvesting), the production of the product itself, the use of the product, and the ultimate disposal, recycling, or other disposition of the product. There is a lot of math, and a lot of assumptions, and a well-done one will cost a lot of money. A way you really might be able to compare apples to oranges, but more likely to be used to compare, say plastic bags to paper bags. For an intriguing application to think about what is really "better" for the planet, check out David Allaway's section (Oregon DEQ) of the webinar "Recycled Content Mandates: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly". Skip ahead to him starting at minute 58, and pay particular attention to the slide at 1:02:30. YouTube here.
Lightweighting: to make a package lighter in weight by using less material in the package. Glass bottles, for example, used to be much heavier and clunkier and sturdier, especially if they were designed for Reuse, such as being Refillable. Weighing less saves in transportation costs, but it does make some items more fragile and therefore might make them less able to be Reused. It also refers to substituting a lighter material like aluminum for a heavier one like steel. Also a common concept in the auto industry.
Manila Envelope: A misnomer. Those large, yellowish brown envelopes are actually Kraft envelopes. You are thinking of manila folders, but everyone makes that mistake. What does this have to do with anything other than grades of paper? Nothing. Just thought you might want to know.
Material Recovery Facility or MRF: A place to sort Recyclables from other Recyclables . Sadly, it is sometimes forced to be a place to sort Recyclables from things people wish were Recyclable, or things that people threw in the Recycling that certainly didn't belong there. While more and more of the sorting is mechanized, some is almost always still sorted by hand, by humans who won't appreciate when you didn't rinse that jar or milk jug, and who risk injury and great loss of productivity when they have to stop all the high tech machinery to hand cut Plastic Bags off of where they have become entangled. MRFs can be owned privately or by governments, or can be owned by government and the operation contracted out. Some kinds do all the sorting to make materials ready for market. Some only sort basic categories apart from each other, like getting paper products separated from containers when they have accepted Single Stream materials. And some do final sorting on categories, such as plastics, that have already gone through an initial sort. Most of Western Massachusetts sends our material to the Springfield (MA) MRF.
Materials Management: What to do with all our stuff. See Municipal Solid Waste.
Mixed Paper: Just what it sounds like: different grades of paper mixed together for recycling. It might or might not include Corrugated Cardboard. Check with your local recycling program to see what they take. See also Paper Stock Specifications.
MRF: See Material Recovery Facility.
Municipal Solid Waste or MSW: See also Solid Waste. Not just from a municipality, not just solids, since it can include liquids and contained gaseous material, and we try not to think of it as "waste". This is a fairly all-encompassing term that usually includes Recyclables, which can be confusing. Details vary depending on the jurisdiction. Here's what EPA had to say about it on a no-longer-supported section of their website, but note that current nomenclature tries to discourage the use of the word "waste" and all it implies, moving instead to concepts such as "Materials Management", possibly preceded by "sustainable" or "comprehensive".
Paper Stock Specifications: A trade publication of ISRI (the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Inc.) that describes in detail what a particular grade of paper is and isn't.. It is part of the larger ISRI Scrap Specifications Circular, which describes standards for many other products/feedstocks, including metals. It means that if someone asks to buy grade 8 news, and someone is selling grade 8 news, there should be no disputes about whether the newspaper has to be black and white only, or if can have magazines or circulars or paper bags included. The reality is that any standards agreed to by a willing seller to a willing buyer for a particular price for a particular load can be arranged, but this makes for a good starting point. Besides describing the desired material, most grades lists percentages by weight of "Out-throws" allowed (like paper bags mixed with newspaper, maybe 3-5%) and "Prohibitives" allowed (like glass bottles in with newspaper, maybe 0-0.5%). When China tightened up its recycling standards, as most of us have heard about, in some cases they tightened up these sorts of quality standards to a degree that most facilities could not reach.
Paperboard: Along with Boxboard, probably means thicker paper products, perhaps like a cereal box. If you are marketing grades of paper, get a copy of the Paper Stock Specifications, or talk to your market about what they'll take. Otherwise, you probably don't need to know more than that. As a consumer, check with your recycling program about exactly what they'll take, Most residential programs these days accept cereal box cardboard either in with Corrugated Cardboard or with Mixed Paper, or in the Single Stream Recycling program.
PCR: Post Consumer Recycled (content).
