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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 defined in the ISO standard number 14021 (1999). These definitions are the most widely recognized and verified definitions as used by manufacturers and procurement officers worldwide.
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:
- parts that are not needed, such as fruit skins, bones in meat, etc.
- undesired things received, e.g.:
- things one no longer needs, e.g. a magazine that has been read, things replaced by new versions, clothes out of fashion, remaining food that one cannot keep or does not want to keep
- broken things, things no longer working, spoiled food, worn-out clothes, clothes which no longer fit
- outgrown items toys, clothing, books, schoolwork
- disposables such as Kleenex and finished batteries
- human waste, waste of pets, waste water from various forms of cleaning
- "post-life waste"
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.