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Is there any conceptual difference between "Liquid refuse" and "Liquid waste"? What are the differences, if any? Is any of them used more than the other?

It feels to me that "liquid waste" is more used in common language.

If there is no conceptual difference, I'll go with the most commonly used. If there are conceptual differences, though, I'm chosing the one which most closely refers to waste in liquid state as it is discarded in industrial/residential pipes. If my word choices are not the best ones and there is a third even-better one, please enlighten me.


[EDIT: adding contextualization]

Maybe I should provide some contextualization. I'm describing the following scene: it's raining and one person is disgusted because the water that is spilling on his face are not just raindrops, but it is mixed with water/greywater/waste water/liquid waste/whatever disposed from the buildings above him. He does not acknowledge them being industries or residential buildings, but he knows he's not being under pure raindrops. In this context, what better describes this generic dirty water? Greywater? Waste Water? Liquid Waste?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 3 down vote accepted

If you are referring to the liquids that are discharged from residential and commercial buildings that consist mostly of water along with other materials (human excretions, soap, fertilizers, etc.), the term waste water is most commonly used in the US.

This ngram indicates that it is now far more prevelant than liquid waste. Liquid refuse has very little usage.

If you are talking about other types of unwanted liquids, such as toxic chemicals,you probably have to look at the patterns in the industry you are reporting on. By sheer numbers, liquid refuse does not seem to be in general use.

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Very interesting! Google image search also brings more meaningful results with "waste water". –  Filipe Fedalto Jul 30 '13 at 14:21
    
As an aside, "liquid waste" is often used to describe urine. That's another reason I'd choose waste water over liquid waste in the O.P.'s context. –  J.R. Jul 30 '13 at 16:21

Waste is more common than refuse in American English. In both cases you would use the singular, waste or refuse.

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Thank you! This is interesting... I've always conceived them as being used in plural. And yes, "refuse" is what I meant. In british english, is refuse more common than waste? –  Filipe Fedalto Jul 30 '13 at 13:43
    
I'll have to let a native answer that. –  GetzelR Jul 30 '13 at 13:50
    
As regards BrE (normal domestic usage), for liquids, we would normally speak of liquid waste or waste water; or even foul water to differentiate it from surface [waste] water (i.e. mainly rainfall water). In other areas I think we would use refuse more: household refuse is collected by a refuse truck/lorry, or taken to the refuse tip, which (if I recall correctly) has a notice outside saying it is for household waste! –  TrevorD Jul 30 '13 at 15:36
    
@FilipeFedalto Can British and English please have capital letters. Following my previous comment, I think waste may gradually be replacing refuse, but the latter is still common. And, no, neither word is normally plural in this context. –  TrevorD Jul 30 '13 at 15:50
    
@TrevorD: Perhaps there is regional variation in British English usage - In the south of England I believe the word "rubbish" is used much more often than "refuse" in connection with household waste that is solid. E.g. rubbish bin not refuse bin. Hereabouts we no longer have tidy tips we now have household waste recycling centres. When I was a child we had rubbish dumps, we've never had refuse tips. –  RedGrittyBrick Jul 31 '13 at 20:50

Probably a better word to use is...

effluent - a discharge of liquid waste, as from a factory or nuclear plant.

...also defined here as liquid waste flowing out of a factory, farm, [etc.,] or a household.

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Yes, I wasn't too happy with the expression "waste water" It's too generic in my opinion. It can even mean dirty dish water if I'm not mistaken. –  Mari-Lou A Jul 30 '13 at 17:07
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@Mari-Lou A: In the UK there are normally two completely two separate systems taking water away from residential properties - the storm drain (only rainwater runoff from your guttering, etc.) and the foul drain (everything that goes down your plugholes and toilets). Most Brits would understand waste water to mean the second of those two, which does indeed include dirty dishwater. You can get into a lot of trouble if you install or modify any pipework in such a way that you're putting either type into the wrong drain, so you do need to know what's what. –  FumbleFingers Jul 30 '13 at 19:27

Although this may not be the particular term you're looking for, I thought I should mention that minorly contaminated water previously used for washing, such as that from sinks, baths, and showers, is specifically referred to as "greywater" (also "graywater", "grey water", "gray water").

Wiktionary defines it as "water that is not clean enough to be potable, such as having been used for washing, but not contaminated with fecal matter or other source of dangerous bacteria or dangerous or noxious materials."

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Maybe I should provide some contextualization: I'm describing the following scene: it's raining and one person is disgusted because the raindrops that are spilling in his face are mixed with water/greywater/waste water/liquid waste/whatever disposed from the buildings above him. He does not acknowledge them being industries or residential buildings, but he knows he's not being under pure raindrops. In this context, what better describes this generic dirty water? Greywater? Waste Water? Liquid Waste? –  Filipe Fedalto Jul 30 '13 at 19:41
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There are a number of words that you could use. "Greywater" or "sullage" both refer to water that is dirty enough to not be drinkable, but not dirty enough to be sewage. Depending on the tone of your scene or the voice of your character, you could just describe the water as "nasty", "filthy", "oozy", or use a generic word like "muck" or "gunk". You could also use a whole phrase, such as "the water falling from the rooftops, slimy and disgusting after filtering its way through accumulated filth." Sometimes a single word isn't the best way to capture the emotion of a situation. –  Matthew Piziak Jul 30 '13 at 20:18
    
It's something like "He flinched in disgust as some raindrops spilled on his cheeks. There was a time when the rain wasn't toxic, but he couldn't remember it anymore. At such inhabitable depths, though, the downpour was also mixed with all sort of greywater from the buildings above." –  Filipe Fedalto Jul 30 '13 at 20:27
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I would use the word "discharge". I think the organic metaphor makes it suitably repulsive, and I think it fits with the tone you're going for. How about this? "At such inhabitable depths, though, the downpour was mixed with the discharge spilling from the buildings above him." –  Matthew Piziak Jul 31 '13 at 2:24
    
This is excellent! Thank you all very much! –  Filipe Fedalto Aug 5 '13 at 14:28

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