Zero Waste Term Glossary

Need a quick definition? You've come to the right place! Check out this comprehensive list of terms commonly used throughout my blog and the zero waste community as a whole. 

Air Pollution

Air pollution releases chemicals, particulate matter, or other materials or gases into the atmosphere beyond what would be emitted from natural sources. It may cause harm to human health and ecosystems. It is of worldwide concern because of its impact on populations around the world.


Aluminum is a strong, light, and malleable metal. Aluminum is often combined with other alloying metals and/or elements, such as copper, magnesium, manganese, silicon, tin, and/or zinc. By creating an aluminum alloy, the strength of the metal is increased, which can be beneficial in wide use of applications.


Biodegradable happens when the matter is left to decompose in nature. It is broken down into elements for the Earth to recycle naturally. This covers anything that breaks down when exposed to sunlight or in soils in a natural environment.


Biofuel is a type of compound containing plant or animal material that can combust to produce heat, electricity, or mechanical work, such as in a steam engine or a motor. Plant-based biofuels include ethanol made from crops such as corn, sugarcane, and sunflower seeds, and also from cellulose materials derived from plants or algae.


The word 'biomass' comes from the Greek word bios, meaning 'life' and masse meaning' mass. Biomass is organic matter that consists of partially decomposed plant or animal remains. It can also refer to agricultural crop residues, industrial plant or animal waste, or even human waste. Biomass can be used as an alternative to fossil fuels that are often marketed as an environmentally-friendly fuel but usually applied to industrial purposes in controversial ways. Biodegradable means that it can be decomposed naturally. 

Carbon Dioxide

Carbon dioxide is a colorless, odorless, life-sustaining gas at the level of 0°C and normal atmospheric pressure. It is formed from two oxygen atoms being covalently bonded to a single carbon atom. It is a key component in the Earth's atmosphere. It plays a role in the carbon cycle and metabolism and is used by most organisms.

Carbon Footprint

Carbon footprint is a measurement of all the greenhouse gas emissions considered the impact our activities have on the environment. Essentially, it is a calculation of how much CO2, methane, nitrous oxide, and other greenhouse gases are emitted from the burning of fossil fuels to produce energy or produce other goods and services. The carbon footprint is a crucial indicator of the environmental impact of a product, idea, or practice.

Carbon Neutral

Carbon neutral is a state where an entity has removed more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than it has released in that same year in order to achieve a balanced yearly result in the atmosphere. 

Carbon Offset

Carbon offset is the concept of managing the cumulative climate impact of one's personal or corporate carbon footprint. This can be impacted by purchasing renewable energy certificates, contributing to carbon offset projects in developing nations, or donating to reforestation efforts in order to compensate for the "emissions" created by travel, food, and energy consumption.


A great way to minimize our personal carbon footprint is by sharing transportation. Carpooling is making an arrangement with friends, coworkers, or family to commute to a location together in order to save vehicle emissions.

Circular Economy

A circular economy is an economy in which resources are designed to be reused over and over again. This produces the maximum value for each of its inputs, which in turn generates more value for all of its outputs. This ensures that the system will generate either no waste or the maximum amount of value while staying within regenerative capacities.

Climate Crisis

The climate crisis is most evident as a product of the rise in global temperatures and the subsequent corresponding rise in carbon emissions. It is a result of our negative effect on global temperatures, global species, and the environment's health as a whole. The climate crisis is different from climate change: climate change refers to the change at the Earth's surface, and the climate crisis refers to the current emergency state we are currently in, as declared by the United Nations.

Commercial Waste

Commercial waste is any discarded materials from a business. Examples of commercial waste can be chemical waste from a factory, old food from a restaurant, or packaging from a business during a sale. The dirty water, pollution, and dumping that come from a business are also considered commercial waste.


Compost is the process of cyclical decomposition of organic matter in the presence of heat, water, and oxygen. Most composting is done in aerobic conditions by mixing the organic waste with soil, sawdust, wood chips, manure, leaves, or similar materials, in order to transform organic matter into humus for the soil. To learn more about composting, check out my blog posts How to Compost at Home and All the Tools You Need to Start Composting at Home.


