Sustainable Resource Guide Glossary

Getting on the same page

Part of the challenge of sustainability work, is ensuring we are all speaking the same language and using consistent terms. Our Resource Guide Glossary is part of our long-standing commitment to advocate for and drive real change within the CPG industry, stopping plastic pollution by re-inventing consumer packaging.

Our Sustainable Resource Guide Glossary will strengthen and develop sustainability literacy by providing definitions on pertinent sustainability terms including materials, processes, common language and concepts. This work draws upon a series of guiding principles and frameworks that underpin our work.


In the packaging industry, this refers to third-party reviews and assessments of a company’s ability to meet industry standards and applicable certifications.

An element of packaging products that determine how much the product will impact either the environment or human health. For example: Biodegradability, VOC emissions, recyclability, water and energy efficiency, indoor air emissions, hazardous waste or if it’s carcinogenic.

Independently-led, documented processes that gather evidence and evaluate it against a predetermined set of standards.


Bio-based Materials:
These are naturally-derived, renewable materials that normally come from trees, corn, or sugar cane.

A product or material that is biodegradable is something that bacteria or other living organisms can decompose.

Things that are created from the manufacturing processes, like scraps or emissions.


Carbon Footprint:
The amount of carbon dioxide and other carbon compounds emitted when a person or process consumes fossil fuels.

Chemical Recycling:
A process that reduces polymer chains down to constituent components. The reduced polymer chains are then made into plastics or used in a plastic-to-fuel process.

Circular Economy:
The goal of a circular economy is to engineer waste out of manufacturing systems, so resource consumption is reduced. The circular economy’s cornerstone is a full transition to renewable resources.

Closed-Loop Production:
In this system, industrial output or by-products are recycled into other products.

Materials that are biodegradable and can be used in commercial, industrial, or home-based compost systems.

Cradle-to-Cradle Manufacturing:
An industrial manufacturing process that is designed to be waste-free.


Developed to be Recyclable:
A product that is considered developed-to-be-recyclable, means it’s recyclable at-scale and in-practice. (The likelihood of being recycled has more to do with the infrastructure where it’s used than whether it’s recyclable.)

This occurs when a recyclable material is reused for a completely different product. For example, when plastic bottles are made into clothing materials. In most instances, the second product can’t be recycled again, which is called upcycling.

This occurs when fewer materials or resources are used with the intent of reducing a product’s costs, impact on the environment, or human health.


A label that shows that a product or business meets a set of specific, ecologically-friendly standards.

These are areas where waste is collected. Their design helps reduce environmental impacts like groundwater contamination, methane release or debris.


First Party Certification:
This refers to when a manufacturer or producer meets specific standards or criteria without any verification from another party.


Green Design:
Services or products that are developed with environmental sensitivity and are delivered with greater material and energy-use efficiency.

Green Procurement:
Sometimes called “sustainable procurement,” this is a practice for buying products that have a minimal impact on the environment.


Harmonized Standards:
A set of standards approved by different standardizing entities that establish product, process, or service interchangeability.

This is a standardized labeling program that provides clear recycling instructions to the public.


The positive or negative effect on health or on the environment, an activity, product, or substance.

Input-Output Analysis:
A tool used to measure the impact of a business decision, operation, or event on the economy.


Life Cycle Assessment (LCA):
This is a method for assessing the environmental impact at each stage of a product’s lifecycle. An LCA will measure how much water, raw materials, and energy are used to manufacture, repair, use, distribute, maintain, and dispose of or recycle a product.

LCAs are valuable tools for comparing two or more packaging design options to determine the product’s benefits or possible environmental trade-offs. Choosing a packaging design through the lens of its lifecycle can help you avoid making changes to the product that might hurt the environment.
Lightweighting: In the packaging industry, this refers to improving a product’s environmental sustainability and minimizing production costs based on reducing its packaging weight.

