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What Constitutes Waste?

It is important to realise that not everything is waste. Waste is usually the final product of something, but there is a saying: “Somebody’s waste is another person’s treasure.”

Waste 1 (of 6)

The University of Otago has 4 targets that it is aiming to achieve and has formed a catchphrase around them: “reduce, reuse, and recycle.” Let’s have a look at what this means.

The University also set the goal to reduce the waste that it sends to the landfill by 50% by the end of 2021. We need to know more about waste in order to reduce it. We need to know why something becomes waste.

A mountain of waste in a landfilled

What Constitutes Waste?

The following order is usually looked at to determine how this happens.

  1. Preventing waste – separating
  2. Preparing for reuse – separating further
  3. Recycling – bring your own coffee cup, water bottle, and food container
  4. Recovering – fixing, renewing

Waste is Subjective

It is important to realise that not everything is waste. Waste is usually the final product of something, but there is a saying: “Somebody’s waste is another person’s treasure.”

This means that what you might think is waste and needs to be thrown away, might not be what somebody else thinks is waste – they might want to keep it. Therefore, we need to separate what waste is and what waste is not, in general terms. One way is to use several rubbish bins to categorise items. Separating these items into various bins reduces everything going to the landfill because it might be able to be used by somebody – remember, they might not think that it is waste. Different labelled bins are put around the campus to categorise these items.

What would you put in the following bins?

Choose from the words and put the letter that best represents the category in the comment section. G = Glass, L = Landfill, MR = Mixed Recycling, P = Paper .

1. A plastic container 2. A used teabag 3. A chocolate box
4. A paper cup 5. A glass jar with a lid 6. A used tissue
7. A milk carton 8. An apple core 9. A newspaper
10. an empty tuna can
Glass- Glass bottles and jars without lids Landfilled- fruits and vegetables, takeaway coffee cups, plastic wrap, polystyrene, Tetrapacks, foil food wraps and paper towels
Mixed recycling- rigid plastic container with lids, milk and soft drink bottles, metal tins cans and foil Paper and cardboard- all clear paper and clean newsprint and cardboard


Categorising Waste

Once items have been separated they can be further categorised into whether any item is reusable, or not. This further reduces items going to the landfill. If an item is reusable then it may only need to be cleaned to be reused. Any item that cannot be reused may still be able to be broken down, or changed into something to make a new item. We need to remember that we are trying to reduce the energy spent on producing new items, as well as preventing the energy lost by sending and breaking waste down when it reaches the landfill. Remember that there is a lot of cross-over with sustainability. This means that a saving of one item, means a saving of energy in many areas.


  1. What do you think “waste” is?
  2. How is your rubbish categorised? Do you have bins to put items in? Explain.
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