Conservation happens when there is an effort exerted to reclaim resources that would otherwise be discarded.


Deforestation is a process in which the forest is cleared away in order to build something different. Any forest that is cleared will never come back. By clearing the forest, humans can get access to the land, and it becomes easier to extract the land's resources. This comes at the expense of forests that provide us with clean air and fresh oxygen necessary for all humans and wildlife species to survive.


Drought is an environmental degradation of water resources. It can be caused by deforestation or by unsustainable agricultural practices. When people or animals use resources faster than they can be replaced, drought will occur. Multi-disciplinary research shows that it would be better for the environment to adopt sustainable practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and greenhouse gas levels, with the ultimate goal of achieving zero waste.


An ecosystem is created by the interactions between organisms and their environment. Each connects differently to one another and the greater system whole. Some examples of ecosystems include farmlands, fishing oceans, and nature preserves. Earth, water, and air make up the ecosystem and provide it with life and power.

Electronic Waste

Electronic waste is the unwanted, non-working, or broken computer, television, or videogame equipment that people no longer want or need. Unlike other products with electronic waste, the goal is not for the item to be recycled but to reduce the amount sent to landfills altogether. This is due to the corrosive and chemical-filled components that are left to leach into the soil. 

Energy Audit

An energy audit is an important part of any sustainable, regenerative effort. The first step is to find out how much energy you're using and where it's coming from. 

Food Waste

Food waste is a serious issue in today's society. The term encompasses any waste that occurs from the production, consumption, or leftover nutrients that are disposed of unnecessarily.  

Fossil Fuel

Fossil fuel is a fuel formed by natural processes in which decomposing plant and animal organisms are burned to release their energy from the contained carbon and hydrogen. Specifically, it is produced by heating hydrocarbons in the absence of oxygen. Coal, oil, and natural gas are examples of fossil fuels.

Global Warming

Global warming is the rise in the average temperature on Earth as a result of an increase in greenhouse gases emitted from human sources, such as from the burning of coal, oil, and gas. The term, coined by conservationist Gavin Schmidt who first proposed it in a 1988 paper, refers to a change in climate patterns. 

Greenhouse Effect

The greenhouse effect is the process by which gases in the Earth's atmosphere trap heat from the Sun. The gases of the atmosphere are well-mixed and tend to have a lower density than the air outside, so they scatter and absorb solar radiation, re-emitting longwave radiation. This is why the Earth's average surface temperature is higher than the temperature outside of Earth because heat from the Sun is being trapped by the gases in the atmosphere.

Greenhouse Gas

Greenhouse gas is a type of gas that absorbs, emits, and re-emits infrared radiation within the atmosphere. They are called greenhouse gases because they prevent heat from escaping the Earth or being given off into space. Greenhouse gases are mainly the two types of gases, water vapour in the air and carbon dioxide in the air.


Greenwashing is an unethical marketing practice used by companies to encourage customers to make purchases. Some examples of greenwashing would be: saying that a product is "chemical-free," while the product actually uses some waste chemicals, or saying that a product is "eco-friendly" when in reality there are no environmental considerations taken within their supply chain. 

Hazardous Waste

Hazardous waste can be defined as waste that poses a threat to human health or the environment. Hazardous waste includes contaminants that are life-threatening, toxic, flammable, poisonous, radioactive, explosive, ignitable, corrosive, or otherwise harmful to human health or the environment.


A landfill is a site for the disposal of trash and other waste materials by accumulating them in a large mass. It has a mouth and a covered opening, through which materials are dropped and then compacted and covered with Earth.


Litter is waste, mostly paper and plastic, that can't be fully recycled and ends up on the ground or clogging the waterways. This can cause problems like flooding and erosion. Litter also impacts the world's biodiversity and ecosystems.

Medical Waste

Medical waste is any waste generated during patient care or operations that contains potentially health-related solid or liquid waste, or both.

