Glossary of Key Terms

Biodegradable

This means that a material will breakdown completely in a natural environment. There is no specified timeframe for how long it will take for a material to breakdown. 

Normally, even biodegradable materials will not breakdown in a landfill environment as there isn’t enough oxygen, therefore items made of biodegradable material should still be disposed of responsibly and recycled if possible.

Compostable

This means that the material will biodegrade in a composting environment. The material should breakdown in 6-12 weeks in a home or industrial composting environment. 

Some items can be put in a home composter - such as food waste, natural fibres like bamboo or cotton. 

Other compostable items can only be put in industrial composters which are much warmer than a home composter - items like starch-based bioplastics. If it's a manufactured item or wrapper labelled as 'compostable' it should say if that means by home or industrial composter. 

Non-biodegradable 

Materials which will not biodegrade, meaning they will never breakdown completely in a natural environment. They will only degrade meaning that they will breakdown into smaller and smaller pieces. 

Bio-based products

These are materials and chemicals derived from renewable biological resources and are usually biodegradable. 

Fossil-based products

These are materials made from petrochemicals. They can be used to create a wide range of plastics, which are generally non-biodegradable. 

Microplastics

Microplastics is a generic term to describe pieces of plastic that are very small.

Microfibres

Microfibres are fibres shed by synthetic fabrics. They are a form of microplastic. So clothes made of polyester, nylon, viscose or acrylic, but also carpets, curtains and other household furnishing. Blog post about Microfibres.

Microbeads

Microbeads are small particles of plastic and were commonly found in toiletries and cosmetic products (particularly shower gels, exfoliators and scrubs). They are a form of microplastic. The manufacture and sale of products containing microbeads was banned in the UK in 2018 due to the serious harm to marine life. For more information on what to look for see the blog post on Microbeads

Find Out More

See the useful guide from WRAP... Understanding plastic packaging and the language we use to describe it

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