Domestic Waste

Think about your day. How many times have you used a bin so far? Probably a lot! There is a wide range of types of waste that humans produce, and this comes from an equally wide range of activities. Domestic waste is produced in the home through everyday activities. Like all waste, it must be appropriately dealt with. Otherwise, domestic waste can affect the environment and impact human health. Keep reading for causes of domestic waste, examples, and more. 

Domestic Waste Domestic Waste

Create learning materials about Domestic Waste with our free learning app!

  • Instand access to millions of learning materials
  • Flashcards, notes, mock-exams and more
  • Everything you need to ace your exams
Create a free account
Table of contents

    Domestic Waste: Meaning

    In the UK, waste is classified according to its origin. The four main classifications of waste are:

    • Industrial – waste produced during industrial activity

    • Commerical – waste produced by a trade or business

    • Agricultural – waste produced during farming activities

    • Domestic – waste produced in the home

    What's the full definition of domestic waste?

    Domestic waste (also known as household waste) is any waste that is generated in the home from day-to-day activities.

    Examples of Domestic Waste

    Domestic waste is split into categories: organic, toxic, recyclable, and soiled.

    Organic Waste: flowers, vegetables and fruit, kitchen waste, leaves

    Toxic Waste: batteries, paints, old medicines and other chemicals

    Recyclable Waste: glass, cardboard, paper, plastics, metals

    Soiled Waste: nappies, cloth soiled with bodily fluids, animal waste

    The time taken for waste to break down varies considerably.

    Type of WasteApproximate Time to Break Down
    Organic WasteUp to 2 weeks
    Cigarette ButtUp to 5 years
    Aluminium CanUp to 500 years
    Plastic BagsUp to 1000 years
    TyresUp to 2000 years
    GlassUp to 1 million years
    Aluminium FoilNever

    What are the Differences Between Domestic and Industrial Waste?

    The key difference between domestic and industrial waste is the site of its production. Domestic waste is produced in the home. Industrial waste is produced by industries, manufacturing processes, and resource extraction.

    Where does industrial waste come from?

    • Factories

    • Mining and resource extraction

    • Textile mills

    • Electricity generation

    • Water treatment

    • Food production

    • Metallurgy

    Metallurgy is the production and purification of metals.

    Industrial waste has the potential to pollute nearby soil or waterways, impacting the environment.

    Causes of Domestic Waste

    Domestic waste can come from a variety of sources, but there are a few major causes to be aware of.

    The prevalence of non-biodegradable pollution has become a major environmental issue. With better technologies, we are producing durable materials that can withstand extreme temperatures. These materials are very useful, but create problems when it comes to dispersal. Non-biodegradable waste can't be broken down by microorganisms or the natural elements. As a result, non-biodegradable pollution is an environmental concern, threatening to overwhelm landfills.

    Examples of non-biodegradable pollution include heavy metals, pesticides, and polythene.

    Food Waste

    The UK throws away 9.5 million tonnes of food every year. That's the highest amount in Europe – and it's even more problematic considering that over 8 million UK residents are experiencing food poverty.

    Food poverty is the inability to afford or access enough food to make up a nutritious diet.

    Why does the UK produce so much food waste? There's a variety of causes, but the main ones are:

    • Shops and restaurants ordering more food than they need

    • Consumers buying too much food

    • Lack of awareness of expiry dates

    Sell-by Dates vs Use-by Dates

    The sell-by date on a food item is only relevant to the retailer selling the product. It refers to the date by which the product must be sold to the customer. The use-by date is designed to let the consumer know when the food items should be consumed by.

    However, food can be frozen and eaten past its use-by date.

    Domestic Waste, food waste rotten domestic causes of waste, StudySmarterFigure 1: Fruit, vegetables, bread and milk are the most common culprits. Source: Unsplash

    Unnecessary Purchasing

    Unnecessary purchases contribute to domestic waste – as well as wasting money. A 2019 report found that the British public wasted £641 million shopping online and failing to return unwanted products.