Municipal Solid Waste

Municipal solid waste is sometimes referred to as garbage or trash and consists of everyday items such as clothing, packaging, furniture or other household items. Not covered by medical waste, the municipal solid waste is typically sanitized using facilities such as incinerators and taken to facilities such as landfills, where it may take years for it to decompose before becoming recyclable.

Non-Renewable Resource

A non-renewable resource is a resource that is not able to be recycled or reused after its first use. Oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy are all examples of non-renewable resources because they are burned up upon use. 

Organic Waste

Organic waste is generally defined as food scraps and other food and food-soiled material that has been composted or otherwise biologically treated, which then includes biodegradable materials such as leaves, wood, and weeds.


Pollution is the introduction of harmful contaminants (pollutants) into the environment. It comes in 7 different forms: air, water, waste, radioactive, sound, and light pollution. Pollution can cause substantial damage to the environment if society is not able to keep it in check. Every ecosystem in the world is interconnected, so that pollution can harm every aspect of the planet in different ways.


Post-consumer is a stage in the life cycle where goods no longer have use for a consumer or a manufacturer and have been discarded by a company or person. These materials include used textiles, paper, and many other things that no longer serve a purpose. Oftentimes, this is the stage where materials move into a landfill or a recycling program.


Pre-consumer is a stage in the lifecycle where an item has not been yet used or sold. This encompasses material use anywhere from beginning to end from its origin point on the factory floor. Once an item is transported to a retailer and sold, it is no longer in the pre-consumer stage.


Recyclable is a material that can be broken down and reused at least one more time for the same or a different use. Check out my blog post to help you get to know the common recycling symbols.

Renewable Energy

Renewable energy is energy drawn from sources of power that are regenerative, such as solar power, hydropower, wind power, geothermal power, and biomass. A renewable energy source is "a source of electrical energy which is continuously replenished" like the natural resources these technologies rely on.

Renewable Resource

A renewable resource is a natural resource that takes a finite amount of time to replenish after being extracted or farmed. Renewable resources can be used by humans indefinitely without any lasting impact on the natural state of the environment. 

Residential Waste

Residential waste is the discarded waste products from the private households of individuals and families living in a given community. This waste can be broadly classified into the following types: domestic waste, commercial waste, and street litter. Residential waste accounts for a large portion of all waste in developed countries. Major sources of residential waste include the kitchen, the average household generating between 40 and 50 L a day.

Sanitary Landfill

A sanitary landfill is a type of waste disposal site in which a special set of practicable environmental controls are in place to prevent human contact with the waste and groundwater. Since natural decomposition creates gas and leachates, which can create a nuisance for nearby residences, many sanitary landfill sites contain equipment such as gas-tight vaults, vapour barriers, and leachate collection and recycling pipelines to control these emissions.

Solar Panel

A solar panel is a device designed to collect energy from the Sun in order to power equipment on Earth. There are many different types of solar panels, including flat plate, thin-film, crystalline silicon, and solar thermal. On Earth, the potential electrical power generated by the Sun is estimated to be much larger than the world's power consumption. Check out my blog post if you are considering solar panels for your home

Source Reduction

Waste reduction (also known as prevention or conservation) is the process of eliminating waste before it is generated. Source reduction involves the design, manufacture, purchase, and use of materials and products to reduce the volume or toxicity of waste and to protect the environment. 


Sustainability refers to the ability of the present to meet present-day needs without compromising the ability of future generations to do so. There are three pillars included in sustainability: economic, environmental, and social, or profits, planet, and people. 


The adoption of sustainable practices supports economic, ecological, and human health. Sustainable development assumes that resources are finite, and they should be used with a view to long-term priorities and consequences related to the ways in which these resources are used. 


Vermicomposting is a composting method that uses earthworms to break down organic material. When waste is processed through vermicomposting, the worms digest the waste, giving off gases that help control the climate, contribute to better growth in crops, and neutralize other toxic wastes.


Wastewater is normally discharged into rivers or land, where it can then flow into the ocean. This produces noxious gases, decomposes organic matter, and gives rise to other pollutants.