Recycling Terms & Definitions


Reuse – Reusing a certain material means to use it again for the same purpose that it was originally made for.   Sometimes a product that is being reused is referred to as being refurbished, or pre-owned.  The original product is usually not altered in any significant way before being used again.  Examples range from pre-owned cars and golf clubs to clothing and footwear.

Upcycling – Upcycling means to use a certain material again, but in a manner different than what it was originally intended for.  The original product is left mostly intact, utilizing its shape, form, and material for a different purpose.  Examples include using car tires as swings or playground elements, using corks to make a cork board, or using shipping pallets to make furniture or interior design elements.   Only a very small percentage of the material TerraCycle collects falls into this category.

Recycling – Recycling is the process of recovering material from waste and turning it into new products.  The original product is destroyed in this process, usually through a melting process, but it used to form new products.  Examples are aluminum cans, plastic water bottles, most food tubs, bottles, cans, and many more!  Most of the items TerraCycle collects fall into this category.

Incineration (or Waste-to-Energy/W2E) – Incineration is the process by which waste materials are burned or gasified.  Depending on the product, this process may or may not generate fuel or energy.  The original product is destroyed during this process as the high temperatures break down material at the molecular level.

Landfilling – Disposing of waste by putting it into a pile and covering it with dirt and other materials. Landfilling effectively mummifies the material, as very little decomposition can occur due to the lack of air circulation and sunlight.  This process does not recover any material, except in very few exceptions where landfills may syphon off methane gas for energy use.

Reducing Your Impact – There are many ways that we, as individuals, can lessen our impact on the planet and the finite resources it contains. This list provides a general outline of things we can all do to become more environmentally conscious consumers:

  1. Reduce - Reduce our overall consumption of “things” in general. This can be as simple as turning off the faucet while brushing our teeth, taking shorter showers with colder water, or pacing the amount of air conditioning we use in the summer or heat in the winter.  Carpooling reduces gasoline consumption and reduces the number of cars on the road. You can change most of your essential mail over to paperless; plus, many newspapers, magazines, and bills can be viewed on the internet.

  2. Buy used products – Purchasing pre-owned materials reduces demand for raw materials, and some pre-owned products are just as functional as their newer counterparts.  This will usually cost you less money as well!

  3. Buy more durable products – Choosing a higher quality durable product over cheaper disposable alternatives is a great way to reduce consumption, and also waste.

  4. Buy consciously – When available, purchase products that include recycled content or that have reduced environmental impacts.

  5. Finally, ask yourself, do you actually need this product?  If the answer is “no” and you forego the purchase for that reason, you’ve just made a conscious effort to reduce your environmental impact.


Post-Industrial (i.e. Factory Waste) – Waste generated in a factory during the manufacturing process, often in the form of product scrap, trim, overruns, punch-outs, or other processing waste.

Pre-Consumer (i.e. Factory Waste) – This is waste generated in a factory from completed products, often in the form of misprinted, defective, or excess products.

Post-Consumer – Waste generated after a product has been used and disposed of by a consumer.  This is the type of waste people are most familiar with, as they mostly throw it in a garbage can or recycling bin.


Plastics (by Recycling Code):  While these symbols appear on many items to identify recyclability, they do not necessary means that the items are recyclable.  For instance, a #1 (PET) is very commonly recycled while a #7 (Other) cannot be recycled in many places.  Here is a breakdown of the recycling codes and what they all mean:

  • #1 PET – This is a type of plastic commonly used in water bottles, blister packs, and clear food packaging.
  • #2 HDPE – This is a type of higher-melting plastic that is used in milk jugs, cleaning solution bottles, trigger bottles, etc.
  • #3 PVC – This type of plastic is used in the the white pipes/tubes that most modern plumbing is made with.
  • #4 LDPE – This is a type of lower-melting plastic that makes up your shopping bag and some stretch wrap.
  • #5 PP – This is a type of higher-melting plastic used for dairy tubs, the caps on most bottles, and things like storage containers.
  • #6 PS – This plastic is used to make styrofoam food containers, disposable dining utensils, and yogurt containers.
  • #7 Other – This category refers to everything else that does not fall into the previous six, or a combination of any of the previous items used together in a single product.  Some other types of plastics that fall into this category are:
    • ABS – This polymer is often used to make the rigid plastic housings for electronics, remotes, toys, and more.
    • PA (Nylon) – This plastic is often used in fabrics, plastic zip or cable ties, and other industrial parts.


  • Aluminum – Aluminum is one of the most common metals on the planet, and its properties make it important for many products and their packaging.  This is one of the most important materials to recycle.
  • Steel - This is a common metal for durable goods and load-bearing objects.  Examples of product applications that use steel include metal appliances, cars, and load-bearing beams.
  • Copper – Copper is used in electrical applications and electronic products due to its excellent thermal and electrical conductivity.

Glass: This is a (mostly) transparent solid material that is mostly used for practical and decorative applications. It comes in three different colors, all used in different applications, which are all widely recyclable.

  • Amber – used frequently for beer bottles
  • Green – occasionally used for beer bottles
  • Clear – often used for food/beverage packaging or for more practical and decorative needs

Paper: These plant-derived materials are commonly recycled, but have different grades. Paper cannot be recycled if it is wet, has food contamination, or has been recycled multiple times already.  There are three grades of paper used for making recycled products.

  1. Cardboard (OCC)

  2. Office paper

  3. Newsprint / magazines

E-Waste: These materials include some type of electronic component and are most often disassembled in order to be recycled.

Textiles: These are fabrics and typically make up clothing or accessories.

Batteries: Despite having a chemical and electrical component, some batteries can be recycled.