Packaging Matters

Sustainability Terms

Sustainability Terms


This blog is mainly focused in sustainability in packaging, so I thought it would be a good idea to review the most important sustainability terms mentioned in my posts, and introduce some new ones that go beyong the usual scope of this blog.

This post does not pretend by far to be an exhaustive compilation of sustainability terms, but I hope I have been able to include the most popular ones.

Generic Sustainability Terms.

These are terms that go beyond packaging, and apply to many human activities.

As commented most of them have appeared in previous posts, and I have added some new info in some of them.

Carbon cycle: The carbon cycle is the cycle by which carbon moves through our Earth’s various systems. The carbon cycle is influenced by living things, atmospheric changes, ocean chemistry, and geologic activity are all part of this cycle.

To sum up why CO2 deserves so much attention. However,  instead of recapping what greenhouse gases  (GHG) are and their role on Earth’s climate change, this nice video will explain some of these topics, as well as what the carbon cycle is:

Carbon footprint: A carbon footprint corresponds to the whole amount of greenhouse gases (GHG) produced to, directly and indirectly, support a person’s lifestyle and activities. Carbon footprints are usually measured in equivalent tons of CO2, during the period of a year, and they can be associated with an individual, an organization, a product or an event, among others.


Climate change.

Weather, refers to atmospheric conditions that occur locally over short periods of time—from minutes to hours or days. Familiar examples include rain, snow, clouds, winds, floods or thunderstorms.

Climate, on the other hand, refers to the long-term regional or even global average of temperature, humidity and rainfall patterns over seasons, years or decades.

Climate change is a long-term change in the average weather patterns that have come to define Earth’s local, regional and global climates.

Global warming is the long-term heating of Earth’s climate system observed since the pre-industrial period (between 1850 and 1900) due to human activities, primarily fossil fuel burning, which increases heat-trapping greenhouse gas levels in Earth’s atmosphere. The term is frequently used interchangeably with the term climate change, though the latter refers to both human- and naturally produced warming and the effects it has on our planet. It is most commonly measured as the average increase in Earth’s global surface temperature.

Greenhouse effect:  Is the term used to refer about the warming that results when the atmosphere traps heat radiating from Earth toward space .I’ll let NASA‘s website do the hard work of explain the rest.

Circular economy: is an economic system of closed loops in which raw materials, components and products lose their value as little as possible,  thus minimizing waste, closing ecologic and economic loops.

Cradle to cradle: “Cradle to Cradle” materials are applied with respect for their intrinsic value and their useful afterlife in recycled or even upcycled“ products, which have value and technological sophistication that may be higher than that of their original use.

Cradle to gate:  Analysis of a partial product life cycle from manufacturer to the factory gate (before the product is transported to the consumer). The use and disposal phase of the product is omitted. Cradle-to-ate assessments are usually the basis for environmental product declarations in the products most people purchase for their homes.

CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage): Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is a process consisting of separation of CO2from industrial and energy-related sources, transport to a storage location, and longterm isolation from the atmosphere.

CCS is one of the measures that the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recommends to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The International Energy Agency states that we will need to store billions of tonnes of CO2 every year if we are to reduce global warming.

Carbon sequestration (or carbon capture):  is the process of capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide. It is one method of reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere with the goal of reducing global climate change. The USGS is conducting assessments on two major types of carbon sequestration: geologic and biologic.


The key difference between carbon capture and storage and carbon sequestration is that carbon capture and storage involve capturing, transporting, and storing carbon dioxide, while carbon sequestration only involves storing carbon dioxide for a longer period of time.Most carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies in use and development grab carbon produced by industrial sources like power plants before it enters the atmosphere.


Direct air capture (DAC): technologies remove CO2  technologies extract CO2 directly from the atmosphere, which can be permanently stored in deep geological formations (thereby achieving negative emissions or carbon removal) or it can be used, for example in food processing or combined with hydrogen to produce synthetic fuels.

LCA: A Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) measures the environmental impacts of a product or service. To clarify- or confuse- thimg, it mmight be useful to see: LCA, LCI, LCIA, LCC: What’s the Difference?

LCAs are complex and involve many  concepts and methodologies. For instance PEF: Product Environmental Footprint. PEF is a methodology that quantifies all environmental impacts over the life cycle of a product and would be supplemented with product category-specific rules. It sits alongside other methodologies that also assess life cycles, for example within the Eco Report Tool used in the Methodology for Ecodesign of energy-related products (MEErP), Environmental Product Declarations and others.

Sustainability: In the broadest sense, sustainability refers to the ability to maintain or support a process continuously over time. In business and policy contexts,

The most often quoted definition comes from the UN World Commission on Environment and Development: “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”


The term bioplastic or biopolymer can be used to characterize two types of polymeric materials:

  • Plastic materials that are completely biodegradable and compostable (according to EN 13432 in Europe ASTM D 6400 [3] and ASTM D 6868 [4] in the US, while. Australia and New Zealand refer to the AS 4736 [5] standard).
  • Those obtained from a renewable source (also called bio-based).

Regarding the fist type of plastics:

Biodegradable:  refers to the ability of things to get disintegrated (decomposed) by the action of micro-organisms such as bacteria or fungi biological (with or without oxygen) while getting assimilated into the natural environment. There’s no ecological harm during the process.

