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Environmental Terms

Commonly used words and terms in the resource recovery, recycling and waste management sector.
Word Glossary

Advanced Resource Recovery Techology (sometimes refered to as advanced waste treatment/technology - AWT) refers to waste treatment technologies that focus on diverting waste away from landfill, maximising the recovery of resources and minimising the impact on the environment. Typically AWTs treat waste by fermentation, gasification, percolation and a number of other methods, and are described as "alternative" because they offer a more sustainable solution to traditional methods such as landfill and incineration.


Advanced Resource Recovery Facility


Eliminating the generation of waste at its source. Avoidance encourages the community to reduce the amount of waste it generates and to be more efficient in its use of raw materials.


Alternative Waste Technology (refer to ARRT).


Biodiversity is the variety of life: the different plants, animals and micro-organisms, and the ecosystems of which they are a part.  Australia is one of the most diverse countries on the planet.  It is home to more than one million species of plants and animals, many of which are found nowhere else in the world. [Source: Department of the Environment and Water Resources]

Biogas / Landfill Gas             Gas resulting from the fermentation of landfilled waste in the absence of air (methane/ carbon dioxide)
Biological Recovery

Organic waste processing technique using composting or methanisation techniques

Biological technologies

Biological technologies involve the degradation of organic wastes into products such as garden compost and soil improvers, or into biogas to be used as fuel.

Bioreactor landfill

Bioreactor landfills differ from conventional landfills in that leachate (the liquid that is produced as waste breaks down, or any water that comes into contact with the waste) is recirculated through the landfill to accelerate decomposition of the waste and the rate of gas production.

Civic Amenity Facility

Often confused with a landfill. A guarded, fenced-off area where local residents can dispose of and sort their recoverable, hazardous or bulky waste.


An organic product that has undergone controlled aerobic and thermophilic biological transformation to achieve pasteurisation and a specified level of maturity. Compost is suitable for the use as soil conditioner or mulch and can improve soil structure, water retention, aeration, erosion control and other soil properties.


Transformation by micro-organisms (microscopic fungi, bacteria...)or organic waste to a humus-like product in the presence of water and oxygen.

Conventional Landfill

In a conventional landfill wastes are placed in the ground, compacted and then covered. A liner placed beneath the waste prevents liquid being released to groundwater. As the waste degrades, methane and carbon dioxide are released – the methane is captured and used to generate green electricity.

Chemical compound resulting from the combustion of organic matter. 210 types of dioxin exist, 17 of which are considered to be harmful.
Domestic Waste Waste resulting from household consumption and collected by mixed or source separated collection. Often refered to as household waste or municipal waste.
Ecologically Sustainable Development

Focuses on "using, conserving and enhancing the community's resources so that ecological processes, on which life depends, are maintained, and the total quality of life, now and in the future, can be increased'. Put more simply, ESD is development which aims to meet the need of Australians today, while conserving our ecosystems for the benefit of future generations.


"An ecosystem is a natural unit consisting of all plants, animals and micro organisms in an area functioning together with all tthe non-living physical factors of the environment"

[Source: Wikipedia]

Energy-from-waste (EfW)

Recovery of calories contained in incinerated waste, allowing thermal or electrical energy to be generated.

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)

Shared responsibility for the life cycle of products including the environmental impact of the product from the extraction of virgin materials, to manufacturing, to consumption and through to and including ultimate disposal and post-consumer consequences.

Fly ash

Residues from domestic waste incineration fume cleansing

Greenhouse Effect / Greenhouse Gas / GHG

A natural system of trapping the Earth's heat. Solar rays, which penetrate the atmosphere to reach the Earth’s surface, are then partly re-radiated by this surface. Certain gases present in the atmosphere absorb these ascending rays and reflect them back to the surface as heat, which allows the Earth to be at a temperature of 15°C. Human activity contributes to the increase in content of these gases (carbon dioxide CO2, methane CH4 and chlorofluorocarbons CFCs) in the atmosphere, which in turn, raises the Earth's temperature.

(hazardous domestic waste)
Waste presenting a danger to mankind and the environment and requiring particular precaution when processed (batteries, aerosols, paints, etc).
(hazardous industrial waste)
Toxic waste, presenting a danger to mankind and the environment and requiring particular precaution during processing.
Incinerator Facility subject to authorisation, designed to incinerate waste. More and more incinerators now recover waste in the form of electricity or thermal energy. The by-products of incineration (bottom ash and fly ash) are processed with a view to controlling the impacts of this activity both on mankind and on the environment.
Inert waste

Waste which unlikely to evolve physically or chemically (non toxic, non biodegradable, very low solubility in water, non oxidizable), for example, backfill, rubble, etc.