    Instead of buying something new, it's better to reuse or borrow an existing resource. If you do need to buy the item, make sure it's efficient and long-lived.


    Packaging of food and other products account for a large proportion of waste. In the UK, 70% of all plastic waste is single-use plastic packaging.

    Effects of Domestic Waste

    Large amounts of domestic waste can negatively impact human health and the environment.

    Ineffective Management

    Improper management of domestic waste is common, especially in urban areas of developing countries. The resulting waste buildup can negatively affect human health. It attracts disease-carrying insects, contaminates drinking water, and can cause air pollution.


    It's important for e-waste to be stored and disposed of properly. E-waste needs to be brought to a specialised recycling centre – not placed in a kerbside bin.

    E-waste refers to end-of-life electronics.

    Illegal e-waste incineration contributes to air pollution. This results in heavy metal exposure, hypertension, and hypoxemia in nearby residents.

    Hypertension is high blood pressure.

    Hypoxemia is low oxygen in the blood.


    A large quantity of domestic waste ends up in landfill sites. These unsightly and smelly rubbish dumps contaminate the environment and threaten human health.

    Frustratingly, around 80% of the waste on landfill sites could be recycled.

    Domestic Waste, landfill site effects of waste, StudySmarterFigure 2: Waste in landfill sites can take hundreds of years to biodegrade. Source: Unsplash

    Landfill sites produce a liquid called leachate, which can become toxic. If left unchecked, leachate can contaminate nearby waterways, negatively impacting aquatic ecosystems.

    Landfill sites have a sweet, sickly smell caused by landfill gases. These contain greenhouse gases and pollutants including methane, carbon dioxide, ammonia, and hydrogen sulfide. Short-term exposure to landfill gas can cause a range of health issues such as asthma, sleep problems, weight loss, and chest pain. Methane and carbon dioxide can affect the availability of oxygen to the tissues, resulting in coordination issues, fatigue, nausea, and unconsciousness. Prolonged exposure to landfill gases have been linked with cancer, respiratory disorders, and developmental defects in children.

    Furthermore, flammable methane gas can cause explosions and fires at landfill sites.

    Landfill sites are a consequence of the linear economy and its “take, make, dispose” strategy. Raw materials are extracted, transformed into products, and discarded as waste without ecological concern.

    Treatment Options for Domestic Waste

    During your A-Level, you may be asked to evaluate different treatment options for domestic waste. Four options are covered here, each with advantages and disadvantages.


    A landfill site is an area of land used to dump domestic waste.


    • Landfill sites remove waste from homes and streets – it has to go somewhere!
    • It's a cheap method of waste disposal.
    • Waste in landfill has the potential to be burned as a source of energy.


    • Landfill sites contaminate the environment.
    • Breakdown of waste produces landfill gas, a source of carbon emissions.
    • Living in proximity to a landfill site can affect human health.


    Incineration is a waste treatment process where waste material is burnt to generate energy.


    • Incineration converts waste into energy, which can power homes and essential infrastructure.
    • It reduces the quantity of waste.
    • Incineration produces less pollution than landfill sites.


    • Waste incineration plants have high operating costs.

    • Burning waste can cause air pollution, impacting human health.

    • Incinerating waste is linked to environmental racism. A rapidly increasing number of incinerators in the UK are being disproportionately built in low-income areas and neighbourhoods with high populations of people of colour.

    Environmental racism is policy that disadvantages groups or communities based on race. It can be intentional or unintentional.


    Lots of waste can be recycled, such as cardboard, paper, some plastics, food waste, and glass.

    Recycling is the process of converting waste into reusable material.

    Domestic Waste, recycling separation waste treatment, StudySmarterFigure 3: Waste material must be separated before it can be processed for recycling. Source: Unsplash


    • Recycling reduces the demand for natural resources.

    • Recycling reduces the quantity of waste in landfill.
    • The recycling process doesn't emit greenhouse gases. It also reduces pollution during the extraction phase of the production process – i.e. getting the raw materials out of the ground.


