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GLOSSARY

LET US HELP YOU FIND YOUR WAY THROUGH THE SUSTAINABILITY JARGON!

Biodegradable

Biodegradable refers to materials that can break down and decompose into natural, non-toxic components over time by the actions of living microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, and algae. However, biodegradability depends heavily on the surrounding environmental conditions that enable biodegradation.

For biodegradation to occur, the right moisture, temperature, oxygen levels and presence of microbes must be present. Biodegradable materials will not necessarily degrade quickly or fully in environments like landfills that lack light, air circulation, and moisture. Even in optimal composting conditions, biodegradable materials can take weeks to several months to fully decompose.

Synthetic petrochemical-derived materials like conventional plastics are not inherently biodegradable - their chemical structure is resistant to microbial breakdown. Some engineered bioplastics are designed to be more readily biodegradable. But no material will biodegrade efficiently in all conditions.

Considering a material's biodegradability must take into account the conditions where it will end up after use, labeling something as simply "biodegradable" is misleading if it requires very specific conditions to decompose.

Carbon footprint

A carbon footprint measures the total greenhouse gases emitted by an individual, company, or product. It includes emissions from activities like transportation, electricity use, manufacturing, and waste disposal. These emissions are converted into carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e).

Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases trap heat and cause climate change. So a larger carbon footprint means more contribution to global warming.

Calculating a carbon footprint helps identify the main sources of emissions. This allows individuals and businesses to take steps to reduce their environmental impact by decreasing their carbon footprint. Even small reductions by many people add up to meaningful change.

Circular economy

A circular economy is a model of production and consumption designed to minimize waste and maximize resource efficiency. This contrasts with the traditional "linear economy" in which resources are extracted, used to create products, consumed, and then discarded as waste. In a circular economy, waste and pollution are designed out, products and materials are kept in use for as long as possible, and natural systems are regenerated. The goal of a circular economy is to create a closed loop system where the waste of one process is the input for another.

Compostable

Compostable means a material is able to break down into natural components in a commercial or home compost environment. Compostable materials biodegrade much faster than biodegradable materials.

Compostable products are meant to be discarded in compost bins and industrial composting facilities. Not all biodegradable materials can break down quickly enough or safely enough to be considered fully compostable. Usually, certification by third-party organizations (e.g. BPI) ensures a product meets all requirements. Compostable materials help divert waste from landfills and reduce the need for chemical fertilizers.

Greenhouse gases

Greenhouse gases (GHGs) are gases that trap heat in the Earth's atmosphere. The most common greenhouse gases include:

  • Carbon dioxide - released from burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas

  • Methane - comes from livestock, rice farming, landfills

  • Nitrous oxide - released from fertilizers and industrial activities

  • Fluorinated gases - from industrial processes like aluminum and semiconductor manufacturing

 

These gases act like a blanket around the Earth, absorbing energy and causing the planet to become warmer. Human activities have increased the amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Higher levels of greenhouse gases are the main cause of global warming and climate change. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions can help mitigate these effects.

Greenwashing

Greenwashing is a form of marketing that misleads consumers into believing that a product or service is more environmentally friendly than it actually is. This can be done by exaggerating the environmental benefits of a product, using vague or undefined terms, or making false claims about the environmental impact of a product or service.

Greenwashing can be used by brands trying to improve their image and public perception.
An example of greenwashing could be a fast fashion company claiming to be environmentally friendly because it sells clothes made from recycled plastics, while, in practice, only one or two pieces of clothes from a large collection are made from a low percentage of recycled plastics. The lack of details in claims like "we use recycled plastics to make our clothes" can benefit the brand and mislead consumers into believing that all clothes sold by the brand are all made from recycled wastes, while, in fact, an overwhelming majority of them are not. Using such misleading practices, the business can then sell products that are harmful to the environment to a sustainability conscious set of consumers.

Organic

Organic refers to the way agricultural products like food, textiles (e.g. cotton), and personal care items are grown and processed. Organic production avoids synthetic materials and chemicals. Specifically, organic production methods do not use genetically modified organisms (GMOs), synthetic pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, or food additives. Organic farming methods are better for the environment and healthier.

