Terms related to waste management
and to the environmental sector in general
- Waste: Unwanted or undesired material. The European Union defines waste as an object the holder discards, intends to discard or is required to discard is waste under the Waste Framework Directive (European Directive 75/442/EC as amended).
- Recycling: The reprocessing of materials into new products. Recycling generally prevents the waste of potentially useful materials, reduces the consumption of raw materials and reduces energy usage, and hence greenhouse gas emissions, compared to virgin production. Recycling is a key concept of modern waste management and is the third component of the waste hierarchy.
- The waste hierarchy: Refers to the "3 R:s" reduce, reuse and recycle, which classify waste management strategies according to their desirability. The aim of the waste hierarchy is to extract the maximum practical benefits from products and to generate the minimum amount of waste.
- Climate change: Refers to the variation in the Earth's global climate or in regional climates over time. It describes changes in the variability or average state of the atmosphere over time scales ranging from decades to millions of years. These changes can be caused by processes internal to the Earth, external forces (e.g. variations in sunlight intensity) or, more recently, human activities. In recent usage, especially in the context of environmental policy, the term "climate change" often refers to changes in modern climate which according to the IPCC are 90-95% likely to have been in part caused by human action, in particular the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
- Greenhouse gases: Components of the atmosphere that contribute to the greenhouse effect. The natural component of thegreenhouse effect is necessary for life to exist on Earth; in its absence, the mean temperature of the earth would be about -19 °C rather than the present mean temperature of about 15 °C. Some greenhouse gases occur naturally in the atmosphere, while others result from human activities such as burning of fossil fuels such as coal. Greenhouse gases include water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone.
- Greenhouse effect: The process in which the emission of infrared radiation by the atmosphere warms a planet's surface. The name comes from an incorrect analogy with the warming of air inside a greenhouse compared to the air outside the greenhouse. Global warming, a recent warming of the Earth, is believed to be the result of increased concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
- Waste management: The collection, transport, processing, recycling or disposal of waste materials, usually ones produced by human activity, in an effort to reduce their effect on human health or local aesthetics or amenity. A sub-focus in recent decades has been to reduce waste materials' effect on the natural world and the environment and to recover resources from them. Waste management practices differ for developed and developing nations, for urban and rural areas, and for residential, industrial, and commercial producers. Waste management for non-hazardous residential and institutional waste in metropolitan areas is usually the responsibility of local government authorities, while management for non-hazardous commercial and industrial waste is usually the responsibility of the generator.
- Extended producer responsibility (EPR): A strategy designed to promote the integration of environmental costs associated with products throughout their life cycles into the market price of the products. Extended producer responsibility imposes accountability over the entire life cycle of products and packaging introduced on the market. This means that firms which manufacture, import and/or sell products are required to be financially or physically responsible for such products after their useful life.
- Polluter pays principle: A principle where the polluting party pays for the damage done to the natural environment. With respect to waste management, this generally refers to the requirement for a generator to pay for appropriate disposal of the waste.
- Best Available Technology (BAT): A term applied with regulations on limiting pollutant discharges with regard to the abatement strategy. Similar terms are best available techniques, best practicable means or best practicable environmental option. The term constitutes a moving target on practices, since developing societal values and advancing techniques may change what is currently regarded as "reasonably achievable", "best practicable" and "best available". A literal understanding will connect it with a "spare no expense" doctrine which prescribes the acquisition of the best state of the art technology available, without regard for traditional cost-benefit analysis. In practical use the cost aspect is also taken into account.
In the European Union directive 96/61/EC emission limit values were to be based on the best available techniques, as described in item #17: "Whereas emission limit values, parameters or equivalent technical measures should be based on the best available techniques, without prescribing the use of one specific technique or technology and taking into consideration the technical characteristics of the installation concerned, its geographical location and local environmental conditions; whereas in all cases the authorization conditions will lay down provisions on minimizing long-distance or trans-border pollution and ensuring a high level of protection for the environment as a whole. The directive includes a definition of best available techniques in article 2.11:
"best available techniques" shall mean the most effective and advanced stage in the development of activities and their methods of operation which indicate the practical suitability of particular techniques for providing in principle the basis for emission limit values designed to prevent and, where that is not practicable, generally to reduce emissions and the impact on the environment as a whole:
- "techniques" shall include both the technology used and the way in which the installation is designed, built, maintained, operated and decommissioned,
- "available" techniques shall mean those developed on a scale which allows implementation in the relevant industrial sector, under economically and technically viable conditions, taking into consideration the costs and advantages, whether or not the techniques are used or produced inside the Member State in question, as long as they are reasonably accessible to the operator,
"Best" shall mean most effective in achieving a high general level of protection of the environment as a whole
- Precautionary principle: A moral and political principle which states that if an action or policy might cause severe or irreversible harm to the public, in the absence of a scientific consensus that harm would not ensue, the burden of proof falls on those who would advocate taking the action. The precautionary principle is most often applied in the context of the impact of human actions on the environment and human health, as both involve complex systems where the consequences of actions may be unpredictable.
