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What is the Difference Between Waste Management and Recycling?

By Harriette Halepis
Updated May 17, 2024
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The difference between waste management and recycling can be clearly stated. Waste management refers to the actual collection, transporting, and processing of waste, while recycling is a process that turns waste into reusable materials. To make the difference between recycling and waste management even clearer, it is important to first understand the process of waste management.

In the sense of waste management, waste refers to human waste. This type of waste can be in solid, liquid, gaseous, or radioactive form. Each type of waste is transported, collected, and processed in a different manner. Each country has a unique way of handling waste. Likewise, each industrial, urban, rural, and residential area has differing waste management solutions.

Many countries around the world deposit waste into landfills. Landfills consist of large areas — usually abandoned quarries, mining holes, and large pits — that are used as dumping grounds. When these areas are properly maintained, they prove to be a relatively cost-effective way to get rid of unwanted waste. However, debris that floats into the air from a landfill can be dangerous to the environment.

Incineration methods are frequently used to dispose of industrial waste including gaseous and radioactive materials. This type of waste is converted into heat, ash, gas, or steam. This is a highly controversial way of eliminating waste, since all of this waste winds up in the atmosphere.

Some types of waste are brought to recycling plants. Many different items are recyclable including paper, plastic, textiles, computer parts, and glass. Recyclable goods are collected by waste management companies, and they are sent to sorting centers where each item is placed in a different section.

Different materials can be made into different objects such as recycled paper, clothing, and containers. Recycling helps to reduce the economic impact that waste can have on the environment. While recycling has many benefits, some critics believe that these benefits do not outweigh the drawbacks of recycling. Many drawbacks have been noted by various people, though recycling still proves to be a better way to handle waste than landfills or incineration methods.

Taking the time to find out more about waste management and recycling is worthwhile. As more and more people work together to find better methods for both waste management and recycling, new ideas arise. These ideas will eventually lead to a world that can reduce waste efficiently while also creating more precise waste management and recycling methods.

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Discussion Comments

By MrMoody — On Dec 03, 2011

@David09 - I think radioactive waste is the most challenging of waste management problems. I remember years ago watching a TV show about what was called the “Area 51 Lawsuit.”

Apparently the infamous Area 51 (which supposedly didn't exist) had been storing radioactive waste in nearby landfills. Over time, some of the employees of the facility got sick and some died.

So a lawsuit was brought against the federal government and this put Area 51 and its poor waste management practices on the map, forcing government officials to admit that mistakes were made and providing financial compensation to the victims' families.

Honestly, I sometimes wonder if there is enough space on planet Earth to keep all of our junk. I think waste management initiatives of the future will involve sending the garbage off into the nether regions of outer space.

By David09 — On Dec 03, 2011

About twenty years ago our town made a significant investment into considering alternatives to usual recycling landfills. As a result, the county developed nine recycling centers throughout the town where we can go and bring newspapers, plastic bottles and stuff like that. However, the biggest challenge I face is with fluids.

Gasoline, for example, cannot be recycled. As a matter of fact, the recycling facility tells us that they won’t take it. So I usually have to dump it into my car or something like that.

I typically have spare gas left over from the season’s mowing. Some painting fluids can’t be recycled either, and you don’t want to dump this stuff into the environment, as it can be toxic.

The best practice in these situations is to use only enough of these fluids as you need, rather than hoping to get rid of it through a recycling or waste management program.

By wavy58 — On Dec 02, 2011

@orangey03 – I'm in the same situation as you. I always try to reuse anything I can, because the nearest recycling center is an hour away, and no one comes out here to collect recyclables.

I have two young daughters, and I have taught them to get creative with recycling. We just learned how to make hairbows out of small potato chip bags and plastic bottle caps. Several of their classmates have become interested in this, so we are spreading a bit of recycling know-how around.

It's amazing what all you can recycle if you let your imagination reign. I hate to send anything to a landfill, so if I can find any sort of purpose for it, I will.

By OeKc05 — On Dec 02, 2011

Landfills are pretty disgusting. I have had to take my trash to one before, because I didn't put it out near the road in time for the collector to grab it, and the stench is horrible.

Vultures circle around, and sometimes people dispose of their dead animals here. It isn't legal, but that doesn't always stop them.

Regardless of what all is out there, the combined odor smells like death, anyway. I hope that recycling continues to grow in popularity and we will one day free ourselves from the need for landfills.

By seag47 — On Dec 01, 2011

One good form of recycling can be seen at a junkyard. Here, old vehicles are kept outside, and anyone who needs a part for an older model car that may be hard to find can come and ask the owner if he can look around.

Parts from a junkyard are pretty cheap when compared with the price for ordering them from the manufacturer. In many cases, the parts may be so old that they are no longer being made, so a junkyard would be the person's only option.

True, some vehicles just rust and rot away on the lot, and this isn't very good waste management. However, the amount of scrap recycling that goes on in the form of the sale of old parts makes up for the fact that these places are also public car graveyards. I have gotten several parts from junkyards, and I will continue to look there before I search anywhere else.

By orangey03 — On Dec 01, 2011

I live way out in the country, and though we have a landfill a few miles away, we don't have a recycling center or anyone to pick up trash from a recycling bin. The garbage collector comes once a week, but everything he picks up goes straight to the landfill.

Because of this, I do a lot of my own creative recycling. I use empty plastic and glass bottles as vases, or I simply reuse them by refilling them with water. I use bags from the grocery store as trash bags in the small garbage cans in my bedroom and bathroom, rather than buying new ones.

I hope that I will one day have more options for recycling in my town. Right now, we are behind most of the nation on many things, and recycling is one of them.

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