Waste Management: What It Is, Different Methods, Examples, & More

In the guide below, we outline various aspects of waste management.

We list or discuss:

– What waste management is

– Why waste management is important

– Some of the main waste management methods

– Examples of managing different waste types (such as solid waste, plastic waste, hazardous waste, and more)

– And, other relevant information


What Is Waste Management? – A Definition

Waste management is any practice or process that involves the collection or capture of waste, and then managing that waste in a way that forms part of an individual waste management solution, or, an overall waste management system, plan, or strategy


What Is Waste?

There are many different types of waste that can come from several sources.

Some of the main waste streams for example include municipal waste, commercial and industrial waste, hazardous waste, and more

Waste can also come from the production process (such as heat, waste water, and general production waste), or from consumers 

Waste can be materials, items, products, and even by-products or emissions (of production processes)

We’ve previously outlined some of the main types of waste in this guide, and also this one


Scale Of Waste Management

Waste management can be broken down into, or implemented on different scales

Waste management can refer to an individual waste management method for an individual waste material, such as plastic recycling (as one example)

Or, it can refer to an entire waste management system for a city or town that utilizes a number of waste management methods, and includes many different types of waste


Waste Management Differs Between Locations

Waste management is not the same everywhere

It differs between different towns and cities, where regulations and waste management systems differ

As a few examples, San Francisco’s waste management differs from other places in the US (like Chicago and New York), and glass recycling is not the same in every country


Key Factors That Can Impact Waste Management

Some of the main factors that can impact different aspects of waste management can include:

– The specific type of waste being managed

– The method or methods of waste management being used, and the stages, practices or processes being used as a part of those methods (for example, different types of recycling have different processes and stages)

A few examples of some of the general stages (in no particular order) of waste management across different waste management methods might include collection, transport, treatment, recycling and re-use, combusting, disposing, storing, and more

– Regulations and criteria on waste management in different cities and towns

– The overall waste management systems in a city or town, and how each aspect of the waste management system complements or interacts with another (like for example how different waste management methods can help manage different types of waste)

– The economics of waste management (cost, profit, feasibility, etc. of different waste management methods)

– The financial capabilities in a given city or town (for example, wikipedia.org indicates that ‘… effective waste management is relatively expensive, usually comprising 20%–50% of municipal budgets)

– Political and social support and priorities in a given city or town


What Is The Importance Of Waste Management?

Effective waste management is important because it provides various benefits, and helps address various problems.

For example, waste management:

– Helps keep towns, cities, living spaces and the general environment clean, which has a benefit for health and safety, and also quality of life

– Helps prevent and/or reduce waste pollution (and the negative effects of waste pollution)

– Helps manage resources more sustainably, via recycling resources, repurposing and re-using materials and products, recovering energy from some waste, and so on


Types Of Waste Management 

There’s many different ways to categorise the different types of waste management.

Just a few categories might be by waste type, by waste material type, by waste stream type, and by waste management method.


Different Waste Management Methods 

Some of the main waste management methods include:

– Landfill

Read more about the different types of landfills, and different landfilling methods  


– Recycling

Read more about the different types and methods of recycling 


– Incineration (and the thermal treatment of waste)

Read more about the different types and methods of incineration


– Composting

Read more about the different types and methods of composting


Concepts & Potential Best Practices For Waste Management

We’ve written about sustainability concepts, and several potential best practice approaches to waste management in the following guides:

The Waste Hierarchy

The R’s Of Sustainability, Waste Management & Recycling

Landfill vs Recycling vs Incineration vs Composting: Comparison, & Which Is Best

What Is The Best Way To Manage Waste Across Society

How To Improve Waste Management Across Society


Examples Of Managing Different Types Of Waste

Below we’ve outlined some examples of managing different types of waste.


Solid Waste Management

Regulations & Criteria For Solid Waste Varies By Country

The definition or criteria for solid waste provided by regulatory bodies varies between countries.

epa.gov has a very broad criteria for solid waste in the United States, whilst also indicating that a waste does not have to be physically solid to be classified as solid waste i.e. liquids, semi-solids, and wastes containing gaseous material can be classified as solid waste too.

epa.gov also identifies wastes excluded from solid waste regulation, with a few examples being radioactive waste, in-situ mining, and various types of hazardous waste.


Municipal Solid Waste (MSW)

A common term used in waste management is Municipal Solid Waste, or ‘MSW’ for short.

Municipal solid waste is waste from municipalities and from households.


Waste Water Management

Waste water is water that has been affected by domestic, commercial and industrial applications.

For example, in the household, there’s grey water from non-toilet plumbing fixtures like taps and showers, and there’s also black water which is water that has been mixed with toilet waste.

Waste water management can involve various practices, such as treatment of water (at waste water treatment plants) to remove impurities and hazardous materials, but also storage of water, and even re-use and recycling of treated waste water.


Biomedical Waste Management 

Biomedical waste is also referred to as, or can include, hospital waste, health waste, and clinical waste.

It’s essentially the management of any ‘infectious’ waste that comes from a health, hospital or clinical environment.

Examples can include human body fluids, blood and tissue, sharps like needles and scalpels, and more.

Biomedical waste management can happen both on-site and off-site.

There’s can be specialty biomedical waste management services that come to collect the waste and treat and dispose of it properly off-site.


Plastic Waste Management

There’s various types of plastics, and these plastics can be managed as waste in different ways.

For example, there’s recyclable plastics and non recyclable plastics

Some of the most recycled plastics tend to be PET and HDPE, with plastic bottles being recycled at higher rates in some countries

There’s various reasons some plastics can’t be recycled. Of these plastics that can’t be recycled, they might be managed in various ways, such as:

Being repurposed (upcycled or downcycled)

Being incinerated (or thermally treated as waste in some way)

– Being composted (in the instance of compostable plastics)

Being sent to landfill


We previously put together a guide discussing what the best way to manage plastic waste might be.


E-Waste Management 

E-waste includes electrical/electronic products and items that tends to use electricity and batteries to work

Common examples include laptops, computers, TV’s, and so on

Currently, only about 20% of total e-waste gets recycled.

There may be greater potential to recover metals from e-waste in the future if more e-waste is diverted from landfills.


Hazardous Waste Management 

Hazardous waste is waste that can cause significant harm to humans, and damage to the environment if not managed properly.

Common examples of hazardous waste includes toxic or poisonous waste, explosive waste, flammable waste, and infectious waste.

Pesticides, ammunition, solvents, motor oils, and batteries are some specific examples of hazardous waste. 

The management of hazardous waste varies depending on the country – hazardous waste regulations for each country should be checked to confirm hazardous waste management requirements.

This is the case with battery waste for example (i.e. waste management requirements vary) – some States and Provinces within countries require batteries be managed separately to other types of waste and be kept out of landfills, whilst others don’t have this requirement.

Some of the options for hazardous waste may be recycling, incineration or destruction, pyrolysis, treatment and isolation, or being sent to dedicated hazardous waste landfills.




1. Different ‘Better Meets Reality’ guides

2. https://www.epa.gov/hw/criteria-definition-solid-waste-and-solid-and-hazardous-waste-exclusions

3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biomedical_waste

4. https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/environment/clinicalwaste/Pages/default.aspx

5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hazardous_waste

6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waste_management



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