Sustainability Glossary 



Alternative energy 

Energy that does not come from fossil fuels. Examples include wind energy, solar energy, and biomass. 


Alternative materials 

Changing the materials used to perform a function for either increased economic value or environmental impact. An example could be Lightweighting, where plastic is used as packaging for a product as an alternative material to glass due to reduced economic and environmental cost of transportation, because the material is lighter.



When the product is partially or fully derived from renewable sources. Biobased plastics, a type of bioplastic, are typically made from algae, corn, or sugarcane. 



When a compound can degrade biologically, (be broken down by the action of microorganisms – most often by bacteria) it is known as being biodegradable. This is directly due to the chemical structure of the polymer. Biodegradable plastic types offer new ways of recovery and recycling – if certified compostable (according to international standards), these plastics can be composted in industrial composting plants.



Plastics that are either biobased, biodegradable, or feature both properties. 



BPA stands for bisphenol A, an industrial chemical that can be used to make certain plastics and resins.


Carbon emissions 

See Greenhouse gas emissions 


Carbon footprint 

The quantified amount of carbon dioxide (or CO2e) released into the atmosphere as a result of the activities of a particular individual, organization, or community. 


Carbon neutral 

A situation where the amount of carbon dioxide or CO2e released into the air equals the amount of CO2e removed from the air. For example: by planting trees or offsetting through renewable energy production. This could be achieved by an individual, company, or group. 


Chemical recycling 

The operations that aim to chemically degrade collected plastic waste into its monomers or other basic chemicals. The output could then be reused for polymerization into new plastics for the production of other chemicals or as an alternative fuel. 


Circular economy 

An industrial economy that promotes resource efficiency as an alternative to the traditional linear economy of “take, make, use, dispose” production. The circular economy aims to extract maximum value from each resource used, at each stage in its lifecycle, then to recover and reuse these materials at the end of the resources’ serviceable life.


Climate change 

Climate change is a large-scale, long term shift in the planet’s weather patterns and/or natural temperatures. A recent increase of global average temperature leading to changing weather patterns has been attributed majorly to humankind’s use of fossil fuels, releasing greenhouses gases into the atmosphere. Although the exact impact humans are having on the environment is disputed, it is widely agreed that anthropogenic (human-led) climate change has been occurring since the industrial revolution (early 19th Century). 


Closed loop (systems) 

A business model or process that completely reuses or recycles all materials. For example: A closed loop water system will continuously cycle the same water to cool materials, and a closed loop recycling system is a concept that has zero waste. 



Stands for Carbon Dioxide equivalent, and is the standard unit for measuring carbon footprints. It standardizes emissions by expressing the impact of other greenhouse gases in terms of the amount of CO2 that would have equal impact. 



A product that is compostable is one that can be placed into a composition of decaying biodegradable materials, and eventually turns into a nutrient-rich material. If something is industrially compostable, it means it will only compost under certain temperatures/conditions created in an industrial environment.


Curbside collection 

The collection of recyclable household materials that are left at the curbside for collection by the local council or other collection services.



To be broken down physically and chemically by bacterial or fungal action. Decomposition can also be known as “rotting.” 



When a compound can break down into simpler compounds through decomposition either chemically or biologically, they are degradable. 


Direct emissions 

Greenhouse gas emissions from a source that is owned or controlled by the reporting entity, company, organization, or country. 



A recycling practice where an item is broken down into its component elements or materials. These materials can then be recovered and re-used, usually as a lower-value product. 



In Industry, any process involving the materials that have already been collected/processed by an organization can be considered “downstream.” For example, the sale of packaged goods is a process downstream of the manufacturing of plastic packaging.


Ellen MacArthur Foundation 

A charity founded by Ellen MacArthur which aims to aid the transition to a circular economy by working with business, government, and academia. It does so through education and training, insight and analysis, and systematic initiatives and communication. 



When a product completes its function, it has reached its end of life. An end-of-life option would be to send this product to landfill. However, to extend its lifecycle it could be reused or recycled. 


Energy efficiency 

Actions put in place to save fuel or electricity through processes that reduce energy use. For example, better building design, using insulation, or changing product processes are all considered to be energy-efficient processes.


