Skip to content


In an effort to document the various ways recycling may be defined, the Environmental Research & Education Foundation (EREF) identified and analyzed recycling definitions used by state agencies. Definitions for “recycle”, “recycling”, and/or similar terms were identified through a search of state codes. Definitions were identified for 49 of 50 states: a definition could not be found for North Dakota. 

Definitions were analyzed based on various components, including: 

  • the activities considered to be part of recycling (e.g. collection, sorting, separating, processing, etc.), 
  • the end product of recycling (e.g. raw material, product, commodity, substitute for commercial product), 
  • the end uses considered as recycling (e.g. reuse, remanufacturing, composting, waste-to-energy), 
  • any special wastes specifically included in the definition (e.g. waste oil, household hazardous), and 
  • whether recycling occurs to waste materials, or materials prior to becoming waste. 

State definitions of recycling vary widely, and based on EREF’s analysis there are at least 18 distinct ways that recycling is defined throughout the U.S. Key findings are shared in the report, and a table of all identified definitions is provided in the Appendix.