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Many industries have their own vernacular, peppered with acronyms and popular buzzwords. What is everyday jargon within the industry, can often sound like Greek outside of it. On the other hand, some concepts may seem obvious, but carry context that you may not know about. And here at SmartMatta, we’re no different – we’ve even coined our own acronym. 


That’s why we’ve put together a glossary of waste management terminology to help you stay on top of all the lingo.


Anaerobic digestion:

The process by which organic matter (plant or animal-based waste) is broken down, in the absence of oxygen, to produce biogas and biofertiliser.


A type of biofuel that is naturally produced from the breakdown of organic matter, utilising nature’s ability to recycle substances into productive resources.


A fertiliser packed with living microbes and an increased supply of essential nutrients that help promote plant growth.


Any fuel that is derived from biomass (waste produced from plants or animals), which provides a more eco-friendly alternative to fossil fuel energy.

Business waste:

Waste made by companies, retail, wholesale, entertainment, or the government.

Carbon tax:

SA’s latest legislation (currently on hold due to Covid-19) that will impose a fee on businesses and consumers of R120 per tonne of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent), with an effective tax rate ranging between R6-R48, for the consumption of carbon-based fuels (coal, oil, gas).

Circular economy:

An economy regenerative by design, aiming to optimise the value of products, parts, and materials.

Commercial waste:

Waste from a trade or business, or activity related to sport, retail, recreation, education or entertainment. Commercial waste excludes household, agricultural or industrial waste.


Decayed organic material, used as a fertiliser for growing plants.


Any material, substance or object that decreases the value of your materials or their chances of being recycled.

CO2 Equivalence:

The amount or concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) within a greenhouse gas related to its projected impact on global warming.

Cradle to grave:

The tracking of waste, from the moment it enters a site to the eventual treatment or disposal of that material.

Domestic waste:

Waste that is generated by households.

Duty of Care:

A moral or legal obligation to ensure the safety or well-being of others.

General waste:

Waste that does not pose an immediate hazard or threat to health or to the environment.

Green Star SA:

A voluntary rating system modelled off the Australian Green Star rating system that gives the commercial property sector a common ‘language’ to rate and certify their levels of sustainability. 

Insect protein:

A highly energy-efficient alternative to traditional animal protein that could potentially meet the almost doubled food demand predicted by 2050.  

Integrated waste management:

A combination of waste management approaches, including: source reduction, composting, incineration, recycling, and landfills.

Mixed waste:

Any combination of waste types with different properties, ranging from biodegradable to inorganic waste.

MRF (Materials Recovery/Recycling Facility):

Facilities that receive, separate and prepare recyclables for the end user.

Municipal waste:

A waste type consisting of everyday items that are discarded by the public.

NEM (National Environmental Management) Air Quality Act:

A new legislation at play which defines the national norms and standards regulating air quality monitoring, and works to provide reasonable measures to manage pollution and promote sustainable skies above SA. See here for more information. 

NEM (National Environmental Management) Waste Act:

SA’s most comprehensive and important piece of environmental legislation that sets the national norms and standards for regulating waste, including licensing, compliance and punitive enforcement.  See here for more information. 

On site waste management:

Any kind of waste activity (recycling, composting, separating) conducted on the premises where waste is originally produced.

Organic waste:

Biodegradable waste that comes from either a plant or an animal. Example: Food waste.

Plant-based products:

Renewable, bio-based products that offer a low carbon alternative to plastic materials or animal-based food or products. 


The collection and reuse of disposed materials.


A process where waste is reclaimed for further use, and processed as a product or raw material.

Renewable energy:

Energy from a source that is not depleted when used, such as wind, hydro, or solar power.


To re-utilise articles from the waste stream for a similar or new purpose, without changing their form or properties.

Return on Environment (ROE):

A term coined by SmartMatta, ROE is the measurement all businesses should care about. It refers to the change you can see regarding your businesses’ effect on the environment, in comparison to the investment you have made into your waste management overall.  

SA Plastics Pact:

SA’s pledge in response to the current worldwide initiative amongst businesses, governments, and NGOs to move plastic into the circular economy, in which it never becomes waste or pollution. Their 2025 goals can be seen here.

Separation at source:

The separation and recovery of recyclables and other reusable waste from general waste streams at the source of its production.


Avoidance of the depletion of natural resources, in order to maintain ecological balance.


A creative way of converting discarded objects or materials into new products that are of higher quality or value than the original. 

Waste2brick technology:

A zero waste innovation with promising returns on investment, which converts general waste into building bricks.

Waste hierarchy:

The prioritisation of waste management options (in descending order) throughout its lifecycle.

Waste management:

The activities and actions required to manage waste, from its inception to its final disposal.

Waste minimisation:

To make every means possible to avoid and/or reduce the amount of waste and toxicity generated.

Waste reduction:

Using less material and energy to minimise waste generation, and preserve natural resources.

Waste to energy:

Generating fuel or energy in the form of electricity and/or heat, from waste.

Zero waste to landfill:

Waste management and planning approaches that emphasise waste prevention, as opposed to end-of-pipe waste management disposed of in landfills.

In addition, there are a few laws and initiatives on the go, which you may or may not be aware of. This year the South African government has implemented and amended stricter legislations to fast track sustainable business and a low carbon economy. As a waste management company, SmartMatta is obliged to ensure all activities comply with these various waste legislations.

Please note: these descriptions are just our own definitions in a nutshell and do not accurately represent the legislations as presented by the SA government. Please visit the various sites provided for a more comprehensive overview of the initiatives.

Now that you have an idea of the terminology that is used in the Waste Management space, you can start your journey and get your business closer to Zero Waste by exploring more of our expert content. 


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