Recycling

Recycling refers to the process of collecting used, reused, or unused materials (e.g. paper, plastic, glass, aluminum cans, etc.) and breaking them down into their raw materials which are then remade into new products. The goal of recycling is to reduce pollution and raw material consumption by transforming these used materials into new products instead of making products from scratch. Recycling prevents useful materials from ending up in landfills or incinerators. The process starts by segregating and sorting recyclable waste, then the materials undergo a strict process where they are cleaned, sorted further, shredded, melted, or otherwise processed into raw materials which are then used to manufacture brand new products.

The key difference with upcycling is that upcycling repurposes discarded items directly into something new and often higher quality (e.g. turn a water bottle into a lamp), while recycling breaks down used materials into raw materials to make new products (e.g. turn thrown away aluminum cans into new aluminum cans). Both help reduce waste and make use of existing materials. Recycling is usually more energy intensive, however.

Secondhand (or Pre-loved)

Purchasing and using products that were previously owned and used by someone else, rather than buying brand new items. Examples of secondhand goods include clothing, furniture, electronics, books, toys, etc. Buying secondhand allows consumers to acquire quality items at a discounted price compared to new. It also allows the original owners to generate value from items they no longer use by reselling them. This creates a mutually beneficial exchange. By extending the lifecycle of pre-owned goods, secondhand shopping reduces waste and demand for new resource extraction and manufacturing, which benefits the environment. Choosing used over new allows both buyers and sellers to get more value from items, keeping them in circulation for longer.

Sustainable

Something is sustainable if it can be continued over a period of time. In general, sustainability comes with this idea of longevity.

When it comes to consumption, consumption is deemed sustainable if it consists of fulfilling the needs of current generations without compromising the needs of future generations. When applied to businesses, sustainability considers environmental, social, and economic impacts with the goal of maintaining ecological health and community wellbeing over the long term. Core principles of sustainability include reducing waste, minimizing ecological damage, supporting fair labor practices, prioritizing local communities, and ensuring economic viability into the future. A sustainable business operates responsibly across its entire supply chain to reduce long-term harm to the planet and society.

Importantly, simply providing paper bags to customers doesn't make a shop sustainable. Sustainability requires a holistic approach. See our maps listing page for more information about our listing philosophy.

Upcycling

Upcycling is the process of taking discarded, waste, or unwanted products and creatively reusing them to create a product of higher quality and environmental value. For example, this could involve taking used furniture, fabrics, wood pallets, plastic bottles, or other materials that would otherwise be thrown away, and repurposing them into creative and functional new products. The upcycled products are often unique and higher value than the original discarded item. Upcycling reduces waste being sent to landfills, decreases pollution, and makes use of materials that would otherwise go to waste. It embodies the principles of the circular economy.

Vegan

Veganism is the practice of abstaining from the use of animal products, particularly in diet, clothing, cosmetics etc. As a philosophy and way of living, veganism excludes all forms of animal exploitation and cruelty as much as possible.


Vegan products contain no ingredients derived from animals. Examples include food, clothing, cosmetics, cleaning products, supplements etc. Vegan products avoid animal-derived ingredients such as meat, dairy, eggs, honey, beeswax, leather, wool, silk etc.

Zero Waste Shop

A zero waste shop is a retail store that aims to eliminate waste and promote sustainability by avoiding disposable packaging and single-use products. At a zero waste shop, customers can purchase grocery items, household goods, personal care products and more in reusable, returnable, or compostable packaging.

Some of the characteristics of a zero waste shop include:

  • Allowing customers to bring their own reusable containers, bags and bottles to shop - no disposable packaging required

  • Carrying unpackaged bulk food items like grains, nuts, dried fruit etc. that customers can portion into their own containers

  • Offering dispensers for liquids like shampoo, dish soap, cleaning products that can be refilled in reusable bottles

  • Avoiding single-use plastic bags, opting for paper, reusable canvas/mesh bags or no bag options

  • Shelving and displaying products without any packaging

  • Providing incentives and education to customers about reducing waste through reusable products

  • etc.

 

The zero waste shop model minimizes the waste produced by both the store itself and its customers.

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