Glossary of Environmental Terms
Energy derived from nontraditional sources (e.g., compressed natural gas, solar, hydroelectric, wind).
Aluminum is a lightweight, silver-white, metallic element that makes up approximately 7 percent of the Earth's crust. Aluminum is mined in the form of bauxite ore where it exists primarily in combination with oxygen as alumina. Aluminum is used in a variety of ways, but perhaps most familiarly in the manufacture of soft drink cans.
A heavy colorless gas (CO2) that does not support combustion, dissolves in water to form carbonic acid, is formed especially in animal respiration and in the decay or combustion of animal and vegetable matter, is absorbed from the air by plants in photosynthesis, and is used in the carbonation of beverages. CO2 is one of the greenhouse gas chemical compounds.
A carbon footprint is the measure of your impact on the environment in terms of the amount of greenhouse gases produced, measured in units of carbon dioxide.
CFCs are man-made chemical compounds containing carbon, chlorine, fluorine and sometimes hydrogen. CFCs drift into the upper atmosphere where, given suitable conditions, they break down ozone. CFCs are often used in older refrigerators and air conditioners, the chlorine in CFCs damage the ozone layer.
An interaction mechanism between processes in the climate system is called a climate feedback, when the result of an initial process triggers changes in a second process that in turn influences the initial one. A positive feedback intensifies the original process, and a negative feedback reduces it.
Close the Loop
A term used to describe the last, and most important, step in the recycling process. It refers to the point when a consumer buys a recycled product after it has been put into a recycling program and reprocessed into a new item. (See: Recycle Symbol)
Composting is Nature's way of recycling. Compost is a mixture that consists largely of decayed organic matter and is used for fertilizing and conditioning land.
Conservation is the wise use of natural resources (nutrients, minerals, water, plants, animals, etc.). Planned action or non-action to preserve or protect living and non-living resources.
Fossil fuels are the remains of plant and animal life that are used to provide energy by combustion; e.g. coal, oil, and natural gas.
Glass is a hard, brittle, generally transparent or translucent material typically formed from the rapid cooling of liquefied minerals. Most commercial glass is made from a molten mixture of soda ash, sand, and lime.
Global warming is an increase in the near surface temperature of the Earth. Global warming has occurred in the distant past as the result of natural influences, but the term is most often used to refer to the warming predicted to occur as a result of increased emissions of greenhouse gases. Scientists generally agree that the Earth's surface has warmed by about 1 degree Fahrenheit in the past 140 years.
The effect produced as greenhouse gases allow incoming solar radiation to pass through the Earth's atmosphere, but prevent most of the outgoing infrared radiation from the surface and lower atmosphere from escaping into outer space.
Greenhouse Gas (GHG)
Any gas that absorbs infrared radiation in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases include, but are not limited to, water vapor, carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), and ozone (O3).
High density polyethylene. A type of plastic that is commonly used in milk and water jugs.
Household Hazardous Waste (HHW)
A product that is discarded from a home or a similar source that is either ignitable, corrosive, reactive, or toxic (e.g. used motor oil, oil-based paint, auto batteries, gasoline, pesticides, etc.).
Kilowatt-hours are used to measure electricity and natural gas usage.
Areas where waste is dumped and eventually covered with dirt and topsoil.
Life cycle assessment
Life cycle assessment is a methodology developed to assess a product’s full environmental costs, from raw material to final disposal.
Lead is a substance that is harmful to the environment, which is used in a lot of paints. It’s also toxic to humans.
Environmental pollution consisting of the excess of harmful or annoying light.
Low-emission vehicles are cars, and other forms of transportation, which emit little pollution compared to conventional engines.
Municipal Solid Waste
Garbage or refuse that is generated by households, commercial establishments, industrial offices or lunchrooms and sludges not regulated as a residual or hazardous waste. This does not include source-separated recyclables.
Nitrogen Oxides (NOx)
Gases consisting of one molecule of nitrogen and varying numbers of oxygen molecules. Nitrogen oxides are produced in the emissions of vehicle exhausts and from power stations. In the atmosphere, nitrogen oxides can contribute to formation of photochemical ozone (smog), can impair visibility, and have health consequences and are considered pollutants.