Source: Green Dot Bioplastics

The European Commission considers bio-waste to encompass biodegradable garden and park waste, food and kitchen waste from households, restaurants, caterers and retail premises, and comparable waste from food processing plants. It does not include forestry or agricultural residues, manure, sewage sludge, or other biodegradable waste such as natural textiles, paper or processed wood. It also excludes those by-products of food production that never become wast

Compostable: Compostable is used to describe a product that can disintegrate into non-toxic, natural elements. It also does so at a rate consistent with similar organic materials. Compostable products require microorganisms, humidity, and heat to yield a finished compost product (CO2, water, inorganic compounds, and biomass).

The main difference between the two is that biodegradable material can take an undetermined time to break down. In contrast, Compostable materials will decompose into natural elements within a specific time frame. However, it will require certain conditions like those found in industrial composting facilities to do so.

Oxo-biodegradable plastics: are neither a bioplastic nor a biodegradable plastic, but rather a conventional plastic mixed with an additive in order to imitate biodegredation. Oxo-degradable plastics quickly fragment into smaller and smaller pieces, called microplastics, but don’t break down at the molecular or polymer level like biodegradable and compostable plastics. The resulting microplastics are left in the environment indefinitely until they eventually fully break down.

Rergarding the second type of plastics:

Renewable: capable of being replaced by natural ecological cycles or sound management practices.

So the main types od rnewable plastics we can find:

  • Polymers obtained directly from natural sources. These are natural polymers easily available, extracted from animals or plants. Some examples are polysaccharides (starch, cellulose) and proteins (casein, gluten).
  • Polymers obtained by chemical synthesis from renewable biological monomers. The best example is PLA , polylactic acid obtained from monomers existing in lactic acid.
  • Polymers obtained form micoorganisms or genetically modified bacteria: Mainly Polyhydroxyalkanoates PHAs.
Bio-based bio-degradable and non-biodegradable polymers. Source:

These (1, 2 ) are the main post about bioplastics in this blog


Recycling:  Recycling is the process of collecting and processing materials that would otherwise be thrown away as trash and turning them into new products. Recycling can benefit your community and the environment.

Mechanical recycling: commercialized in the 1970. It involves several operations that aim to recover plastics via mechanical processes (grinding, washing, separating, drying, re-granulating and compounding), thus producing recyclates that can be converted into plastic products, substituting virgin plastics.
Source: bluevision

Chemical recycling involves the transformation of the PET polymer chain (either back to its monomers or a partial depolymerization to its oligomers and other industrial chemicals).

The main chemical-recycling processes for PET are: hydrolysis, glycolysis, methanolysis, and other processes. The resulting chemical substances for each are shown below, and have been mentioned in the introduction (DMT, EG… etc.).

So chemical recycling basically consists in transforming the polymer back into its original monomers . Chemical processes are more tolerant of contamination, and they yield polymers that are identical to the originals, eliminating downcycling, and thus overcoming most of mechanical recycling issues.
Source: Pela

Downcycling: According to Busch Systems, downcycling is the process in which used and often unused products are recycled and refabricated to produce new items of lesser quality.

When plastic bottles and materials are recycled by mechanical methods, the plastic gets weaker. However, downcycling makes it possible to still put the recycled materials to good use.

A common example of the downcycling process includes transforming plastic bottles into carpeting or fleece fibers and later turning fleece and carpeting materials into plastic lumber products.

Upcycling: Recycling (something) in such a way that the resulting product is of a higher value than the original item to create an object of greater value from (a discarded object of lesser value).

In upcycling, the value of the new item is the same or higher than the original item. An upcycled product maintains the quality of the original item, rather than being broken down into its raw materials. Upcycling helps to create a circular economy, where materials can be constantly reused and not turn into waste.

More info about PET recycling here.

Reusable Packaging

Reusable packaging is packaging that is used multiple times, often for the purpose of transporting products. It is typically designed for durability, ease of use, ease of cleaning, and ease of repair and is ideally collapsible or nestable. All of those characteristics make it easy to return to the original user, which can utilize it over and over again.

Source: Reuse – Rethinking Packaging

One of the first uses of returnable pacakging was to transport parts from suppliers to the final manufacturer, mainly in the automotive industry. Some parts are very heavy (engines) or very fragile (windows, windshields), so they require  very expensive protective packaging (sometimes made of wood and/or metal).

We can see that refillable or returnable packaging are both included under the reusable pacakging umbrella.

I will just mention one example of returnable/refillable packaging: DSR.

Deposit Return Systems (DSR): I s an Deposit systems consumers buying a product pay an additional amount of money (a deposit) that will be reimbursed upon the return of the packaging or product to a collection pointseem to have their drawbacks, like incentivizing the use of large format PET bottles. For instance, last May the Scottish Parliament  voted  approved regulations that will establish a (DRS) for single-use drinks containers in Scotland, and British Glass, Alupro and MMPA  had previously aired their concerns about this system, mainly the  increase in volumes of plastic packaging and CO2 emissions.

For more info about reusable packaging you can see these posts: (3, 4)

May 2022,  Bruno Rey – The Packaging Blog –

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