Food waste 

Food waste occurs when food is discarded, damaged, or unused throughout the supply chain at production, processing, retail, or consumer stages. Food waste is a particular global concern due to the amount of land and water used to produce the food, the amount of GHG emitted during the lifecycle of the food, and the current global levels of food poverty. Well-designed packaging can help prevent food waste throughout the supply chain by protecting from damage, prolonging shelf-life and increasing the ease-of-use.


Fossil fuels 

A hydrocarbon deposit derived from the remains of ancient plants and animals that can be used as fuel. The most common fossil fuels are petroleum, coal, and natural gas. Greenhouse gas emissions generated from the burning of fossil fuels are considered to be one of the principal causes of climate change.


Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 

A greenhouse gas (GHG) is one that absorbs and emits thermal radiation. The primary GHGs in the Earth’s atmosphere are water vapor (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and ozone (O3). Greenhouse gas emissions refer to the release of GHGs into the atmosphere from human activities, mainly from the burning of fossil fuels. Greenhouse gas emissions can change the atmospheric concentration of GHGs, affecting the planet’s climate. Greenhouse gas emissions are often referred to as carbon emissions.



The process of making an unsubstantiated or misleading claim about the environmental or ‘green’ credentials of a company or its products and practices. Greenwashing is used by companies to try and make them look more environmentally friendly than they actually are.



The method of destroying something, most notably waste material, by burning. This is an end-of-life option that is considered more ideal than sending the product to a landfill. However, it’s lower in the waste hierarchy than other “greener” alternatives. The gaseous-emissions associated with incineration can minimize its credentials as a “green” end-of-life option. 


Indirect emissions 

Greenhouse gas emissions that are a consequence of the activities of the reporting entity but occur at sources owned or controlled by another entity.



A series of stages through which something passes during its lifetime. For a manufactured product, this cycle would include design, raw material extraction, material production, part production, assembly, transportation, the products actual use(s), and the end-of-life disposal method. 


Life Cycle Assessment/Analysis (LCA) 

A technique used to evaluate the environmental impact of a product through all stages of its lifecycle from design to final disposal. This allows a company to assess the environmental impact of all the materials used at every stage in its life (For example, the carbon emissions during the extraction stage of the raw materials). 



A concept in the industry where the product is built to be as light as possible while still fulfilling its requirements. This is a method used to reduce its raw material content and carbon footprint. It uses less material and requires less fuel to transport, thus releasing fewer greenhouse gas emissions.


Marine litter 

Human-created waste that has deliberately or accidentally been released into a body of water (lake, sea, ocean, or waterway). The increasing presence of plastic marine litter and its effect on beaches, fish, seabirds, marine reptiles, and the food chain, has come under increased scrutiny. 



Small pieces of plastic debris (less than 5mm long) that is found in the environment. Microplastics are derived from a variety of sources, including cosmetics, clothing, and industrial processes. They are the direct result of plastic product use or the breakdown of larger plastic debris.


MRF (Materials recovery facility) 

A center for the reception and transfer of all materials recovered from the waste stream. At an MRF, materials are sorted by type and treated (e.g. compressed or cleaned) before they’re sent to a plastics recycling facility (PRF) or a reprocessor. 


Ocean Plastic 

A term coined to describe any of the plastic waste pollution that has accumulated in the planet’s waterways, seas, and oceans. 


Operation Clean Sweep (OCS) 

An international initiative from the plastics industry to reduce plastic pellet loss to the environment. The aim is to ensure plastic pellets, flakes, and powders that pass through manufacturing facilities are not lost and do not end up in the rivers or seas. Companies can sign up to Operation Clean Sweep and implement a number of systems to prevent plastic pellet loss from their sites.


Pellet loss 

In initiatives such as Operation Clean Sweep, pellet loss refers to any plastic pellets that escape the supply chain and escape the site. This could be after getting washed down drains, by being transported off-site by wind, or by being inadvertently attached to a vehicle’s wheels. Having measures in place to try and achieve zero pellet loss is a feature of many initiatives to prevent marine plastic litter. 


