Ursa Nova is excited to launch our guide of sustainable terms and definitions to help empower our shoppers in an effort to demystify the often complex and confusing world of sustainable shopping and products.
By providing clear and concise explanations of key sustainability terms, we hope this will equip our customers with the knowledge they need to make informed choices that align with their environmental values.
Whether you're a seasoned eco-concious shopper or just starting your journey toward a sustainable lifestyle, we hope this guide is an invaluable tool for making your shopping decisions simple and easy! 
1. Biodegradable

Definition: Biodegradable refers to the ability of a substance or material to break down, decompose, and return to the natural environment through natural processes, typically by the action of microorganisms (such as bacteria or fungi) or other environmental factors like sunlight, heat, and moisture. 

In the context of biodegradable products or materials, this means that they can be broken down into simpler, non-harmful substances over time, leaving behind minimal or no lasting environmental impact. 

Biodegradable materials are often preferred over non-biodegradable ones because they contribute less to pollution and environmental waste. 

Examples: Materials like food scraps, untreated wood, eco-friendly paper products, and certain non-plastic recycled items are easily biodegradable. However, chemically treated materials might decompose more slowly and release toxins. 

Fun Fact: Biodegradability is influenced by factors like environmental conditions and time. Even though most items will eventually break down, the duration varies widely. Plastics, for example, can take decades or centuries to degrade, contributing to issues like microplastic pollution. 

What To Know For Shopping: When seeking biodegradable products, it's important to look for those made from non-chemical components like wood, paper, and food, or explicitly labeled as compostable. 

Source: Green Matters, ChatGPT


2. Bioplastic

Definition: Bioplastic is a type of plastic material that is derived from renewable sources, such as plants or microorganisms, as opposed to traditional plastics, which are typically made from fossil fuels like petroleum. Bioplastics are designed to be more environmentally friendly and sustainable because they are produced from biological materials that can be replenished.

Categories of bioplastics: 

  1. Bio-based Plastics: These are made from renewable biomass sources, such as cornstarch, sugarcane, potato starch, or even algae. The primary advantage of bio-based plastics is that they reduce the dependency on finite fossil fuel resources and can have a lower carbon footprint.
  2. Biodegradable Plastics: These are bioplastics that have the additional property of being capable of breaking down naturally in the environment, often through microbial action, into non-toxic components. Biodegradable plastics can help reduce plastic waste and its impact on ecosystems when managed properly.

Bioplastics have gained attention as a potential alternative to traditional plastics to reduce the environmental impact of plastic production and disposal. However, their effectiveness in mitigating environmental issues depends on various factors, including their source materials, production methods, and end-of-life management.

Examples: Bioplastics can be made from various biomasses, including edible sources like corn and sugarcane (first-generation), non-edible waste (second-generation), and even seaweed and microalgae (third-generation). The carbon footprint of bioplastics depends on the source and production process. Fossil fuel-based plastics contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, whereas bioplastics can have a lower carbon footprint, especially when made from waste sources.

What To Know When You Shop: Consumer confusion regarding the content and disposal of bioplastics remains a challenge. The terms "bioplastic" and "biodegradable" have varying meanings, leading to misunderstandings and criticism. Standardized labeling systems and increased awareness are needed to address this issue. 

Treehugger clarifies that while all compostable bioplastics biodegrade, not all biodegradable bioplastics are suitable for composting. Biodegradable plastics require specific conditions for decomposition. Some bioplastics can be recycled alongside regular plastics, depending on their properties.

Source: Treehugger, ChatGPT


3. Carbon Neutral

Definition: Carbon neutrality, also known as net-zero carbon emissions or carbon neutrality, refers to the state in which an entity, such as a company, organization, or even an individual, balances the amount of greenhouse gases (primarily carbon dioxide, or CO2) emitted into the atmosphere with an equivalent amount of greenhouse gases removed from the atmosphere or offset through various measures. The ultimate goal of carbon neutrality is to reduce the net emissions of greenhouse gases to zero or even to a negative value, effectively halting contributions to climate change.

Examples: Carbon neutrality can be achieved by various entities, including businesses, cities, and individuals. Here are some examples of carbon neutrality:

Business: Google. In 2007, Google became one of the first major companies to achieve carbon neutrality. They have since committed to operating their global business on 100% renewable energy and continue to invest in renewable projects to offset their carbon emissions.

Cities: Reykjavik, Iceland: Reykjavik has already achieved carbon neutrality by utilizing its abundant geothermal energy sources and implementing green transportation solutions.

What To Know When You Shop: Achieving carbon-neutral shopping involves making sustainable choices and reducing the carbon footprint associated with your purchases. While it can be challenging to make every shopping trip entirely carbon-neutral, you can take steps to minimize the impact of your shopping habits. Some examples include buying local and sustainable products whenever possible, using reusable shopping bags, supporting eco-friendly brands, choosing carbon-neutral shipping options, buying upcycled or recycled products, and shopping from sustainably minded e-commerce platforms, like Ursa Nova! 

Source: ChatGPT

4. Climate Change

Definition: Climate change refers to long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns, which can be natural or driven by human activities. 

Facts: Since the 1800s, human activities, particularly the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas, have been the main cause of climate change. This releases greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, which act like a blanket around the Earth, trapping heat and raising temperatures.

Human-generated greenhouse gases have caused the Earth's surface temperature to rise by about 1.1°C since the late 1800s. This warming is faster and more significant than any time in the past two thousand years. The last decade was the warmest on record, with each successive decade since 1850 being warmer than the previous. Climate change has consequences beyond temperature, affecting various interconnected systems.