PLA: Polylactic Acid, or Polylactide, technically a thermoplastic polyester derived from plant materials instead of from dinosaurs. We see it around here in compostable clear cups used at the Franklin County Fair where fair-goers question whether it really should go in the compost category of waste (yes, it should). It will degrade in a commercial compost facility, but not in your home compost bin. That it is made from plants like corn sounds great. But it's not made from the waste stalks and cobs like we'd hope, but has to be made from the same kernels that might otherwise be used for food. Probably marginally better than standard Single-Use Plastics, its other challenges include decomposition times such that it won't decompose in a home compost bin or if littered, and that if put into plastics Recycling with the stuff it looks like, it can render a batch of Recyclable plastics worthless. You'll see "PLA" on the bottoms of cups as if it were a Plastics Resin Code, or perhaps on a biodegradable/compostable bag.
Plastic Bags, Single-use: See also rant under #4 Plastics, above. Practical, but evil things. Try not to use them. Hoard the few you get for things you really need them for. See also Reusable Bags. The giving out of single use plastic bags is mostly banned in Greenfield and in many, many other municipalities in Massachusetts, and an increasing number of states and countries. The Greenfield legislation is here. Quick summary: retail establishments are not allowed to give out single-use plastic bags. They must charge at least $0.05 for each paper bag, and they are allowed to keep that money to help pay for the bags, which probably cost more than that. Why charge for paper? Because paper bags also have a large environmental footprint. Probably worse than the plastic ones. We don't want people to just switch to paper (or to fatter plastic). We want them to bring their own Reusable Bag, or use a box, or do without. People don't seem to complain at BJs, and they've never provided bags. Friends of Reusable Bags is a project of Greening Greenfield. See lots more information here. Plastic bags can be dropped off for Recycling at some retail establishments, but quality control is critical, and Post-Consumer Recycling is not very practical. Downcycling into plastic lumber, for example can be achieved, but for Closed Loop Recycling into another plastic bag, there cannot be any contaminants like grease or water (yes, water), and preferably not paper labels. New plastic is squeezed into a filament thinner than a human hair. That doesn't leave a lot of room for a dab of something that's not the bag.
Plastic, Black: Black may be beautiful, but it's not recyclable. What? Yes, you heard me, DON'T put it in your curbside recycling box. Don't you need to know what number the container is? (its Plastic Resin Code?) Nope. Don't care. The sorting machinery can't cope, it generally has had carbon black added to it, and while you can add red, yellow, brown, green, and purple plastics together then dye it black, once it's black, there's no going back, and few things it could be made into. Sadly, increasing numbers of take-out containers with nice, tight-fitting lids, are black plastic, and sadder yet is that when rotisserie chicken from at least one grocery store got rid of the un-Recyclable foam trays (see #6 Plastic) they substituted un-Recyclable black plastic. We should eat more from our own gardens, when possible. Yes, some people and farms use black plastic film to keep weeds at bay. Better than herbicides? Probably. A good idea overall? Well, discuss among yourselves.
Plastic Resin Codes: See also # 1-7 above. Back around the late 1980's, different government entities started requiring plastics manufactures to put a code on the containers they made, to aid in sorting of plastics at a Material Recovery Facility. But not all the jurisdictions had the same requirements, which doesn't work well for large or international companies. So industry asked that they be required by everyone to use a standard they'd already started using in some places. Some people worried that if the proposed number inside a triangle of chasing arrows was used on all plastic containers, consumers might be confused and think the chasing arrows always meant the container was recyclable. Industry assured us that would never be a problem. Ahem. For sorting purposes, it used to be particularly difficult to tell #3 PVC bottles from #1 PETE bottles. Whether by laws or by better recognition, the codes did help the transition from PVC in many applications to the less harmful PETE. The odds are tremendous that your shampoo bottle is no longer made of PVC. In fact, now almost all container plastics are 1, 2, 5 or 6, and 1, 2, & 5 are recyclable in Western Mass and in most other places. But there are still too many #6 cups. See also "Plastics" here and here in the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Guide, which also has lots of other cool stuff in it.
Post-Consumer: Something that has been used for its original purpose and is now being discarded, recycled, or is otherwise moving on. Compare to Pre-Consumer. When a product or package says it is made from 40% post-consumer Recycled (PCR) paper, you know that 40% of that item was once, for example, a newspaper that someone read and then put in their recycling box. When it says it was made from 40% Pre-Consumer Recycled paper, it might have been a sheet of newsprint, but it never left the paper plant. If it says it is 40% Recycled paper, you don't know what they mean. Be suspicious. Often you might see "100% Recycled, 40% Post-Consumer" paper, and then you know exactly what you're getting. Paper bags in Greenfield, except the small ones, are required to be made of a minimum of 40% Post-Consumer paper, and to say that on the bag. Why is this important? Because if you collect newspaper and other paper, and make it into something new, and no one uses it, you haven't recycled anything. See also Recycling, and Plastic Bag, Single-Use.