Land rehabilitation

The process of restoring and stabilising an area of land/soil to a standard suitable for a given land use activity.


Water loaded in organic or mineral pollutants following contact with landfilled (or composted) waste.

Material recovery

Waste processing technique, deploying source-separation methods (both manual and automatic) which extract valuable items from waste to then be recycled or reused.

Mechanical Biological Treatment

Describes any system that combines the mechanical sorting of waste with some kind of biological treatment. All mechanical biological systems remove the recyclables for recycling and divert bulky inert material to landfill – the remaining organic portion of the waste is treated biologically to make biogas, compost an other products.

Medical waste

Waste resulting from medical activity, including clinical, hospital, dental and veternarian waste products.
Metal Ore

Metal ore is a rock with metal or other useful substances in it.  Aluminium comes from an ore called bauxite and iron comes from iron-ore.


Materials Recycling Facility.


Municipal Solid Waste.
The solid component of the waste stream arising form the household waste placed at the kerbside for council collection and waste collected by council from municipal parks and gardens, street sweepings, council engineering works and public council bins. Excluding hazardous, clinical and related wastes.

Putrescible waste

Component of the waste stream liable to become putrid. Putrescible waste usually breaks down in a landfill to create landfill gases and leachate. Usually applies to food and animal products. Paper, cardboard, garden waste will also break down to create landfill gas and leachate.

NIMBY Not In My Backyard
(non hazardous industrial waste)
Waste resulting from an industrial or commercial activity but which is comparable to domestic waste and hazardous domestic waste. For example, cardboard, wood, packaging material, etc.
Non-renewable resource

A material that can not be replenished or regrown within a reasonable timeframe, such as fossil fuels.

Processing Reduction, within controlled conditions, of the initial pollutant potential of waste and/or waste volumes before landfill.
Putrescible waste

Component of the waste stream liable to become putrid. Putrescible waste usually breaks down in a landfill to create landfill gases and leachate. Note: Usually applies to food and animal product. Paper, cardboard, garden waste will also break down to create landfill gas and leachate.


Generic term encompassing the reemployment, reuse, recycling or regeneration of waste.

Recycling Direct re-introduction of a waste type into the production cycle from which it originates as a total or partial replacement for a new material. For example, melting down broken bottles to make new ones. Newspapers, magazines and glass can be recycled if they are selectively collected. Textile products and fermentable materials cannot be recycled.
Regeneration Physical or chemical procedure, which provides waste with the necessary characteristics needed to allow it to be used as a replacement for a new raw material. For example: recycled paper re-generated by de-inking.

Renewable resource

A material that can be replenished or regrown within a reasonable timeframe, for example any organic matter that can be regenerated.

Residual waste Waste, resulting or not from processing, which is no longer likely to be processed in the current technical and economic conditions. The recoverable fraction has either already been extracted or the waste's pollutant or hazardous nature been reduced (often, but not necessarily, "waste resulting from waste").
Resource Recovery

Converting waste into valuable resources such as fuel or fertiliser.

Reuse Use of waste for a similar purpose (for example, returnable bottles) or a different purpose from that for which the material was originally intended (for example, using tyres to protect the hull of trawlers).
Source segregation

Separation of recyclable materials from other waste at the point and time the waste is generated (ie. at its source). This includes separation of recyclable material into its component categories (e.g. paper, glass, aluminium), and may include further separation within each category (e.g. paper into computer paper, office whites and newsprint).

Source Separation

Any collection which separates certain types of waste at the point of collection (for example, packaging, glass, paper…), with a view of recovering them.

Sorting centre Specific sorting and waste regrouping facility to which waste may be sent following collection. Also referred to as a Material Recycling Facility (MRF).

The goal to be achieved through ecologically sustainable development. It refers to the ability to continue an activity into the future or maintain a state of condition undiminished (or enhanced) over time. Sustainability involves integrated ecological, personal and social (including economic) goals and implies changes in behaviour and practices by individuals and organisation.

Thermal technologies

Thermal technologies use heat to decompose the waste and provide a stable residue for disposal. Conventional incineration is still the most commonly used hermal process, however a number of new thermal technologies such as pyrolysis and gasification have been developed.

Uncontrolled dump site


A landfill that receives all types of waste in conditions, which do not respect the rules in force for, controlled landfills.

Void space


The space that still remains to be filled by waste in a landfill.




2014 Winner Environmental Sustainability