We aspire to live an eco-friendly lifestyle to the best of our ability, not just on Earth Day but every day. Incorporating more plant-based meals into our dinner rotation, upcycling beauty product empties, shopping more sustainably, and switching from plastic to metal straws are a few of the ways we’re doing what we can to help Mother Earth. But another essential part of living sustainably is being informed. Ever wonder what it means when a package of disposable utensils is described as biodegradable, or when a brand says it is carbon-neutral? Read on for a glossary of common sustainability buzzwords.
Materials described as biodegradable will eventually break down into basic components and return to the earth without any processing.
The amount of carbon emissions generated by the actions of a person, company, event, product, place, etc. In the U.S., the average person’s carbon footprint is 16 tons—about four times higher than the average carbon footprint globally. This calculator helps people determine what their carbon footprint is.
Something is described as being carbon-neutral when its carbon emissions are balanced out by carbon absorption, often through the purchase of carbon offsets.
These are purchasable actions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, like reforestation. Terrapass and Green-e are two reputable carbon offset resources for individuals and companies aspiring to be carbon-neutral.
This refers to long-term changes in temperatures and weather patterns. When we talk about climate change today, we’re typically referring to the human-made changes happening from about the middle of the 20th century to the present.
Materials described as compostable break down into non-toxic components and return to the earth if specific conditions are met. Food scraps and coffee grounds are common examples.
In order to be organic, something—like produce or flowers—must be grown without using any human-made materials.
Contamination caused by harmful natural or unnatural materials released into the environment.
Materials described as recyclable—like paper, glass, and even some plastics—can be repurposed. Not-so-fun fact: lots of items that are put in recycling bins end up in landfills, which is why many experts say to put the focus on reducing waste first.
Renewable energy, AKA clean energy, comes from natural sources that are constantly replenished. Examples include solar and wind power.
Reusable products are different from recyclable materials, as they are able to be reused without a dramatic change to their structure.
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