As applied to environmental policy, the precautionary principle stipulates that for practices such as the release of radiation or toxins, massive deforestation or overpopulation, the burden of proof lies with the advocates. An important element of the precautionary principle is that its most meaningful applications pertain to those that are potentially irreversible, for example where biodiversity may be reduced. With respect to bans on substances like mercury in thermometers, freon in refrigeration, or even carbon dioxide exhaust from automobile engines and power plants, it implies:
"... a willingness to take action in advance of scientific proof [or] evidence of the need for the proposed action on the grounds that further delay will prove ultimately most costly to society and nature, and, in the longer term, selfish and unfair to future generations."
The concept includes ethical responsibilities towards maintaining the integrity of natural systems, and the fallibility of human understanding.
- Product stewardship: A concept whereby environmental protection centres around the product itself, and everyone involved in the lifespan of the product is called upon to take up responsibility to reduce its environmental impact. For manufacturers, this includes planning for, and if necessary, paying for the recycling or disposal of the product at the end of its useful life. This may be achieved, in part, by redesigning products to use fewer harmful substances, to be more durable, reusable and recyclable, and to make products from recycled materials. For retailers and consumers, this means taking an active role in ensuring the proper disposal or recycling of an end-of-life product.
Product Stewardship is often used interchangeably with extended producer responsibility, a similar concept. However, there are distinct differences between the two, as suggested by the semantics of the different terms used; while both concepts bring the onus of waste management for end-of-life products from the government to the manufacturers, Product Stewardship further extends this responsibility to everyone involved in the life-cycle of the product. This includes not only the manufacturers, but also the retailers, consumers and recyclers as well.
- Proximity principle: Advocates that waste should be disposed of (or otherwise managed) close to the point at which it is generated, thus aiming to achieve responsible self-sufficiency at a regional/or sub regional level. Where this is not possible priority should be given to transportation by rail or water.
- Sustainable development: A socio-ecological process characterized by the fulfilment of human needs while maintaining or increasing the quality of the natural environment indefinitely. The concept came into general usage following publication of the 1987 report of the Brundtland Commission — formally, the World Commission on Environment and Development. Set up by the United Nations General Assembly, the Brundtland Commission coined what was to become the most often-quoted definition of sustainable development as development that "meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." The field of sustainable development can be conceptually broken into three constituent parts: environmental sustainability, economic sustainability, social-political sustainability.
- Environmental degradation: The deterioration of the environment through depletion of resources such as air, water and soil; the destruction of ecosystems and the extinction of wildlife.
- Product lifecycle: The course of a product's sales and profits over time. The five stages of each product lifecycle are product development, introduction, growth, maturity and decline.
- Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA): An assessment of the likely influence a project may have on the environment. “Environmental Impact Assessment can be defined as: The process of identifying, predicting, evaluating and mitigating the biophysical, social, and other relevant effects of development proposals prior to major decisions being taken and commitments made.” (IAIA 1999). The purpose of the assessment is to ensure that decision-makers consider environmental impacts before deciding whether to proceed with new projects.
The EIA Directive on Environmental Impact Assessment of the effects of projects on the environment was first introduced in 1985 and was amended in 1997. The directive was amended again in 2003 following the 1998 signature by the EU of the Aarhus Convention on public participation in environmental matters. The issue was enlarged to the assessment of plans and programmes by the so called SEA-Directive in 2001 which is now in force and establishes a mix of mandatory and discretionary procedures for assessing environmental impacts.
- Life cycle assessment (LCA): The assessment of the environmental impact of a given product or service throughout its lifespan. Also known as life cycle analysis, eco-balance, cradle-to-grave-analysis, well-to-wheel analysis, and dust-to-dust energy cost.
The goal of LCA is to compare the environmental performance of products and services, to be able to choose the least burdensome one. The term 'life cycle' refers to the notion that a fair, holistic assessment requires the assessment of raw material production, manufacture, distribution, use and disposal including all intervening transportation steps. This is the life cycle of the product. The concept also can be used to optimize the environmental performance of a single product (eco-design) or to optimize the environmental performance of a company. The pollution caused by usage also is part of the analysis. Common categories of assessed damages are global warming (greenhouse gases), acidification, smog, ozone layer depletion, eutrophication, ecotoxic and anthropotoxic pollutants, desertification, land use as well as depletion of minerals and fossil fuels.
