Waste info

October  2015;   Author:  Bozena Vuckovic

Do you know what types of waste there are? In order to understand the complexity of waste management it is important to learn how waste is usually classified.

Click for a bigger image…


Mind Map Waste Types



Municipal waste is waste that is collected from households, institutions and offices and includes different types of waste that can easily be separated at source. Why is separation important? Because any impurities can cause problems in the recycling processes. If you separate waste in your homes or at work you are making sure your waste will be treated in the best way. Don’t you agree that it is appaling that in the 21st century most waste on the global level is dumped in landfills?!? In future posts I will write more about the numbers related to recycling, landfilling and incinerating but just as an example, in 2010, the percentage of waste being landfilled was higher than 75% in 10 EU countries (out of 28)!! [1]

There are different ways how municipalities enable waste separation. Some provide bins to households for separate collection, some make sure there are public containers around cities where separate types of waste can be disposed of, or they arrange recycling centres with containers for separate types.


Table recycling bins

Image 1. Separation options. ©www.know-your-waste.com

Important notes

  • Plastics: Not all 7 types of plastic are accepted in recycling bins, make sure to check with the guidelines from your waste management provider.
  • Paper: Paper with food stains and grease stains can contaminate the recycling process and ruin the whole recycling batch. “When paper products, like cardboard, are recycled, they are mixed with water and turned into a slurry. Grease from pizza boxes causes oil to form at the top of the slurry, and paper fibers cannot separate from oils during the pulping process. This is the reason that other food related items are non-recyclable (used paper plates, used napkins, used paper towels, etc).”[2]
  • Biowaste: This is another category that is a bit tricky, and varies from country to country, provider to provider. Check with the guidelines from your waste management provider to make sure you are disposing food residue and other green waste in the proper way. 
  • Bulky waste: What belongs in this category? 

– furniture

– car tyres

– bicycles

– car wreckage

– E-waste (meaning big and small household appliances – basically anything that uses electricity).

Municipalities usually make sure to provide possibilities for disposal of those, it could be a container that’s placed in your neighbourhood once in a while, or a local centre where you can take those, or you could even have the option of dialing a number and ordering a container. Check with your local provider.



Industrial waste is waste generated by various industries, it can fall into the category of municipal waste as well as hazardous waste and can thus be managed as Municipal or Hazardous waste. Also, a huge portion of industrial waste is construction and demolition waste, which can consist of all sorts of hazardous and non-hazardous materials “including concrete, bricks, gypsum, wood, glass, metals, plastic, solvents, asbestos and excavated soil, many of which can be recycled”.[3]

25% to 30% of all waste generated in the EU belongs to the category of Construction and Demolition waste but despite its reusing and recycling potential a lot of it ends up in landfills.[3] The problem with construction waste is that non-hazardous and hazardous materials are often mixed and can pose a pollution and health risk if they are not separated. [3] Just to name a few, lead paint and paints containing mercury-based biocides, leaded pipes, asbestos insulation, mercury-containing fluorescent lamps and PCB ballasts and many other hazardous materials are often present in older buildings and often end up in landfills after demolition.[4]

Construction waste

Image 2. Demolition waste, Source: http://www.barec.ch/fileadmin/images/Barec/groupe_barec_baustelle_construction-site_chantier_cantiere.jpg


“65% of construction leftovers is inert waste (stones, demolition waste, bricks, glass…). Once sorted and recycled, they can be used as embankment or backfill. Non hazardous material (wood, cardboard, plastic, metal, plaster…) are sent to a different recycling branch for recovery. Hazardous waste (treated wood, heavy metals, paints and solvents…) are treated by a specialized branch of recycling.” [5]



“Hazardous waste is waste that is dangerous or potentially harmful to our health or the environment. Hazardous wastes can be liquids, solids, gases, or sludges. They can be discarded commercial products, like cleaning fluids or pesticides, or the by-products of manufacturing processes” [6], they can also be household items that contain toxic chemicals or metals, which are poisonous even in very small or trace amounts. Poisoning occurs when toxic waste is ingested, inhaled, or absorbed by the skin. Toxic waste can have “acute effects, causing death or violent illness, or they may have chronic effects, slowly causing irreparable harm. Some are carcinogenic, causing cancer after many years of exposure. Others are mutagenic, causing major biological changes in the offspring of exposed humans and wildlife.” [7]

