Recycling and waste management

What Is Solid Waste? - Definition and Examples

Matthew Nesbitt
By Matthew Nesbitt, Writer and researcher. Updated: January 8, 2023
What Is Solid Waste? - Definition and Examples

While a growing majority of us are accepting that we need to mitigate the negative effects of climate change, our understanding remains generally poor. Finding the solutions we need to tackle pollution, waste and other contributors to harmful climate change is an ongoing process, but it is also an incredibly complicated one. For this reason, it can be incredibly beneficial to ensure we know some of the basic concepts first. Knowing the different types of waste we produce is vital to knowing how we can reduce waste and pollution overall.

At thedailyECO, we help you understand the causes and solutions of pollution by asking what is solid waste? We answer by providing a definition of solid waste, explain how it is classified and show examples of solid waste in industrial and domestic environments.

You may also be interested in: What Is Industrial Waste?
  1. What is solid waste?
  2. Examples of solid waste
  3. How solid waste is classified
  4. Where is solid waste disposed of and recycled?
  5. Consequences of poor solid waste management

What is solid waste?

Waste is the term which applies to various materials which are considered either unwanted or unusable. Many products we once considered waste are now seen as being reusable, especially if they are made from recyclable materials. For example, we may have considered plastic bottles as waste material at some point, but they are now often easily recyclable.

The various types of waste can be categorized into many different classifications, but they are all generally liquid, gaseous or solid. In this context, the definition of solid waste is any unwanted or unusable material which is solid in its state of matter. The term urban solid waste is used to refer to types of solid waste produced within urban centers or their areas of influence.

Much industrial waste is produced in areas outside of urban influence. For example, we do not find many production plants or power stations located within city limits. While this wasn't always the case, much of our world's industrial production occurs outside of urban environments. This doesn't mean urban environments do not produce solid waste, but it comes largely from offices, retailers and even residential sources.

Examples of solid waste

Since solid waste comes from such a diverse range of sources, there is an almost unlimited ranger of examples you can site. We are rightly concerned about liquid and gaseous waste as they are some of the most harmful to the environment. We can see this in the danger posed by greenhouse gases or the toxic liquid waste spills from power plants.

Solid waste is also incredibly harmful, especially because it takes up so much space. Examples of solid waste include:

  • Plastic bottles
  • Old tires
  • Cardboard boxes
  • Product packaging
  • Home appliances
  • Furniture
  • Empty food or aerosol cans
  • Used medical equipment
  • Soiled clothes
  • Chemical containers
  • Broken electronic devices
  • Toys

One of the biggest problems with solid waste is that it is placed in landfills. These are areas where solid waste is disposed of and which cause serious hazards as they grow. Much of the material which is located in landfill is considered waste, but can actually be reused or recycled.

What Is Solid Waste? - Definition and Examples - Examples of solid waste

How solid waste is classified

Solid waste can be classified into two large groups, hazardous and non-hazardous solid waste. As its name indicates, hazardous waste is a category which includes types of solid waste that may pose a danger to people or to the environment. This is often due to their corrosive, explosive or toxic properties. Non-hazardous waste does not pose a direct danger to people or the environment, but it can still be problematic

These types of solid waste can be further categorized into the following groups:

  • Ordinary: this waste is generated during the daily routine in homes, schools, offices or hospitals.

  • Biodegradable: these residues are characterized by being able to disintegrate or degrade quickly, becoming another type of organic matter. Examples of this type of waste are food scraps, fruits and vegetables.

  • Inert: these materials are characterized by the fact that they do not decompose easily in nature, but rather take a long time to decompose. Among these residues we find cardboard or some kinds of paper.

  • Recyclable: these residues can be subjected to processes that allow them to be used again. Among these we find glass, fabrics, certain kinds of plastics or paper.

In addition to this classification, solid waste can also be grouped into organic and inorganic :

  • Organic: biodegradable waste would be grouped in this classification.

  • Non-organic or inorganic: due to their chemical characteristics, these materials undergo a very slow natural disintegration. Much of this waste is recyclable by complex methods such as cans, some plastics, glass or rubber. In other cases its recycling or transformation is not possible, as is the case of batteries, which are dangerous and polluting.

The management of urban solid waste is carried out in several stages. The first stage occurs prior to collection (including separation and storage), then there is the collection itself, followed by transport from the collection point and, finally, its elimination or transformation.

Where is solid waste disposed of and recycled?

Once collected, the destinations for solid wasteto be disposed of can include:

Disposal in a landfill

The sanitary landfill is a method of eliminating solid waste that consists of depositing it on the ground, spread out and compacted. This is done most commonly with hazardous waste.


A waste incinerator is a system to treat garbage consisting of burning this waste at high temperatures. This process manages to reduce its volume by up to 90% and its weight by 75%. The disadvantage of this system is that ashes, inert residues and gases are generated that can be toxic to people and ecosystems.

Separation and use

This system classifies solid waste at the place where it is produced in order to subsequently recover it. To recover them, processes, techniques and operations are applied that manage to return to these materials the possibility of reusing them in their original or similar function.

Take a look at our related article to learn more about solid waste in the form of plastics in the ocean.

What Is Solid Waste? - Definition and Examples - Where is solid waste disposed of and recycled?

Consequences of poor solid waste management

Poor solid waste management can have various consequences on the world's ecosystems. This include those inhabited by humans. Some of the most serious consequences of poor solid waste management include:

  • Health risks: in the form of disease, both direct and indirect. Many of these effects are being investigated as we discover more about the origins of various congenital and acquired health problems.

  • Harmful effects on the environment: such as the aesthetic deterioration of cities and natural landscapes, which can be considered a form of transformation of nature by humans.

  • Water pollution: as leachate or discharged into rivers and streams. This leads to eutrophication, with its terrible consequences on flora and fauna.

  • Soil contamination: such as the abandonment of land or spills on the ground. This can affect the natural habitat of various plants and animals, as well as the agricultural and inhabitable spaces for humans.

  • Air pollution: smoke and gas emissions lead to a reduction in the quality of the air we breathe.

Since our own garbage is a great contributing factor to the amount of solid waste produce around the world, it is helpful to know more about its effect on our ecosystems. Take a look at our video below to learn more:

If you want to read similar articles to What Is Solid Waste? - Definition and Examples, we recommend you visit our Recycling and waste management category.

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What Is Solid Waste? - Definition and Examples