    • Building recycling plants carries a high upfront cost.

    • It can be difficult to encourage households to change their behaviour and recycle their waste.

    • Recycled products may not be as durable. They're often made of overused, fragile waste materials.


    Composting can be used for food waste, teabags, eggshells, and garden waste.

    Composting is a waste treatment process where organic matter is converted into nutrient-rich soils.


    • Composting improves soil structure and quality.

    • Food waste acts as an organic fertiliser.

    • It's a cheap method of waste treatment.


    • Not all organic matter is suitable for composting (such as animal bones).

    • Composting requires an initial investment.

    • The composting process requires regular work and monitoring.

    I hope that this article has clarified domestic waste for you. Remember that it's waste produced in the home from regular day-to-day activities. Major sources of domestic waste include food waste, unnecessary purchases and excess packaging.

    Domestic waste - Key takeaways

    • Domestic (or household) waste is any waste that is generated in the home from day-to-day activities. It's one of four classifications of waste in the UK.
    • It differs from industrial waste, which is produced as a result of industrial processes, manufacturing, and resource extraction.
    • Domestic waste comes from a variety of sources, especially food waste, unnecessary purchases, and single-use packaging.
    • Domestic waste can lead to disease, air pollution and environmental contamination.
    • Treatment options for domestic waste include landfill sites, incineration for energy, recycling, and composting.

    1. Andrew Lisa, How Long It Takes 50 Common Items to Decompose, Stacker, 2022

    2. California Waste Mgmt Bulletin, Roadside Litter, 2007

    3. Drew Bucker, 50 Recycling and Landfill Facts That Will Make You Think Twice About Your Trash, Rubicon, 2018

    4. The Drum, Click and regret: Brits wasting over half a billion pounds every year online on unwanted goods, 2019

    5. Mark Hall, Food Waste 2022: The Facts, Business Waste, 2022

    6. Parimala Gnana Soundari, Waste treatment approaches for environmental sustainability, Microorganisms for Sustainable Environment and Health, 2020

    7. Wrap, Plastic Packaging, 2022

    Frequently Asked Questions about Domestic Waste

    What is domestic waste?

    Domestic waste is waste generated in the home from day-to-day activities.

    What are some examples of domestic waste?

    Examples of domestic waste include glass bottles, cardboard boxes, newspapers, nappies, and food waste.

    What are the causes of domestic waste?

    Major causes of domestic waste include food waste, unnecessary purchases and packaging.

    What is the main difference between domestic and industrial waste?

    Domestic waste is produced in the home, while industrial waste is produced by industries, manufacturing processes, and resource extraction.

    What are the effects of domestic waste?

    Domestic waste can lead to environmental contamination and health problems.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    How much food does the UK throw away every year?

    Why does the UK produce so much food waste?

    How much of the UK's plastic waste comes from single-use packaging?

    About StudySmarter

    StudySmarter is a globally recognized educational technology company, offering a holistic learning platform designed for students of all ages and educational levels. Our platform provides learning support for a wide range of subjects, including STEM, Social Sciences, and Languages and also helps students to successfully master various tests and exams worldwide, such as GCSE, A Level, SAT, ACT, Abitur, and more. We offer an extensive library of learning materials, including interactive flashcards, comprehensive textbook solutions, and detailed explanations. The cutting-edge technology and tools we provide help students create their own learning materials. StudySmarter’s content is not only expert-verified but also regularly updated to ensure accuracy and relevance.

    Learn more
    StudySmarter Editorial Team

    Team Domestic Waste Teachers

    • 9 minutes reading time
    • Checked by StudySmarter Editorial Team
    Save Explanation

    Study anywhere. Anytime.Across all devices.

    Sign-up for free

    Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.

    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

    The first learning app that truly has everything you need to ace your exams in one place

    • Flashcards & Quizzes
    • AI Study Assistant
    • Study Planner
    • Mock-Exams
    • Smart Note-Taking
    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App