Glossary

A

ASTM D6400
A standard specification for the rate of biodegradation of compostable plastics set by ASTM International, the American Society for Testing and Materials. This standard specifies that 60% of the material will biodegrade in a lab within 180 days.
ASTM D6868
A standard specification for the labeling of compostable products set by ASTM International ("Standard Specification for Labeling of End Items that Incorporate Plastics and Polymers as Coatings or Additives with Paper and Other Substrates Designed to be Aerobically Composted in Municipal or Industrial Facilities"). This standard specifies that a product labeled as "compostable" must meet three criteria: Under a managed composting program it must 1) break down to carbon dioxide, water, inorganic compounds, and biomass at a rate consistent with paper, 2) decompose so that the plastic is not visually distinguishable, and 3) leave no toxic residue.

B

Bagasse
The fibers remaining after sugarcane stalks are crushed for juice.. Considered to be 100% Pre-Consumer Waste.. I.E. Use of waste products from manufacturing prior to sale to the public for consumption and use.
Bio-based
Derived from living matter; derived from renewable biological resources.
Bioplastics
See Plastics, plant-based.
Biodegradable
Capable of disintegration by biological means; typically, composed of organic matter that can be readily decomposed by a wide variety of microorganisms. A term that is technically less precise than "compostable" because it fails to indicate the time required for complete disintegration (which the term "compostable" does specify). Technically, almost all materials are "biodegradable", since with enough time, some microorganisms can decompose almost anything. For example, The Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education (C-MORE) reports that aluminum cans biodegrade in the ocean in about 175 years, and hard plastic bottle caps biodegrade in the ocean in about 400 years.
Bleach, non-chlorine
Various chemical compounds that whiten materials through oxidation, including hydrogen peroxide, sodium percarbonate, and sodium perborate; whitening compounds which are less toxic than the sodium hypochlorite solution that is standard chlorine bleach.
BPI certified
Determined by the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) to be composed of polymers that are completely biodegradable in approved composting facilities, and that meet the requirements defined by ASTM D6400 or ASTM D6868; these standards identify three key criteria for a product to be certified as compostable: Under a managed composting program it must 1) break down to carbon dioxide, water, inorganic compounds, and biomass at a rate consistent with paper, 2) decompose so that the plastic is not visually distinguishable, and 3) leave no toxic residue. (Also see ASTM.)

C

Carbon dioxide / CO2
A gas released artificially into the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels and released naturally by animal respiration, volcanoes, and carbonate rocks dissolving in water; a gas absorbed by plants in the process of photosynthesis; a gas that has increased in density in the Earth's atmosphere by 35% since the beginning of the industrial revolution (with an atmospheric density of 390 parts per million by volume in November 2011); a key contributor to global warming.
Carbon-based
Organic; compounds of carbon and other elements; the molecular basis of most life on Earth.
Commercial composting
See Composting, commercial.
Compost
Organic material which can be used as a soil amendment; produced by combining "green" organic wastes (food scraps, yard trimmings, manures, etc.) with "brown" organic wastes (wood chips, dry leaves, dry grasses, etc.) and allowing the materials to decompose together and cure with time.
Compostable
Meets three standards set by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM): Under a managed composting program, must 1) break down to carbon dioxide, water, inorganic compounds, and biomass at a rate consistent with paper, 2) decompose so that the original material is not visually distinguishable, and 3) leave no toxic residue.
Compostable plastics
See Plastics, compostable.
Composting, commercial
A waste management system for organic materials that converts them into stable, nutrient-rich soil amendments; facilities that accelerate the decomposition of organic waste through methodical, multi-step processes that begin by shredding the organic inputs, maintain their temperatures at 140°F or higher, maintain their humidity at approximately 80%, introduce beneficial microorganisms, and provide sufficient aeration by turning the mixtures regularly.
Composting, home
A method of producing fertilizer from food scraps and yard waste; most simply, assembling organic waste into a pile, keeping it moist, and waiting for it to break down over a period of weeks or months; more intentionally, maintaining a good balance of "green" waste to "brown" waste (between 1:3 and 1:1), keeping the pile damp, and turning the pile frequently.
Conventional plastics
See Plastics, conventional.

D

Decomposition
The process of breaking substances down into simpler, component materials; with organic substances, also known as "rotting;" accomplished by chemical processes, physical processes, and the work of microorganism.
Disposable
Designed to be used once and then discarded.