Hazardous waste can also be reactive (chemically unstable and can cause explosions in contact with air or water or form toxic vapours), ignitable (can catch fire at low temperatures), corrosive (destroy solid material and living tissue upon contact, by chemical reaction because it includes strong acidic or alkaline substances), infectious (items from hospitals or biological research facilities), or radioactive (emit ionizing energy that can harm living organisms). [7]

E-waste aka WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) has turned into an enormous problem as it is one of the fastest growing waste streams around the world. In EU alone it is expected that by 2020 more than 12 million tons of E-waste will be generated per year.[8] What a lot of people do not know is that E-waste is filled with hazardous materials such as lead, mercury, cadmium, brominated flame retardants, etc. Due to enormous amounts of E-waste, high cost of recycling due to toxicity, and the lack of developed reuse and recycle networks, a lot of E-waste ends up in poor countries illegally, where scavengers burn such items to get through to the valuable material that’s inside. Now that you know how many hazardous items are present inside E-waste, and the dangers of burning them, you can imagine the damage such practices have on the health of the scavengers. Many of them die of cancer in their 20s. [10]


open waste Africa

Image 3. “Kwabena Labobe, 10, plays on the site of Agbogbloshie, Ghana the largest e-waste dump in the world. His parents are not able to send him to school and forbid him to burn e-waste”, he is exposed to toxic fumes and materials every day.  Source: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2014/feb/27/agbogbloshie-worlds-largest-e-waste-dump-in-pictures


So what is inside E-waste that people are willing to risk their lives for? E-waste is also made from numerous precious metals like gold, copper, silver, platinum. For the scavengers, selling them is the way to survive. Now a fact that will stun you, there is 324 times more gold in a ton of iPhones than there is in a ton of ore from Yanacocha, the 4th largest gold mine in the world. A ton of ore yields about 0.85g (0.03 oz.) of gold, whereas a ton of iPhones would yield about 275g (9.72 oz.). [11]

Don’t you agree that instead of letting all that value go to waste, pollute environment and kill people and animals, we should strive for a sustainable way of managing E-waste, reuse all the scarce and expensive resources that are hidden inside, and thus come closer to achieving a circular economy? A circular what, you ask? More about that in one of the next posts… Stay tuned…




[1] ‘Managing Municipal Solid Waste – a Review of Achievements in 32 European Countries’ (2013). Copenhagen: EEA. pp. 12, 21. http://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/managing-municipal-solid-waste

[2] THE PIZZA BOX MYSTERY http://www.earth911.com/food/the-pizza-box-mystery/

[3] Waste – Environment – European Commission, http://ec.europa.eu/environment/waste/construction_demolition.htm

[4] Construction and Demolition Waste, http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/hwtr/dangermat/demo_debris_constr_materials.html

[5] Recycling Construction Waste, http://www.paprec.com/en/understanding-recycling/recycling-construction-waste

[6] Hazardous Waste, http://www3.epa.gov/epawaste/hazard/

[7] Hazardous Waste Management http://www.britannica.com/technology/hazardous-waste-management

[8] Waste Electrical & Electronic Equipment (WEEE), http://ec.europa.eu/environment/waste/weee/index_en.htm

[9] Cell Phones Toxic to Humans and Earth http://news.discovery.com/human/cell-phones-toxic-121005.htm

[10] Agbogbloshie: the world’s largest e-waste dump – in pictures, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2014/feb/27/agbogbloshie-worlds-largest-e-waste-dump-in-pictures

[11] How much precious metal is in your iPhone?, http://www.electronicproducts.com/Computer_Systems/Standalone_Mobile/How_much_precious_metal_is_in_your_iPhone.aspx

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