Our Sustainable Packaging Glossary from A to Z
At FlexLeaf, we offer multiple materials and custom packaging options for our valued customers. Knowing the different packaging industry terms and concepts can help you decide what type of custom-printed labels or packaging materials will best serve your brand. So, we’ve put together this handy glossary of different sustainable packaging terms, materials, and key concepts for you — all the way from A to Z.
Accreditation: Accreditation in the packaging industry refers to third-party reviews and assessments of a company’s ability to meet industry standards and applicable certifications.
Attribute: An attribute is a characteristic or element of packaging products that determine how much the product will impact either the environment or human health. Things like:
- VOC emissions
- Water and energy efficiency
- Indoor air emissions
- Hazardous waste
- If it’s carcinogenic
Audit: Audits are independently-led, documented processes that gather evidence and evaluate it against a predetermined set of standards. Auditors are the professionals who conduct these independent audits to see if specific criteria are met.
Bio-based Materials: These are naturally-derived, renewable materials that typically come from trees, corn, or sugar cane.
Biodegradable: A biodegradable product or material is something that bacteria or other living organisms can decompose.
By-product: By-products are things that are created from the manufacturing processes, like scraps or emissions.
Carbon Footprint: A carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide and other carbon compounds emitted when a person, group, or process consumes fossil fuels.
Chemical Recycling: This chemical process reduces polymer chains down to constituent components. The reduced polymer chains are then made into plastics or used in a plastic-to-fuel process.
Circular Economy: A circular economy’s goal is to engineer waste out of manufacturing systems, so finite resource consumption is reduced. The circular economy’s linchpin is a full transition to renewable resources.
Closed-Loop Production: In a closed-loop production system, industrial output or by-products are recycled into another product.
Compostable: Compostable materials are biodegradable and can be used in commercial, industrial, or home-based compost systems. At PSG, we offer a range of compostable films for bar wrappers and snack products.
Cradle-to-Cradle Manufacturing: In cradle-to-cradle manufacturing, the entire industrial process is designed to be waste-free.
Developed to be Recyclable: When a product is considered developed-to-be-recyclable, that means it’s recyclable at-scale and in-practice. However, the likelihood of being recycled has more to do with the infrastructure where it’s used than whether it’s recyclable.
Downcycling: Downcycling is when a recyclable material is reused for a completely different product. For example, plastic bottles are downcycled into clothing materials. In most instances, the second product can’t be recycled again, which is called upcycling.
Downgauging: Downgauging is when fewer materials or resources are used with the intent of reducing a product’s costs, impact on the environment, or human health.
Ecolabel: An ecolabel shows that a product, service, or business meets a set of specific, ecologically-friendly standards.
Engineered-landfill: Engineered landfills are areas where waste is collected. But their design helps reduce environmental impacts like groundwater contamination, methane release, or debris.
First Party Certification: This term refers to when a manufacturer or producer meets specific standards or criteria without any verification from another party.
Green Design: When services or products are environmentally-sensitive and delivered with greater material and energy use efficiency.
Green Procurement: Sometimes referred to as sustainable procurement, this is a process for buying products that have a minimal impact on the environment.
Harmonized Standards: Different standardizing entities approve a manufacturer or producer’s standards that establish product, process, or service interchangeability. ‘
How2Recycle: How2Recycle is a standardized labeling program that gives clear recycling instructions to the public. Many forward-thinking brands use How2Recycle to empower their customers through smart packaging labels.
Impact: If the output of an activity, product, or substance has an adverse or beneficial effect on health or the environment.
Input-Output Analysis: This is a tool used to measure the impact of an existing or anticipated business decision, operation, or event on the economy.
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA): LCA is a method for assessing the environmental impact at every stage of a product’s lifecycle. An LCA will measure how much water, raw materials, and energy are used to manufacture, repair, use, distribute, maintain, and dispose of or recycle a product.
LCAs are valuable tools for comparing two or more packaging design choices to determine the product’s benefits or possible environmental trade-offs. Choosing a packaging design through the lens of its lifecycle can help you avoid making changes to the product that might hurt the environment.
Lightweighting: Improving a product’s environmental sustainability and minimizing production costs often hinges on reducing its packaging weight. In the packaging industry, this is called lightweighting.
Lower Carbon Footprint: Packaging with a lower carbon footprint has a lower lifecycle carbon footprint than alternative designs. This could be due to the packaging’s overall design, how well it recycles, or the material used.
The MacArthur Foundation: The MacArthur Foundation is the largest independent foundation in the US. The company supports institutions, networks, and creative individuals in building a more just and sustainable world. The foundation supports the advancement of global climate solutions and justice reform, and works in more than 50 countries.
Mechanical Recycling: This is a recycling process that uses intact material polymer chains. In mechanical recycling, sorting, cleaning, and melting the material is included throughout the process. Today, mechanical recycling is the most common method used to recycle plastic materials.