E

F

G

Greenhouse gases
Chemical compounds in the Earth's atmosphere that absorb heat from the sun and then re-radiate that heat in all directions, causing a net increase in atmospheric temperature.
Greenwashing
A disinformation campaign by a company, industry, government, political party, politician or non-government organization to deceive current and potential customers that an organization, leader, policy, practice, or product is more environmentally responsible than it actually is; a coordinated effort to hide unpleasant facts about environmental impacts by spending more time and money on advertising and marketing than actually implementing green practices; derives from "whitewashing."

H

Home composting
See Composting, home.
Humus
A highly complex, chemically stable organic material that is the product of mature compost; a dark, spongy substance with a uniform texture, a necessary component of good soil structure, a habitat for soil organisms, and often considered the "life force" of soil.

I

Ingeo
See PLA plastic / polylactic acid.

J

K

L

Landfills
Solid waste management facilities that take the majority of US waste materials and bury them; facilities designed to isolate wastes from the surrounding environment (especially from groundwater) by burying them on top of plastic liners and under layers of dirt, thus inhibiting decomposition.
Life-cycle analysis
For products, a thorough assessment of the burdens placed on the environment by an item through all stages of its existence: 1) research, design, and development, 2) manufacturing, 3) sales and delivery, 4) use, operation, or consumption, and 5) recycling or disposal; quantification of the raw materials and energy used, and the solid, liquid and gaseous waste generated at each stage of a product's existence; helpful in the formulation of environmental legislation, the design of products and manufacturing processes, and consumer choices.

M

N

O

Organic compounds
Solids, liquids, and gases that are composed of carbon-based molecules; natural organic compounds are produced by plants and animals, and include sugars, fats, carbohydrates, proteins, enzymes, hormones, and vitamins; synthetic organic compounds are produced through human-created reactions between other compounds, and include polymers like plastics and rubbers.
Organic waste
See Waste, organic</a"

P

Paper, plant-fiber
A thin material used primarily for writing and printing since it was invented in China in the 2nd Century AD; originally produced by disintegrating vegetation such as mulberry, hemp, china grass, and tree bark, as well as cloth; can be produced from hundreds of fibrous plants; currently produced from the fibrous agricultural waste of a variety of crops, including wood, sugar cane, bamboo, wheat, rice, cotton, banana,
Paper, post-consumer-waste
One of three categories of paper made by pulping other paper: 1) mill broke recycled (paper scrap that is recycled within a paper mill), 2) pre-consumer-waste recycled (paper discarded after leaving the paper mill and recycled before being used by consumers), and 3) post-consumer-waste recycled (paper recycled after being used and then discarded by consumers, or PCW paper); according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, the manufacturing of recycled paper creates 35% less water pollution and 74% less air pollution than the manufacturing of new paper; depending on the quality of the paper it replaces, one ton of 100% PCW paper saves between 8 and 24 trees.
PCW paper
See Paper, post-consumer-waste.
PLA plastic / polylactic acid
Plastic derived from fructose, a sugar produced by plants; one of the most popular PLA-plastic resins currently used in consumer products is Ingeo; currently, the most common raw material for Ingeo is field corn, although other plant sources may be used in the future.
Plant-based
Derived from plant matter; derived from renewable plant resources.
Plant-based plastics
See Plastics, plant-based.
Plastic, compostable
Plastic that meets ASTM standards for compostability. (See compostable.)
Plastics, conventional
Plastics that are petroleum-based, are virtually never compostable, are rarely recyclable, made from carbon-based compounds, usually derived from petrochemicals.
Plastics, plant-based
Plastics that are derived from plants and are usually compostable. Also known as "bio-plastics."

Q

R

Recyclable
Capable of being reprocessed after use for the purpose of using again instead of wasting; capable of producing fresh material from previously used material that was discarded after use; some materials (paper, for example) can only be recycled a few times before they degrade too far to be useful; some products (plastic-coated paper for example) cannot be recycled because the component materials are too expensive to separate.
Recycling
Reprocessing products and materials after they have been discarded so that the component materials can be used again instead of being wasted.
Renewable
Capable of being replenished by natural processes with the passage of time; bio-based materials are renewable; energy drawn from solar radiation, tides, winds, geothermal heat, and biomass is renewable.

S

Sustainable
Use or consumption of a resource at a level that allows the base stock of the resource to replenish itself; use or consumption at a level that avoids depleting or permanently damaging the base stock of a resource.
Sustainable products / materials
Products and materials that are produced by processes that avoid depleting or destroying the base stocks of source materials used.

T

U

V

W

Waste
A substance or object that a person has no use for and wants to discard;
Waste, organic
Any discarded substance or object that derives from plants or animals; typically includes yard trimmings, food scraps, wood waste, and paper products, which comprise more than two-thirds of US solid waste.

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