Post-Industrial recycled (PIR) material 

This refers to material that has been processed initially but has failed to meet specifications or otherwise not sold as prime material, and is therefore sold to another party for reprocessing. This material is not post-consumer, as it was never sold to serve its intended use. The new product could then be marketed as having “x-amount” post-industrial recycled content in it. This does not include internal scrap, where scrap is reprocessed on-site. 


Post-Consumer Recycled (PCR) material 

Once a material or product has served its intended use and been recovered from waste, it is considered post-consumer. The intended use may have been as transportation packaging or household usage. The material can then be recycled having finished its life as a consumer item. The new product could then be marketed as having “x-amount” post-consumer recycled (PCR) content in it.



If material is recyclable, it means that it is theoretically able to be recycled. This does not necessarily mean the infrastructure is in place everywhere for current recycling of a product made out of that material. The recyclability of a product is based on the material(s) it is made from, and whether those materials are recyclable. 


Recycled content 

The amount of recycled content can be defined as the proportion, by mass, of recycled material in a product or packaging. This can be recycled content from both post-consumer recycled material and industrial recycled material. 



The industrial process of recycling refers to the collection and treatment of a waste material so that the material can be made into a new product. An example would be the recycling of PET bottles which can be collected, sorted, shredded, washed, and treated before the material is used to make another plastic bottle.



To decrease in amount or size. In the plastic industry, “reducing” usually refers to the reduction of a product’s weight (Lightweighting), the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, or the reduction of the amount of waste.


Renewable energy 

Energy from a source that is not depleted when used. The main examples of renewable energy are wind and solar energy. However, depending on location, other methods of renewable energy, such as geothermal, are more widespread. 



A company that recovers or recycles packaging waste discarded by businesses and households. 



To adapt a product for a different use. This is usually associated with machinery and electronics. Repurposing occurs when a product is modified for a completely new task or for a very similar task (For example, a laptop being repurposed into a modified laptop). 



Operation by which packaging is refilled or used for the same purpose for which it was conceived, with or without the support of auxiliary products (product used to support the refilling/loading of reusable packaging) present on the market, enabling the packaging to be refilled.



Similar to Lightweighting, Rightweighting looks at designing the product to ensure it is the optimum (right) weight for product performance and reduced environmental impact, as the lightest product does not necessarily always have the smallest carbon footprint.



Any waste articles or discarded material left after the useful part of a product has been used. 



The length of time for which an item remains either usable, fit for consumption, or fit for sale, depending on the context.



There is no universally agreed definition of sustainability, particularly environmental sustainability. Sustainability stems from the concept of sustainable development; ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. Environmental sustainability has now come to mean that for a process to be sustainable, it must be able to perform its function while indefinitely protecting and/or enhancing the earth’s natural capital. Overall, sustainability implies that a healthy environment, economic prosperity, and social justice are pursued simultaneously for a quality-of-life for indefinite generations.


Sustainable Design 

The philosophy of designing objects and services to comply with the principles of sustainability. The intention is to eliminate negative environmental impact through design while still achieving the desired or requested goals of the brief. 


Sustainable Procurement 

Similar to Natural capital accounting, sustainable procurement is the process of meeting the needs of the company with a view to maximizing the net benefits for themselves and the wider world, taking into account the environmental and social impacts of the business.


Virgin Plastic/Resins 

The resin produced directly from the petrochemical feedstock (natural gas or crude oil), which has never been used or processed before. This is typically more durable on a molecular level than recycled plastic/resins.



Unwanted or unusable materials, substances, or by-products. These items are no longer useful or required after the completion of a process.


Waste Hierarchy 

A set of priorities for the efficient use of resources. This runs from the most preferable, to avoid and reduce waste, through reuse, recycle, repurpose, recover, and treatment, to the least preferable which is complete disposal through incineration then even less preferable, landfill. 


Waste Management 

All the activities and actions required to manage waste from its inception to its final disposal. This includes activities such as collection, transport, treatment and disposal of waste, monitoring, and regulation. It also encompasses the legal and regulatory framework that encompasses guidance on recycling.


Zero waste 

The concept that encourages the design of lifecycles of products so that all products have alternate end-of-life options than landfill and incineration, such as reuse and recycling.