A resource that is NOT capable of being naturally restored or replenished; a resource that is exhausted because it has not been replaced (e.g. copper) or because it is used faster than it can be replaced (e.g. oil, coal [what we call fossil fuels]). Their use as material and energy sources leads to depletion of the Earth's reserves and are characterized as such as they do not renew in human relevant periods (They are not being replenished or formed at any significant rate on a human time scale).
A term that refers to molecules made up of two or more atoms of carbon, generally pertains to compounds formed by living organisms.
The wrapping material around a consumer item that serves to contain, identify, describe, protect, display, promote, and otherwise make the product marketable and keep it clean.
A thin material made of pulp from wood, rags, or other fibrous materials and used for writing, printing, or wrapping.
Polyethylene terepthalate. A type of plastic used to make soft drink bottles and other kinds of food containers. PET is also used to make fabric.
A material made from petroleum capable of being molded, extruded, or cast into various shapes. There are many different kinds of plastic made from different combinations of compounds. To learn more about the plastic resin codes #1-#7 and what these plastics are recycled into, check here.
Contamination of air, soil, or water with harmful substances.
A term used to describe material that is being reused/recycled after it has been in the consumer's hands (e.g., a newspaper going back to the paper mill to be recycled into new recycled content paper products). Material or product used by the consumer for its original purpose and then discarded.
A term used to describe material that is being reused/recycled before it ever goes to market (e.g. paper scraps off of a paper mill floor going back into the next batch of paper). Waste material generated during the manufacturing process.
A term used to designate that a product or its package can be recycled. This term may be misleading as there may not be a recycling program that takes the identified material in the consumer's area.
The chasing arrow symbol used to show that a product or package may be recycled if there is a program available. On plastics, it is used along with a numbering system (1-7) to help designate plastic resins used in the product. The three arrows on the symbol represent different components of the recycling process. The top arrow represents the collection of recyclable materials (e.g. an aluminum can, a piece of white office paper, a plastic #2 milk jug) for processing. The collection can be from a curbside collection or a drop-off site. The second arrow (bottom right) represents the recyclables being processed into recycled products (e.g. a new aluminum can from an old aluminum can, notebook paper from white office paper, a park bench from recycled plastic milk jugs). The third arrow on the bottom left is the most important arrow. This one represents when the consumer actually buys a product with recycled content. This is the most important step as it closes the recycling loop. Without this last step, we are pretty much just sorting our garbage.
A term used to describe material that has been separated from the waste stream, reprocessed into a new product (often taking the place of virgin material), and then bought back by the consumer as new item.
The amount of pre- and post-consumer recovered material introduced as a feed stock in a material production process, usually expressed as a percentage (e.g., 30% post-consumer content).
Term used to describe a series of activities that includes collecting recyclable materials that would otherwise be considered waste, sorting and processing recyclables into raw materials such as fibers, and manufacturing the raw materials into new products.
A place where recyclables are collected and/or processed (such as separation and baling) in preparation for market.
Planting of forests on lands that have previously contained forest but that have been converted to some other use.
A resource that is capable of being naturally restored or replenished (e.g. trees).
To find a new function for an item that has outgrown its original use; use again (e.g. peanut butter jar for a collection; wash and reuse dishes).
A landfill that has been designed and engineered to accept municipal waste while ensuring minimal negative impact upon the environment.
Reducing the amount and/or toxicity of an item before it is ever generated (e.g. buying an item with less packaging, using a non-toxic alternative to clean with).
A strong, durable material made of iron and carbon, and often other metals, to achieve different properties. Steel is often used as a component in cans and as a structural material in construction.
A trace gas is any one of the less common gases found in the Earth's atmosphere. Gases such as carbon dioxide, water vapor, methane, oxides of nitrogen, ozone, and ammonia, are considered trace gases. Although relatively unimportant in terms of their absolute volume, they have significant effects on the Earth's weather and climate.
The process whereby worms feed on slowly decomposing materials (e.g., vegetable scraps) in a controlled environment to produce a nutrient-rich soil amendment.
Term that refers to products that are made with 100 percent new raw materials and contain no recycled materials.
Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment are broken or unwanted electronic gadgets like mobile phones or computers.
Energy derived from the wind.