The 4 Rs

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Recover

Audit of the environmental management system

A systematic, documented auditing process for obtaining and objectively assessing evidence with which to determine whether the environmental management system of an organization is in compliance with that organization's established criteria for auditing its environmental management system and to communicate the results of the auditing process to management.


A material is called biodegradable when it can undergo complete biodegradation. For example, most plastic bags are not biodegradable, but paper bags are. The biodegradability or otherwise of waste products can make a major difference, as plastic bags discarded in natural settings will remain intact for a long time while paper bags will decompose quite quickly.


Fuel obtained from dry organic matter or combustible vegetable oils. Alcohol (a product of the fermentation of sugar), the black sludge generated from the paper-manufacturing process, wood and soybean oil are examples of biofuels.


Biogas is the gas produced by the fermentation of organic animal or vegetable matter in the absence of oxygen.

This fermentation, also known as methanization, occurs naturally (in swamps) and spontaneously in landfills containing organic matter, but it can also be initiated artificially in digesters (for the treatment of waste-water sludge, industrial or agricultural organic waste, etc.).

Biogas is a mixture made up primarily of methane (typically from 50% to 70%) and carbon dioxide, with varying amounts of water vapour and hydrogen sulphide (H2S). There may also be other constituents resulting from contaminants, especially in biogas from landfills.

The energy from biogas comes exclusively from the methane; thus biogas is the very widespread form of renewable fossil fuel known as natural gas, which likewise consists mainly of methane but also contains butane, propane and other constituents. Biogas can also be called biomethane.


Composting is a natural process that converts organic matter into a soil-like product called humus or compost. Organic matter is decomposed by micro-organisms such as bacteria and fungi that convert it into the simple components that plants use for food. These micro-organisms need water and air, not only organic matter.

Composting is an important means of recycling that can be done at home. It is an easy way to reduce by one third the amount of waste that households produce. Composing yields an excellent soil-enriching agent for gardening and landscaping.

Deposit (money)

An amount of money collected when a product is purchased. Partly or fully refundable, it encourages recovery of post-consumer goods.

Eco-design-environmental assessment

Environmental design allows for reducing negative impacts on the environment throughout the product's life cycle during the design phase. Environmental design gives companies a systematic framework with which to incorporate environmental problems into design decisions. Despite the systematic process, the task is not an easy one. The environmental issues are numerous and complex, and they may be new to the development teams. Environmental design formally incorporates environmental objectives into the development process and provides pro-active, monitored, systematic assessment of products' environmental performance. Environmental design is a systemic approach to environmental management. It expands the traditional concept of preventing pollution beyond the manufacturing process to include environmental concerns throughout the product's life cycle. Environmental design strives to improve the environmental performance of the entire production system; consequently, it entails concepts such as pollution prevention, clean technologies, energy control and product recycling. Environmental design plainly goes beyond special or harmful products, especially chemicals, to cover a wide range of manufactured products. As with the risks and costs of waste treatment, effluent treatment, chemical accidents and the spreading of spills, the benefits of anticipating these problems are evident. (Translated from {18}.)

Environmental footprint

"The soil and water that are necessary for sustaining a given human population's material standard of living indefinitely through the technology that exists at the time." {10} "The calculation of the environmental footprint is based on two facts: it is possible to track most resources used and most wastes, and the flows of these substances can be translated into the biologically productive area required for their production. Roughly one hundred products and resources are used in the calculation of each country's ecological footprint." {64} "According to this indicator, one criterion for "high sustainability" would be that each generation received an adequate stock of natural capital for each individual, said stock being no smaller than the one inherited by the previous generation. The "ecological footprint" indicator can express the amount of productive land that a country is currently claiming, according to its lifestyle: land use, food, energy. Energy consumption is thus expressed in the form of renewal of energy-yielding raw materials."

Greenhouse gases

Greenhouse gases are natural, man-made components of the atmosphere that absorb and emit radiation of specific wavelengths in the infrared spectrum from the earth's surface, the atmosphere and clouds. This property causes the greenhouse effect. Water vapour (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O), methane (CH4) and ozone (O3) are the main greenhouse gases in the earth's atmosphere. There are also greenhouse gases that result solely from human activity, such as halocarbons and other substances that contain chlorine and bromide, which are regulated by the Montreal Protocol. Apart from CO2, N2O and CH4, the Kyoto Protocol regulates sulphur hexafluoride (SF6), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and perfluorocarbons (PFCs), which are also greenhouse gases.

Hazardous household waste

Any waste generated within households, whether in solid, liquid, or gaseous form, that has the properties of a hazardous material, as defined in the regulations on hazardous materials (leaching, inflammable, toxic, corrosive, explosive, combustive or radioactive materials) or that is contaminated by such materials.

