July 6, 2022

Impacked Packaging Sustainability Glossary

Sustainability is defined by the US Environmental Protection Agency as:  “...the conditions that ensure that human impact on the environment is sufficiently mitigated in pursuit of the protection of natural resources.” 

As a burgeoning consciousness amongst consumers has grown, so has sustainability-related “do good” packaging copy. The development of new green innovations has created the need for a  new green lexicon of related terminology. 

Environmentalism has become a powerful marketing approach used in virtually every category of purchase in America, from food to beauty items. This new green phraseology can be an educational opportunity for the conscious consumer or a buzzword misfire from brands trying to leverage environmental benevolence. While many of these companies are indeed doing the work, others manipulate the phraseology to merely give the appearance of meaningful impact.  

Below you will find a comprehensive cheat sheet to the sustainable terminology that will help you decipher the impacts of your purchases. 

Sustainability Glossary


Bioplastics are materials created from compounds derived from renewable resources like bacteria and genetically modified crops. In comparison, traditional plastics are made from non-renewable resources and synthetic polymers. Bioplastics can be biodegradable and even compostable, although not all are.

Carbon Neutral

Carbon Neutral status occurs when companies achieve net-zero emissions. They do this by offsetting emissions created with removing an equal amount from the same or other areas of production. 

Carbon Sequestration

Carbon sequestration is the process of capturing and storing emissions to prevent them from continuuing on into the atmosphere. The process can be biological, geological, or technological. Forest regrowth is an example of carbon sequestration where the forests themselves act as carbon sinks. 

Chemical Recycling

Chemical recycling is a process where the polymer chains of plastics are reduced to their original monomer state. They can then be re-polymerized into new plastic materials and products.

Circular Economy

A circular economy strives to minimize waste and pollution by focusing on the “use” aspect and trying to limit the amount of “make” and “dispose of”, compared to a linear economic model which operates in a “make, use, dispose” continuum.

Closed Loop System

In a closed loop system, the same materials are reused indefinitely to create new products. Materials are produced, used, and broken down into their raw materials to be repurposed into a usable product once again. The goal is to minimize land-fill waste and conserve natural resources. This system often goes hand in hand with a circular economy.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

Corporate Social Responsibility is a concept wherein businesses assume responsibility to incorporate social and environmental concerns into their business models. Examples of Corporate Social Responsibility efforts include exercising conscious sourcing practices and striving to lower the overall company carbon footprint through mitigation and elimination measures.


Deforestation occurs when forests are intentionally cut down for commercial purposes. Oftentimes deforestation occurs to clear land for agriculture, manufacturing, or for the harvest of the natural resources it supports. Deforestation reduces forest growth that act as carbon sinks and consequently prevents absorption of CO2 emissions that will otherwise contribute to greenhouse gasses.


Downcycling happens when recycled plastic is repurposed into a new product that has a different purpose. For example, when a plastic PET bottle is repurposed into the fabric for clothing.


To be Eco or Environmentally-Friendly is to act in a way that is not harmful or contributes positively to the well-being of the environment.


Eco-littering describes the act of littering materials that are presumed to be compostable with the belief that the material will naturally degrade. Eco-littering is caused by unclear or misleading information on packaging materials, products, or natural waste.


End-of-life is the final stage of a product or its packaging. Common end-of-life scenarios include landfill, recycling facilities, natural biodegradation, and natural or industrial composting.

Fair Trade

Fair Trade is a system of certification that ensures ethical working conditions for the production and supply of ingredients or materials. Less regulated markets, like those in growing countries, are often victims of exploitation, including inequitable wages, unsafe working conditions, and unfair pricing. Fair Trade strives to create equitable, safe, and sustainable partnerships.


Greenwashing is the practice of intentionally using misleading terminology to make sustainability claims. Companies that practice greenwashing use imagery, terminology, or persuasive language to represent themselves as environmentally caring while not actually making sustainable efforts. This is widespread practice in the consumer packaged goods industry to manipulate consumer perspectives. 

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)

A Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is the complete analysis of the environmental impact of a given product. The assessment looks at the product from initial creation all the way to final disposal and eventual decay.

Light weighting

Light weighting is a process used to reduce the packaging material by replacing a packaging material with something lighter or reducing the amount of existing packaging material used to meet an overall sustainability strategy.

Mechanical Recycling

Mechanical recycling involves sorting, cleaning, and recombining plastic waste in its melted form to create new material. In this process, the material polymers remain intact as opposed to chemical recycling, where polymers are reduced to their basic building blocks.


Microplastics are minute pieces of plastic created by degradation or mechanical processes that are less than five millimeters long in size. Microplastics are a pervasive pollutant to the ocean and are difficult to remove from the environment.

Natural Fibres

Natural Fibres are any thin string-like materials that are directly obtained from natural resources like animals, plants, or minerals. These can be made into materials like paper, felt, and cloth.

Natural Resources

Natural resources exist entirely on their own without any human interference. They are naturally occurring materials or substances such as minerals, fibers, water, and land that can be finite or renewable and used for economic gain.

Non-Renewable Resources

Non-renewable resources are energy sources that can not be replenished once they are used up. This means they are finite and can not be used sustainably. Coal, natural gas, and oil are examples of non-renewable resources.


Recycling is the process whereby materials are collected and reprocessed into a material that can be used in continuity to create more products. Commonly recycled items are paper, plastic, aluminum, and glass.

Renewable Energy

Renewable energy comes from naturally replenishable sources such as wind and solar energy that do not deplete from use.

Resin Identification Code

The resin identification code helps identify which type of plastic is used in a given product or packaging for identification and recycling purposes. 


A reusable item is an object that can be used multiple times for the same or different purpose conserving the energy used to make the original item.


Sustainability is the ability of a system to maintain a certain level or rate, in other words, “meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs”.


Upcycling is the process of increasing the usability of materials by giving them a “second life” through repurposing. For example, old wooden pallets can be upcycled into a bed frame giving it further use past its intended purpose.