Pozzolan: According to the American Concrete Association, a "pozzolan is a siliceous or siliceous and aluminous material that in itself possesses little or no cementitious value but will, in finely divided form and in the presence of moisture, chemically react with calcium hydroxide at ordinary temperatures to form compounds having cementitious properties. It is therefore classified as cementitious material." Whew! In other words, it's a substitute for cement. Since cement is made by burning limestone (burning rock? Really? How much energy does that use?) anything that uses less energy to make, and that can be substituted for even part of the cement in concrete, is therefore probably a very good idea. For our purposes, see discussion under Downcycling. (Hint: "siliceous" sounds like "silica", silica is sand, sand is used to make glass...) See also Drawdown's discussion of Alternative Cement.
Pre-Consumer: Often called "industrial" waste, this is material available for recycling that never left the processing plant. Imagine that you roll out a rectangular sheet of cookie dough or paper or metal or plastic and then you cut circles in it. Do you throw away the rest of the raw cookie dough? Of course not. And industry tries not to do that with other raw materials. They usually go back to the beginning of the process in the case of paper or metal, and maybe plastic (though that's often more complicated). It would be crazy not to do this. Then a paper bag that was made from scraps of paper that never left the factory can legitimately be called "Recycled". Better than not Recycled. But not a lot better. Buyer beware. See Post-Consumer.
Product Stewardship: Compare to Extended Producer Responsibility. Product Stewardship is the act of minimizing health, safety, environmental and social impacts, and maximizing economic benefits of a product and its packaging throughout all lifecycle stages. The producer of the product has the greatest ability to minimize adverse impacts, but other stakeholders, such as suppliers, retailers, and consumers, also play a role. Stewardship can be either voluntary or required by law. This definition was developed in 2011 by the growing Product Stewardship movement to harmonize the way the terms were being used in the US. The signatories include the Product Stewardship Institute, the Product Policy Institute (now Upstream), and the California Product Stewardship Council. Taxpayers shouldn't always be on the hook for paying for items like packaging, over which they have little control. Producers should include externalized costs, like pollution and disposal into the cost of the product so that consumers (not the same as taxpayers, though they overlap) can make good choices.
Recyclable: Able to be Recycled. Beware of whether this means the technology exists or that it can be Recycled in YOUR recycling program. Also, just because something is recyclable doesn't mean it can go in your curbside Recycling. Different things are Recycled in different ways. Check here for common and less common items and where to take them.
Recyclables: A collection of items that are recyclable. Frequently refers to the items one can put at the curb in the recycling box or cart. Yes/No list Here for Greenfield and most of Western MA. What about things that are recyclable, but not in your recycling box (or cart)? Check here.
Recycle, Recycling: To separate or divert an item or items from the solid waste stream for the purposes of processing it, causing it to be processed or storing it for later processing into a material product, including the production of compost, in order to provide for disposition of the item or items in a manner, other than incineration or landfilling, which will best protect the environment. There are many definitions, but this is one. In general, what makes it "recycling" instead of "Reuse" or "Repurpose" is that that material changes form, even if it gets put back into that same form later. For example, a glass bottle is melted before being turned into a new glass bottle. The three chasing arrows in the recycling logo represent segregating and collecting a used item; processing it into a new item; and HAVING SOMEONE BUY AND USE the new item, so it can be done again. Without that third arrow, we've merely made very expensive Trash. Most curbside recycling in Franklin county goes to the Springfield Materials Recovery Facility. Yes/No list Here.
Recycled: A product that has already been through the Recycling process and was turned into a new item, whether or not it is just like the old Recyclable item it came from.
Redesign: See also Design for the Environment. To change the way a product or its packaging is assembled or what it's made of.
Reduce: In this context it means to make there be less of something in the first place. This could be accomplished by Lightweighting. It could be accomplished by having less pieces of packaging, like if a tube of toothpaste no longer comes in a box. It could be accomplished in your own home by not buying something. If enough people don't buy something (demand), then perhaps it will no longer be made (supply). Waste reduction is the highest priority on the Solid Waste Hierarchy, which means we'd like this to take care of more Trash than, for example, Recycling. Yet we always seem to focus on Recycling first, in part because reduction is hard to measure. How many tons didn't you buy this year compared to how many you didn't buy last year?