- Ecological footprint: Measures human demand on nature. It compares human consumption of natural resources with planet Earth's ecological capacity to regenerate them. It is an estimate of the amount of biologically productive land and sea area needed to regenerate (if possible) the resources a human population consumes and to absorb the corresponding waste, given prevailing technology and current understanding. Using this assessment, it is possible to estimate how many planet Earths it would take to support humanity if everybody lived a given lifestyle. Ecological foot-printing is now widely used around the globe as an indicator of environmental sustainability. It can be used to measure and manage the use of resources throughout the economy. It is commonly used to explore the sustainability of individual lifestyles, goods and services, organizations, industry sectors, neighbourhoods, cities, regions and nations.
- Eco-efficiency: The concept of creating more goods and services while using fewer resources and creating less waste and pollution. The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) defines eco-efficiency as something that is achieved by delivering “competitively priced goods and services that satisfy human needs and bring quality of life while progressively reducing environmental impacts of goods and resource intensity throughout the entire life-cycle to a level at least in line with the Earth's estimated carrying capacity." This concept describes a vision for the production of economically valuable goods and services while reducing the ecological impacts of production. In other words eco-efficiency means producing more with less. According to the WBCSD, critical aspects of eco-efficiency are:
- A reduction in the material intensity of goods or services;
- A reduction in the energy intensity of goods or services;
- Reduced dispersion of toxic materials;
- Improved recyclability;
- Maximum use of renewable resources;
- Greater durability of products;
- Increased service intensity of goods and services.
The reduction in ecological impacts translates into an increase in resource productivity, which in turn can create a competitive advantage.
- Sustainable design: The art of designing physical objects to comply with the principles of economic, social, and ecological sustainability. It ranges from the microcosm of designing small objects for everyday use, through to the macrocosm of designing buildings, cities, and the earth's physical surface. It is a growing trend within the fields of architecture, landscape architecture, engineering, graphic design, industrial design, interior design and fashion design.
The essential aim of sustainable design is to produce places, products and services in a way that reduces use of non-renewable resources, minimizes environmental impact, and relates people with the natural environment. Sustainable design is often viewed as a necessary tool for achieving sustainability. It is related to the more heavy-industry-focused fields of industrial ecology and green chemistry, sharing tools such as life cycle assessment and life cycle energy analysis to judge the environmental impact or "greenness" of various design choices.
- Industrial ecology: An interdisciplinary study of technology, society and ecology that sees industrial systems (for example a factory, an eco-region, or national or global economy) as being part of the biosphere. It considers it as a particular case of an ecosystem, but based on infrastructural capital rather than on natural capital.
Industrial ecology proposes not to see industrial systems (for example a factory, an eco-region, or national or global economy) as being separate from the biosphere, but to consider it as a particular case of an ecosystem - but based on infrastructural capital rather than on natural capital. It is the idea that if natural systems do not have waste in them, we should model our systems after natural ones if we want them to be sustainable.
Along with more general energy conservation and material conservation goals, and redefining commodity markets and product stewardship relations strictly as a service economy, industrial ecology is one of the four objectives of Natural Capitalism.
- Pollution: The introduction of pollutants (whether chemical substances, or energy such as noise, heat, or light) into the environment which result in deleterious effects of such a nature as to endanger human health, harm living resources and ecosystems, and impair or interfere with amenities and other legitimate uses of the environment.
- Emission standards: Requirements that set specific limits to the amount of pollutants that can be released into the environment. Many emission standards focus on regulating pollutants released by automobiles (motor cars) and other powered vehicles but they can also regulate emissions from industry, power plants, small equipment such as lawn mowers and diesel generators. Frequent policy alternatives to emission standards are technology standards (which mandate the use of a specific technology) and emission trading.
Standards generally regulate the emissions of NOx, sulphur oxides, particulate matter (PM) or soot, carbon monoxide (CO), or volatile hydrocarbons.
The European Union has its own set of emission standards that all new vehicles must meet. Currently, standards are set for all road vehicles, trains, barges and non-road mobile machinery' (such as tractors). No standards apply to seagoing ships or airplanes. The emissions standards change based on the test cycle used: ECE R49 (old) and ESC (European Steady Cycle, since 2000).
Currently there are no standards for CO2 emissions. The European Parliament has suggested introducing mandatory CO2 emission standards to replace current voluntary commitments by the auto manufacturers.
