Top 10 Sustainability Terms You Need to Know

Make informed food packaging decisions.

Helping your customers select the right sustainable food packaging products can be daunting. There’s so much new terminology, and along with it a lot of misconceptions about what it all really means. Here are the top 10 most commonly used terms to help you and your customers make the right packaging selection every time:

  • Biodegradable: Biodegradable materials break down naturally and decompose into the environment. If they break down quickly and completely enough, biodegradable materials can help reduce waste and minimize pollution.
  • Compostable: Compostable materials are capable of breaking down into organic matter, leaving no toxins behind, and contributing to nutrient-rich soil when composted under specific conditions. Compostable packaging offers an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional packaging materials if collected and managed appropriately.
  • Recyclable: Recyclable packaging can be collected, processed, and reused to create new products. This reduces the need for raw materials and minimizes waste. Effective recycling systems are crucial for the success of recyclable packaging.
  • Renewable Resources: Renewable resources are natural materials that can be replenished within a relatively short period. Sustainable food packaging often utilizes renewable resources like bamboo, sugarcane, or cornstarch, reducing reliance on non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels.
  • Life Cycle Assessment (LCA): LCA is a methodology used to evaluate the environmental impact of a product throughout its entire life cycle. This includes raw material extraction, production, use, and disposal. LCA helps identify opportunities for improvement and supports decision-making in sustainable packaging design.
  • Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR): EPR is a policy approach where producers of products are held accountable for their entire life cycle, including post-consumer waste management. EPR encourages manufacturers to design packaging that is easier to recycle or compost, reducing the burden on waste management systems.
  • Bioplastics: Bioplastics are derived from renewable sources such as plant-based starches or agricultural by-products. Bioplastics can be biodegradable, compostable, none of these, or both, depending on their composition.
  • Minimalist Packaging: Minimalist packaging focuses on reducing excess materials, using the least amount of packaging necessary to protect and preserve the product. This approach aims to minimize waste and optimize resource usage, often employing innovative design techniques.
  • Renewable Energy: Renewable energy is energy generated from naturally replenishing sources such as solar, wind, or hydropower. Using renewable energy in packaging processes can significantly reduce carbon footprint.
  • Circular Economy: The circular economy model aims to eliminate waste and promote the continual use of resources. In the case of sustainable food packaging, it involves designing packaging that can be reused, recycled, composted, or repurposed, effectively closing the loop, and reducing the need for virgin materials.

Understanding these key terms will help you and your customers make more informed decisions regarding sustainable food packaging. For example, if industrial composting is not available in your geographic area, and recycling facilities are well established and even expanding, a recyclable, fit-for-purpose product choice may better meet the customer’s needs.

Looking at building a more sustainable line of food service disposables? Ask your R3 Representative to complete an assessment of your current assortment and map specific products to more sustainable alternatives your customers will appreciate! Help me build a sustainable foodservice product line.



*Many of these terms are defined in various legislation, regulations, and bylaws. The definitions used in these legal documents may vary from those provided here. It’s strongly recommended that you consult with legal advice before using any of these terms on labels, advertisements, in any other claim or if the term arises in legal or lobbying situations.