Industrial ecology

The traditional criticisms of the industrial system, which focus on issues of pollution and depletion of resources, no longer suffice. The past few years have seen the emergence of a new, more expansive approach: industrial ecology. Rather than seeing the industrial system as separate from the Biosphere, we can consider it as a special case of an ecosystem. Industrial ecology is concerned with the long-term evolution of the industrial system as a whole, not only with environmental problems. {63} Industrial ecology is a new field of study at the juncture of resource conservation, environmental law and industrial engineering. The concept was proposed in Scientific American in 1989 by Robert Frosch, a former researcher at General Motors who is now a professor at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Frosch's vision is simple: why does our industrial system not behave like an ecosystem, in which the waste of one species serves as resources to other species? Why are the waste products of one company not used as inputs for another? In this way, we would reduce the consumption of raw materials as well as pollution while enabling companies to save the costs of incineration or disposal in landfills.


Any liquid that filters through waste in landfills and drains from a landfill or its contents.


A hydrocarbon that is a greenhouse gas resulting from the anaerobic (oxygen-free) decomposition of wastes in landfills, animals' digestion, the decomposition of animal waste, the production and distribution of natural gas and petroleum, the production of coal and the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels. Methane is one of the six greenhouse gases whose emissions must be reduced in accordance with the Kyoto Protocol.

"Polluter pays" principle

According to the "polluter pays" principle, the costs resulting from efforts to prevent, reduce or combat pollution should be borne by the polluter. {112} The "polluter pays" principle was adopted by the OECD in 1972 as an economic principle with the goal of assigning the costs associated with the battle against pollution. It is one of the essential principles that underlie environmental policies in developed countries. In its initial recommendations of 1972 and 1974, the OECD said that the "polluter pays" principle means that "the Polluter should bear the expenses of carrying out the measures ... to ensure that the environment is in an acceptable state." In other words, the polluter should the costs of the measures that it is legally required to take to protect the environment, such as measures that aim to reduce the emission of pollutants at source and measures that aim to prevent pollution through the collective processing of effluents from the polluting facility and other sources of pollution. In principle, the polluter bears all the costs of preventing and combating the pollution that it creates. Unless covered by the exceptions outlined by the OECD, the polluter should not receive subsidies of any kind (direct subsidies, facilities or tax deductions for anti-pollution equipment, underbilling for public services, etc.) for combating pollution. {2} "As defined in 1972, the "polluter pays" principle has been gradually generalized and extended. Originally it allowed public authorities to increase regulatory restrictions without having to compensate manufacturers. What was at first a principle of partial internalization is becoming more and more a principle of total internalization. This extension is being made gradually in four directions: extension of the costs of administrative measures, extension of the costs of damages, extension to accidental pollution and finally generalized internalization." {2} Acting in the public interest and refraining from interfering with international trade and investment, national authorities should strive to promote the internalization of the costs of protecting the environment and the use of economic instruments according to the principle that it is the polluter that should, in principle, assume the costs of pollution.

Precautionary principle

According to the precautionary principle, the lack of certainty, given the state of current scientific and technical knowledge, should not delay the adoption of effective, proportionate measures for preventing a risk of serious, irreversible harm to the environment at an economically acceptable cost. {112} Principle 15 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development states: "Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation." {113} (Note: The French translation of the text changed the meaning of the English: where the English says "cost-effective measures," the French reads "effective measures." The French law of 1995 corrected this error by substituting the phrase "mesures effectives et proportionnées." The French environmental code also corrects this error: it refers to the principle "according to which the lack of certainty, given the state of current scientific and technical knowledge, should not delay the adoption of effective, proportionate measures for preventing a risk of serious, irreversible harm to the environment at an economically acceptable cost." {112}) "This principle recognizes that the relevant science is not yet completely solid. Decisions about the "uncertain scientific environment" must be based on procedures that combine ethics, society, the economy, politicians and scientists, with more attention from the media. Thus science does not shirk responsibility for humans and their institutions; it even tends to undertake new challenges." {114} The Commission Française du Développement durable proposed that "a concrete application of the precautionary principle would be directed towards identifying problems and anticipating crises. The precautionary spirit requires the possibility of instituting a systematic procedure for oversight, advance notice and corrective action wherever it is needed, through the establishment of ad hoc structures." The members of these sector-based consultative bodies will express their interests with respect to this issue. The media has a role of transparency to play in this procedure.


The repeated use of a product or packaging material, without alteration to its appearance or its properties.


The collection and sorting of discarded materials for storage or processing with a view to their recuperation.


Any operation aimed at reusing, recycling, composting, regeneration or any other activity unrelated to disposal that yields useful products, items or energy from waste.


The direct reintroduction of waste into the production cycle that replaces, in whole or in part, the use of virgin materials.

Reduction at source

An action by which the production of wastes is reduced during the manufacturing, distribution and use of a product.

Renewable energy resources

Sources of energy that are sustainable over a time frame that is short relative to the earth's natural cycles. These include carbon-free technologies, such as solar energy, hydroelectricity and wind power, as well as carbon-neutral technologies, such as biomass.

Sanitary landfill

The final site at which wastes are unloaded, compacted and recovered in cells that are constructed and operated so as to reduce and control leachate contamination, odours and biogases.

Sorting centre

The environmentally sensitive sorting and the separate collection of wastes are practices that separate and recover wastes according to type in order to give them a "new life" beyond mere destruction (such as by incineration).

Waste segregation

A means of recovery by which wastes destined for sorting centres are collected in a manner allowing them to be properly exploited.

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