Lower Carbon Footprint:
Packaging with a lower carbon footprint has a lower lifecycle carbon footprint than alternative designs. This can be due to the packaging’s overall design, how well it recycles, or the material used.


The MacArthur Foundation:
The MacArthur Foundation is a private foundation that makes grants and impact investments to support the advancement of global climate solutions and justice reform in approximately 50 countries around the world– and is the largest independent foundation in the US. It supports institutions, networks, and creative individuals in building a more just and sustainable world.

Mechanical Recycling:
A recycling process that is the most common method used to recycle plastic materials today.
In mechanical recycling, sorting, cleaning, and melting the material is included throughout the process, using intact material polymer chains.


Near-Infrared Optical Sorting (NIR):
This cutting-edge technology is used to separate plastic packaging by its polymer type and into different plastic recycling streams. Though not used in many parts of the world yet, sorting materials by polymer type significantly improves recyclability.


Open-Loop Recycling:
In this process, materials from old products are manufactured into new products by changing the materials’ fundamental properties.

A term used to describe the cultivation of agricultural products, meaning the material is free of pesticides, hormones, synthetic fertilizers, and other toxic substances. Food labeled Organic, means the product was made under the Organic Foods Production Act’s authority.


Product Stewardship:
Through shared leadership, those in the product life cycle, such as manufacturers, disposers, users, and retailers, take responsibility for reducing the environmental impact of the products they make, sell, or use.

Pollution Prevention:
This refers to the protection of natural resources through various conservation efforts. By using energy, raw materials, water, or other resource, greater efficiency is achieved by reducing or eliminating pollutants.

Post-Consumer Recycled Plastic (PCR):
A description for materials that have already been used and are recycled into another product.


The process of converting waste material into a new, reusable item.

Recycling Streams:
The process of sorting materials into different categories to prepare for sale on the open market. Some of the most common recycling streams are paper, aluminum, and Polyolefins (PO) for flexible plastics.

A form of product recovery that includes rebuilding, repairing, or restoring the parts of old machines to match current consumer expectations of new machinery.

Responsibly-Sourced Materials:
These are raw materials sourced from environmentally responsible suppliers certified through the ASI or FSCO.

Packaging that can be refilled or otherwise re-used for its original purpose.


The Safe Quality Food Program:
A world-recognized Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) program that benchmarks food safety standard based on Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP). The program uses a range of food safety and quality codes that meet industry, consumer, and regulatory standards for all food supply chain sectors. The program emphasizes the importance of controlling for food-quality hazards and ensuring food safety.

Single-Stream Recycling:
In this process, materials intended for recycling are all put into one container instead of pre-sorted. While it’s a more expensive recycling process, it’s designed to encourage people to submit more items for recycling. This process can negatively impact the quality of the final recycled product.

Single-Use Products:
These are materials, usually plastics manufactured with fossil fuels, meant to be used once and then discarded. Hypodermic needles, toilet paper, and cotton swabs are all examples of single-use products.

Supply Chain Management:
Where the procurement, operations, and logistics of raw materials acquisition and customer satisfaction meet.

Sustainable development is that which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It is the balance between the environment, equity, and economy.

Sustainable Manufacturing:
This is the process of manufacturing products that has minimal impact on the environment. It conserves both energy and natural resources in a way that is also economically viable. The goal of sustainable manufacturing is to add value while protecting the environment, employees, consumers and the community.


Triple Bottom Line:
A TBL is the measure of a business’s top-line financial performance over the long term due to sustainable business practices. This assesses the environmental, social, and economic sustainability of a company’s practices and includes performance factors such as less capital investment and increased revenue.


In this combustion process, waste is burned, turned to steam, or electricity to produce light, heat, or power

A process that increases profits while decreasing waste – also called byproduct synergy. In this process, one company’s waste or byproducts are used as inputs or raw material for another business.


Zero Waste:
An approach to minimize waste and consumption while maximizing recyclability. Products are designed to be reused, recycled, or repaired instead of wasted as a single-use material.