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Post-consumer waste is a waste type produced by the end consumer of a material stream; that is, where the waste-producing use did not involve the production of another product.
The terms of pre-consumer and post-consumer recycled materials are not defined in ISO standard number 14021 (1999), but pre-consumer and post-consumer materials are. These definitions are the most widely recognized and verified definitions as used by manufacturers and procurement officers worldwide.
Quite commonly, it is simply the waste that individuals routinely discard, either in a waste receptacle or a dump, or by littering, incinerating, pouring down the drain, or washing into the gutter.
Post-consumer waste is distinguished from pre-consumer waste, which is the reintroduction of manufacturing scrap (such as trimmings from paper production, defective aluminum cans, etc.) back into the manufacturing process. Pre-consumer waste is commonly used in manufacturing industries, and is often not considered recycling in the traditional sense.
Post-consumer waste consists of:
In many countries, such as the United States, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in post-consumer waste once it leaves the consumer's home. Anyone can search it, including the police, and any incriminating evidence recovered can be used at trial. This doctrine was established in The California v. Greenwood case, in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that there is no common law expectation of privacy for discarded materials. This has since led people to argue the legality of taking post-consumer waste for salvage value.
Especially within the food system, there is a lot of waste occurring at the consumer end. Post-consumer waste accounts for a large proportion of food that is wasted. This can be attributed to many reasons, including the way in which food is labeled. According to a study published in 2020, the confusing labeling of "use by", "consume by", or "sell by" dates is a significant reason why food is wasted at such a high volume when the food is otherwise entirely edible. Another reason is the way that food is used once it reaches the average consumer household due to many factors, with the main factors being social, behavioral, and personal purchasing habits. Additionally, each of those factors influences each other and affects the amount of food that is wasted per person.
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