The common perception of resource recovery is that it means clean burning of waste. This is true, to a certain extent. Incinerating non-biodegradable items that would otherwise sit in landfill, such as plastic film, is an excellent way to reduce their contribution to the municipal solid waste stream and the resulting chemicals that leach into soil and groundwater.

However, this isn’t the only example of resource recovery. We need a more comprehensive definition if we’re to make the necessary strides toward a cleaner future.

“Resource recovery is the process of recovering materials or energy from solid waste for reuse,” explains Encyclopedia.com more expansively. “The aim is to make the best use of the economic, environmental, and social costs of these materials before they are permanently laid to rest in a landfill. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and environmentalists have set up a hierarchy for resource recovery: reduce first, then reuse, recycle, incinerate with energy recovery, and landfill last.”