Near-Infrared Optical Sorting (NIR): In NIR, optical sorting technology is used to separate plastic packaging by its polymer type and into different plastic recycling streams. NIR is cutting-edge technology and isn’t used in many parts of the world yet. But sorting materials by polymer type significantly improves recyclability.
Open-Loop Recycling: In open-loop recycling, materials from old products are manufactured into new products through a process that changes the materials’ fundamental properties.
Organic: When the term organic is used to describe the cultivation of agricultural products, it means the material is free of pesticides, hormones, synthetic fertilizers, and other toxic substances. Organic food is a labeling term that means the product was made under the Organic Foods Production Act’s authority.
Product Stewardship: In product stewardship, those in the product life cycle, such as manufacturers, disposers, users, and retailers, are called to share responsibility for reducing the environmental impact of the products they make, sell, or use.
Pollution Prevention: These are techniques for reducing or eliminating pollutants through greater efficiency when using energy, raw materials, water, or other resources. Pollution prevention also refers to the protection of natural resources through various conservation efforts.
Post-Consumer Recycled Plastic (PCR): These are materials that have already been used and are recycled into another product.
Recycling: Recycling is the process of converting waste material into a new, reusable item.
Recycling Streams: Materials are sorted into different categories in preparation for sale on the open market. Some of the most common recycling streams are paper, aluminum, and Polyolefins (PO) for flexible plastics.
Remanufacturing: A form of product recovery that includes rebuilding, repairing, or restoring the parts of old machines to match current consumer expectations of new machinery.
Responsibly-Sourced Materials: These are raw materials sourced from environmentally responsible suppliers certified through the ASI or FSCO.
Reusable: Packaging that can be refilled or otherwise used again for its original purpose.
The Safe Quality Food Program: This is a rigorous and stringent food safety and quality program recognized worldwide. The program uses a range of food safety and quality codes that meet industry, consumer, and regulatory standards for all food supply chain sectors. The program emphasizes the importance of controlling for food-quality hazards and ensuring food safety.
Single-Stream Recycling: In single-stream recycling, materials intended for recycling are all put into one container instead of pre-sorted. While it’s a more expensive recycling process, it’s designed to encourage people to submit more items for recycling. However, single-stream recycling can negatively impact the quality of the final recycled product.
Single-Use Products: These are materials, usually plastics manufactured with fossil fuels, meant to be used once and then discarded. In some instances, these products are disposed of within minutes of use. Most traditional forms of plastic food packaging are single-use products. Hypodermic needles, toilet paper, and cotton swabs are all examples of single-use products.
Supply Chain Management: Where the procurement, operations, and logistics of raw materials acquisition and customer satisfaction meet.
Sustainability: Sustainability centers on the belief that people are dependent on natural resources and the environment for their survival, and that humans can coexist with nature harmoniously.
Sustainable conditions are ones that ensure humanity’s impact on the environment is sufficiently mitigated and that natural resources and future generations’ access to them isn’t jeopardized.
Sustainable Manufacturing: Sometimes referred to as sustainable design or green design, sustainable manufacturing is the process of manufacturing products that has minimal impact on the environment.
The process conserves both energy and natural resources in a way that’s also economically viable. The goal of sustainable manufacturing is to add value while protecting the environment, employees, consumers, and the community.
Triple Bottom Line: A triple bottom line is the measure of a business’s top-line financial performance over the long term due to sustainable business practices. Triple bottom line includes performance factors such as less capital investment and increased revenue. A company’s triple bottom line assesses the environmental, social, and economic sustainability of its practices.
Waste-to-Energy: Waste is burned, turned to steam, or electricity to produce light, heat, or power through the combustion process.
Waste-to-Profit: In a waste-to-profit process, one company’s waste or byproducts are used as inputs or raw material for another business. This process increases profits while decreasing waste. Waste-to-profit is also called byproduct synergy.
Zero Waste: This refers to a system-wide approach to minimize waste and consumption while maximizing recyclability. Products are designed to be reused, recycled, or repaired instead of wasted as a single-use material.
Sustainable and Flexible Packaging: The Future’s Looking Bright
Reduce, reuse, and recycle are the core tenets at the heart of the sustainability and circular economy movement. Public outcry against the environmental strain of unsustainable plastics and packaging has forced government entities to respond. Companies are also heeding the consumer call for more environmentally-friendly packaging.
FlexLeaf is proud to be SQF certified and an environmentally-conscious company. We offer a wide range of sustainable packaging options, including bio-based, compostable films for snack bars and products.
Please speak to one of our helpful representatives today about how we can help your brand become more sustainable through the entire packaging supply chain lifecycle.
Sustainable Packaging Glossary Add Ons
If you can think of some definitions to add to the sustainable packaging glossary, please let us know. This is an ever shaping landscape, and we’d love to hear about some terms that are “off the beaten track”.