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What is Municipal Solid Waste (MSW)?

Municipal solid waste, also called garbage or trash, is nonhazardous refuse generated by households, institutions, industries, agriculture, and sewage. It is made up of waste, compostables, and recyclable materials, with the municipality overseeing its disposal. Typically, this refuse is collected, separated and sent to either a landfill or a municipal recycling center for processing. In some cases, what is defined by a community as municipal solid waste will vary by jurisdiction.

MSW has changed alongside with society. In the past, refuse from communal refuse was mostly made up of ash, wood, bone, and vegetable waste. Dumps were mainly filled with pottery or tools that could no longer be repaired as early humans would feed most biodegradables to their livestock or leave it to decompose. As humanity continued to develop, the refuse created by communities became more complicated with the introduction of metals like copper, aluminium, and steel; new materials like plastic; and the introduction of hazardous substances.

Fortunately, humanity has been able to answer to this shift for the most part with programs that combat the various types of litter through recycling, compost, and developing landfills that will protect the environment from pollution.


Other Sources

“For Education.” Began with the Bin. Accessed May 3, 2016.

Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change. “Municipal Solid Waste.” Environment and Climate Change Canada. December 7, 2013. Accessed May 25, 2016.

The World Bank Group. “Glossary.” The World Bank.,,contentMDK:20241717~menuPK:4153320~pagePK:210058~piPK:210062~theSitePK:463841,00.html#m. Accessed May 25, 2016.