Refillable: Yes, children, milk bottles were once made of heavy duty glass, and when the milk was delivered to the front door, like in old movies, they picked up the empty bottles, sterilized them and milk was put back in the VERY SAME BOTTLES. It used to be nearly universal for beer bottles and for soda pop, as well. In fact, this is still done with milk in a few places, including in the Pioneer Valley, and refillables might be making a little come-back. Unless all places in the supply chain, including the consumers, are fairly local, transporting heavy glass has an environmentally heavy footprint. But so do Single-Use items, so it's worth considering when we can shop locally.
Refurbish: Fix it up. It's still the same basic thing when you're done, but it works, or it looks prettier. Similar to Repair but more emphasis on appearance. Old High German "furbiss" meant "to polish".
Refuse: Noun: Garbage plus Rubbish. There is not uniform agreement on this definition.
Refuse: Verb: Don't take it! Then you don't have to worry about how to get rid of it.
Regenerative Economy: When we've damaged the planet so much that reaching a plateau without getting any worse isn't good enough. To heal Mother Earth we need to find ways to fix some of the messes humans have made. The sun keeps shining. That's an input from outside the system like almost nothing else is. Just as regenerative agriculture uses practices that improve soil and productivity while still raising food to eat, we need to invest our energy and resources in improving all aspects of our planet. This concept goes beyond a mere Circular Economy, which would still be a pretty good first step.
Repair: To fix. "To restore by replacing a part or putting together what is torn or broken", according to Merriam Webster. The world used to do lots of this; the world needs to do more of this.
Repair Cafe: A place or event where volunteers help you fix your stuff while learning how to do it yourself. Although they seem to get lots of fans that don't fan, and lamps that don't light, at least one also helped restring a beloved marionette. Better links needed, but DEP is trying to make a start here. From time to time there have been ones held in Greenfield, generally at Seymour, The Pub. During the pandemic, some were tried by Zoom, which seemed to have worked better than expected.
Repurpose: To use something in its original form, but for a different, um, purpose. Putting flowers in a fancy wine bottle as a vase is repurposing. Putting leftover wine or even water in an empty wine bottle is Reuse.
Reusable Bags: Friends of Reusable Bags, a project of Greening Greenfield, researched various materials out of which to make reusable bags, found problems with most of them, and concluded that that best material to use is something that already exists. We make bags out of empty feed bags, out of scrap fabrics, and out of old T-shirts. Read more here. Compare to Plastic Bags, Single-Use; and to #4 Plastic.
Reuse: To use something again for essentially the same purpose without changing its form. See also Repurpose and anything else starting with "R" that you'd like to compare. See also MA DEP Municipal Reuse and Repair page.
Reused: Something used again.
Rubbish: That portion of Municipal Solid Waste that is not Garbage. (Are you catching on yet that except for Garbage there is not uniform agreement on how these terms should be used?) The definitions used here divide the stuff thrown out into enough large categories to write a sensible ordinance about how to handle the different types of materials. See also Trash.
Single Stream Recycling: Compare Dual Stream Recycling. Putting all the curbside Recyclables together in a single container, generally a large cart, so that residents have to separate Recyclables from non-Recyclable Trash, but don't have to separate paper from containers like bottles and cans. Once thought to be the answer especially to Recycling in cities, it is easier for residents to dump everything in one spot, but what is mixed together than has to be separated at the MRF. Curbside inspections are more difficult in a large cart, and contamination rates are generally higher, both from prohibited materials going in the single stream recycling, and from Recyclable materials like glass contaminating other waste streams. High tech MRFs and ones that strongly emphasize quality control can still create a high quality product. But some have contamination rates of 30%. The Springfield, Dual Stream MRF does an excellent job, so our materials are really recycled, not disposed of. They only have to dispose of about 5% of what comes in the door, meaning you are paying attention to the educational efforts! In many parts of the world, glass is the material kept separated from the others, allowing paper and other containers to be mixed together. In other parts of the world, residents are expected to sort into as many as 46 categories in Japan at one point. Consider yourself lucky to just sort 2 or 3.
Single-Use Plastic(s): Objects whose productive use is a few minutes and lifetime is nearly forever. Common items include Plastic Bags, cutlery, straws, stirrers, water bottles, and lots of food & beverage containers, regardless of whether they are Recyclable. How many can you remove from your life? Too many links to list, but a few recommended organizations/sites/articles are here.
Solid Waste: Unwanted or discarded materials, including solid, liquid, semisolid or contained gaseous material. This is an all-encompassing term, including but not limited to Garbage, Rubbish, Recyclables, Bulky Waste, and other separately identified waste streams.