- Environmental standard: A policy guideline that regulates the effect of human activity upon the environment. Standards may specify a desired state (e.g. lake pH should be between 6.5 and 7.5) or limit alterations (e.g. no more than 50% of natural forest may be damaged).
- Material efficiency: A description or metric which expresses the degree to which a construction project or physical process is carried out in a manner which consumes, incorporates, or wastes more or less of a given material compared to some standard. Making a still usable item out of thinner stock than a prior version increases the material efficiency of the manufacturing process.
- Landfill: a site for the disposal of waste materials by burial and is the oldest form of waste treatment. Historically, landfills have been the most common methods of organized waste disposal and remain so in many places around the world. Landfills may include internal waste disposal sites (where a producer of waste carries out their own waste disposal at the place of production) as well as sites used by many producers. Many landfills are also used for other waste management purposes, such as the temporary storage, consolidation and transfer, or processing of waste material (sorting, treatment, or recycling). A landfill also may refer to ground that has been filled in with soil and rocks instead of waste materials, so that it can be used for a specific purpose, such as for building houses. Unless they are stabilized, these areas may experience severe shaking or liquefaction of the ground in a large earthquake.
- Incineration: A waste treatment technology that involves the combustion of organic materials and/or substances. Incineration and other high temperature waste treatment systems are described as "thermal treatment". Incineration of waste materials converts the waste into ash, flue gases, particulates, and heat, which can in turn be used to generate electricity. The flue gases are cleaned for pollutants before it is dispersed in the atmosphere.
Incinerators reduce the volume of the original waste by 95-96 %, depending upon composition and degree of recovery of materials such as metals from the ash for recycling. This means that while incineration does not completely replace landfilling, it reduces the necessary volume for disposal significantly.
Incineration has particularly strong benefits for the treatment of certain waste types in niche areas such as clinical wastes and certain hazardous wastes where pathogens and toxins can be destroyed by high temperatures. For example in chemical multi-product plants with diverse toxic or very toxic wastewater streams which cannot be routed to a conventional wastewater treatment plant.
Waste combustion is particularly popular in countries such as Japan where land is a scarce resource. Denmark and Sweden have been leaders in using the energy generated from incineration for more than a century, in localised combined heat and power facilities supporting district heating schemes. A number of other European Countries rely heavily on incineration for handling municipal waste, in particular Luxemburg, The Netherlands, Germany and France.
- Composting: The controlled aerobic decomposition of biodegradable organic matter, producing compost. The decomposition is performed primarily by aerobic bacteria, helped by larger creatures such as ants, nematodes and oligochaete worms. Composting can be divided into home composting and industrial composting. Both scales of composting use the same biological processes; however techniques and different factors must be taken into account.
Composting recycles organic household waste into compost, returns badly needed organic matter to the soil and reduces the garbage going into burgeoning landfills. Decomposition occurs naturally in all but the most hostile environments for decomposers, such as in landfills, arid deserts, cold boreal winters and Polar Regions. But composting speeds it up by providing an optimal environment for decomposers. This requires the correct mix of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and water.
Decomposition occurs even without some of these ingredients, but slower and less pleasantly. For example, vegetables in a plastic bag decompose, but the lack of air encourages the growth of anaerobic microbes, which produce disagreeable odours. Degradation with insufficient air is called anaerobic digestion.
- Waste-to-energy (WtE): In its strictest sense refers to any waste treatment that creates energy in the form of electricity and/or heat from a waste source that would have alternatively been disposed of in landfill, also called energy recovery. Some WtE processes result in usable fuel commodity, such as methane, methanol, ethanol or synthetic fuels upon completion of process.
- Waste treatment: The activities required to ensure that waste has the least practicable impact on the environment. In many countries various forms of waste treatment are required by law.
- Biodegradation: The process by which organic substances are broken down by living organisms. The term is often used in relation to ecology, waste management, environmental remediation (bioremediation) and to plastic materials, due to their long life span. Organic material can be degraded aerobically, with oxygen, or anaerobically, without oxygen.
- Biodegradable matter: Generally organic material such as plant and animal matter and other substances originating from living organisms, or artificial materials that are similar enough to plant and animal matter to be put to use by microorganisms. Some micro-organisms have the astonishing, naturally occurring, microbial catabolic diversity to degrade, transform or accumulate a huge range of compounds including hydrocarbons (e.g. oil), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), pharmaceutical substances, radionuclides and metals. Major methodological breakthroughs in microbial biodegradation have enabled detailed genomic, metagenomic, proteomic, bioinformatic and other high-throughput analyses of environmentally relevant microorganisms providing unprecedented insights into key biodegradative pathways and the ability of microorganisms to adapt to changing environmental conditions.