by Marena Gibson
Let's start with the basics and look at some definitions.
United Nations Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal:
“Wastes are substances or objects which are disposed or are intended to be disposed or are required to be disposed of by the provisions of national laws."
The next one is less ambiguous, but more confusing.
United Nations Statistics Division:
“Materials that are not prime products (that is, products produced for the market) for which the generator has no further use in terms of his/her own purposes of production, transformation or consumption, and of which he/she wants to dispose. Wastes may be generated during the extraction of raw materials, the processing of raw materials into intermediate and final products, the consumption of final products, and other human activities. Residuals recycled or reused at the place of generation are excluded.”
At least this definition tells us what isn’t waste: materials that are recycled or reused. However, this only applies to materials that are recycled/reused at their “place of generation”. For example, if I drank a plastic bottle of water and put it in the recycling, that is considered waste. But if the water-bottling facility itself were to reuse/recycle their plastic bottles, that is not waste.
For the average person, waste can be best understood as anything that no longer has use to us, and is disposed of. Think of it as anything you throw away. Single-use items are common: Tissues, food containers, wrappers all end up in the trash. And even if the items you’re disposing of end up in recycling, these are still material objects that you’ve used and discarded, and the recycling process itself produces waste, albeit a different kind. Recycling trucks use fossil fuels, a nonrenewable energy, and recycling plants use electricity to power their facility. Even if the item you’ve used isn’t going to a landfill, it can have secondhand effects of waste.
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