Solid Waste Hierarchy: Often represented by a triangle with the point at the base, it represents an order of priority of how unwanted/discarded things should be dealt with. The top of this triangle is the widest, representing what the largest category should be. By the bottom of the triangle, the smallest section is reserved for things one just can't do anything else with. There are variations, depending on which "R" words are used, and what priorities are shared/combined/essentially equal, but a common representation starts with Reduce as the top priority, followed by Reuse, then Recycle or Compost, and only then should Waste-to-Energy or Landfilling be considered, including the landfilling of residual ash after burning.
Styrofoam: See #6 Plastic
Textiles: Fabric, cloth, or items made from fabric or cloth made of natural fibers like cotton, wool, or linen, or from less natural ones like polyester or nylon or other synthetics. Textile Recycling is a healthy industry still in need of more feedstock (except very rarely when a pandemic messes things up). Almost no one throws away a pair of kid's jeans that have been outgrown. But while a consignment shop only wants usable clothing, textile recycling is for much more than that. The basic rules for almost any drop box, including at the Greenfield transfer station, and at most thrift stores across the country, is that the materials must be clean and dry and not mildewed or smelly. That's it. The zipper can be broken. The sleeve can be ripped. It can have holes worn through. It can include socks and underwear that will never be sold to be worn. It can include drapes and towels and often pillows and stuffed animals. It usually can include shoes and purses. It is usually baled and sold by the pound. Industry will sort them first into usable clothing, occasionally for sale locally, but frequently for the southern hemisphere where the seasons are flipped, so they don't have to store them here. The next sort is for wiping rags. Or they might be trying to fill an order for some specialty item like nylon or leather. And the rest is shredded to make a fiber that is used for things like carpet padding or the stuff behind the dashboard of your car. Please Recycle more textiles. It's a shame to waste them.
Trash: A non-technical word convenient to use when you don't want the listener to get confused by technical definitions like "Garbage" or "Refuse", in case they know the difference.
Upcycling: Unlike Downcycling where a material changes form to something not the same as the original product, and regular Recycling, which requires some change of form, as well, Upcycling takes an existing product that would have been discarded and turns that product into something more valuable. Textiles are particularly amenable to this, although great-grandma probably never had anyone tell her that's what she was doing when she made a quilt out of outgrown clothes. Making a felt bunny out of yarn from an old wool sweater would be upcycling. Making jewelry out of bits and pieces of computer innards would be upcycling. Making a snowman out of elbow macaroni and cotton balls glued to a piece of paper today and thrown out tomorrow doesn't really count. But what about making housing starting with old metal shipping containers? We don't have to think small.
Waste Hierarchy: see Solid Waste Hierarchy.
Waste-to-Energy: An evil way to dispose of Trash except perhaps as compared to some other ways like landfilling. When materials are discarded instead of Reduced, Reused, Recycled, Composted, etc., they have to go somewhere. This is an inconvenient truth, and one that municipalities face every day. Letting it pile up until better answers are found is not an option. Waste-to-energy facilities burn / incinerate discarded materials and generate electricity in the process. They also create bottom ash, which is relatively benign and more efforts should be put into turning it into construction materials. And they create fly ash which is where most of the pollutants are concentrated, but it, too, might be able to have those pollutants bound up in some sort of cement or concrete product if we could be assured that there wouldn't be a problem with leaching. Bottom ash would almost always test fairly clean. Fly ash, tested separately, would almost always test hazardous and, if disposed of separately, would require special handling as a hazardous waste. So every plant mixes the 2 kinds of ash together and by diluting, the combination no longer tests hazardous, and it is disposed of in special ash Landfills. Despite meeting strict standards, there is also some pollution that is not trapped, but released into the air at the plant (less than 1% when it works), or into the air, water, or ground some day at the ash Landfill. A high percentage of waste-to-energy facilities are located in economically disadvantaged communities, often with high percentages of people of color. Sometimes they have allegedly chosen to be such a site because of host community benefits offered, including cash payments or lower waste disposal rates. Sometimes they essentially had no choice. Burning trash reduces the material to be Landfilled by about 75 - 85% by weight or 85-95% by volume. In the northeast US this is critical because there is then that much less stuff to bury in Landfills. Otherwise, we'd be transporting these higher volumes at least as far as PA and OH until we stopped making so much of it. That's not good for the environment, either. See EPA's description here.
XPS: See #6 Plastic
Zero Waste: An event, business, entity, or jurisdiction that tries to make sure nothing passing through it needs to be disposed of in a harmful way. After Reducing or Reusing or Repairing or maybe Repurposing, all items no longer needed would be Composted, Upcycled, or Recycled without Downcycling, rather than littered, Landfilled or burned. Is "Zero" impossible? Well, think of it as aspirational. If we only got to 95%, would you really complain?