A “sleeping beauty” (SB) is a paper that goes unnoticed for a long time, and then, almost suddenly, is awakened by a “prince” (PR), attracting from there on a lot of attention in terms of citations. Although there are some studies on the SB and PR phenomena in science, little research on the awakening mechanisms between them has been conducted. Based on a comprehensive dataset with more than 10000 papers published in solid waste research from 1956 to 2010, we compared three typical methods of identifying SBs, and the parameter-free criterion worked better than the average-based and quartile-based criterion in some aspects. Besides, through a case study of the top 10 in SBs, we applied three criteria to discover the candidate PRs with high citation, high co-citation, and publication time close to the awakening time. Moreover, we discussed the mechanisms involved in the SBs and PRs, which were divided into three types: the synergistic effect, leading effect, and hysteresis effect. This work develops and validates a bibliometric framework for identifying the SBs and PRs in solid waste research, to figure out the awakening mechanisms, and promote potentially valuable research in other fields.