Examples: The impacts of climate change include intense droughts, water scarcity, wildfires, rising sea levels, floods, polar ice melting, severe storms, and declining biodiversity. It's crucial to recognize that climate change affects multiple aspects of the environment due to the complex interactions within Earth's interconnected systems.

Source: UN, ChatGPT


 5. Composting

Definition: Composting is a natural process that involves the decomposition of organic materials, such as food scraps, yard waste, and other biodegradable substances, into a nutrient-rich soil conditioner called compost. This decomposition occurs through the activity of microorganisms (e.g., bacteria, fungi), insects, and other organisms in the presence of oxygen (aerobic) or sometimes in limited oxygen conditions (anaerobic). Composting is a sustainable and environmentally friendly way to recycle organic waste, reduce landfill usage, and create a valuable soil amendment that can improve soil fertility, structure, and water retention when added to gardens, farms, or landscaping. It helps divert organic materials from the waste stream and contributes to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions associated with organic waste decomposition in landfills.

Examples: Composting can be done with a wide variety of organic materials. Here are some common examples: kitchen Sscraps: vegetable and fruit peels, coffee grounds, tea bags, eggshells, and leftover food (excluding meat and dairy) are excellent materials for composting; yard waste: grass clippings, leaves, small branches, and garden trimmings can all be composted; paper products: Shredded newspaper, cardboard, and paper towels (as long as they are free of chemicals or toxins) can be composted in moderation; coffee filters: if they are made from unbleached paper, coffee filters can be composted along with coffee grounds.

What To Know When You Shop: There are steps you can take to minimize waste and make it easier to compost when you shop for products: buying organic produce: organic fruits and vegetables often come with less packaging and may be grown with more sustainable farming practices, promoting healthier soil and reducing the need for chemical fertilizers; compostable packaging:  looking for products with compostable packaging; composting food scraps: if your grocery shopping includes fruits and vegetables, be sure to compost any food scraps or peels when you get home. These organic materials can be turned into nutrient-rich compost for your garden; reduce food waste: plan your meals and make a shopping list to reduce food waste. When you waste less food, you also reduce the amount of organic material that ends up in the landfill.

Source: ChatGPT

6. Eco-friendly 

Definition: According to Merriam-Webster, "eco-friendly" means "not environmentally harmful." This concept applies to products where both production and packaging should be safe for the environment. 

Example: One common example of an eco-friendly practice is using reusable shopping bags instead of single-use plastic bags. When you bring your own reusable bag to the grocery store, you reduce the demand for disposable plastic bags, which take a long time to decompose and can harm wildlife when they enter the environment. Reusable bags can be used multiple times, significantly reducing plastic waste and the overall environmental impact. This small change in behavior is a simple but effective way to be eco-friendly and reduce your contribution to plastic pollution.

What to Know When You Shop: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has strict guidelines for labeling products as "eco-friendly," requiring packaging to explain the environmental responsibility to avoid misleading claims. Look for these explanations when you buy products. Many environmental experts prefer using "sustainable" over "eco-friendly" as it acknowledges that all products have some environmental impact, while "sustainable" implies a positive attribute for the environment, even if the entire product isn't entirely environmentally friendly. "Eco-friendly" is often criticized as a term used for misleading marketing (greenwashing).

Source: Good Housekeeping, ChatGPT, Merriam Webster



7. Greenwashing 

Definition: Greenwashing refers to the deceptive practice of conveying false or misleading information about a company's products being environmentally friendly. It involves making unsubstantiated claims to deceive consumers into believing that products have a greater positive environmental impact than they actually do. 

Greenwashing takes advantage of the demand for eco-friendly products, using tactics like misleading labels and environmental imagery. It originated in the 1960s, notably seen when hotels asked guests to reuse towels for environmental reasons, primarily to cut costs. Even major carbon-emitting companies have tried to rebrand as environmental champions through renaming or repackaging products. Companies engage in greenwashing through press releases and commercials, creating an illusion of commitment to environmental initiatives despite lacking meaningful actions. In essence, greenwashing involves making unsupported claims about a product's environmental benefits.

Example: Major Oil & Gas companies purchasing ads related to climate projects to illustrate that they are an environmentally friendly energy producer while investments in these projects are minimal, lack any transparency, and the advertisements lead to misleading imagery (wind or solar panels). 

What To Know When You Shop: Greenwashing can take many different forms from misleading advertising to false practices and claims and is a significant challenge in the retail space. We recommend you check labels and ingredients before purchasing and ask questions from brands about their practices. The good news is most brands genuinely want to be more environmentally friendly. If you are a brand, understand that transparency is key and most customers value progress over perfection. There is a lot of work left to do here.

Source: Investopedia


8. Organic 

Definition: Organic is a labeling term that indicates that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods. These methods integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster the cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. 

Examples: Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used.

What To Know When You Shop: Greenwashing around organic products is a challenge. We recommend checking the USDA label when you shop for organic food products. 

Source: USDA



 9. Fossil Fuels

Definition: Fossil fuels are a group of hydrocarbon-based energy sources that are formed from the remains of ancient plants and animals that lived millions of years ago. These organic materials, such as plants and marine organisms, accumulated in layers on the Earth's surface. Over time, geological processes, including heat and pressure, transformed these organic deposits into energy-rich substances. Fossil fuels have been the dominant source of energy for many decades, powering industries, transportation, and households worldwide. However, their combustion releases carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, contributing to global climate change and environmental issues

Examples: The three primary types of fossil fuels are: coal, crude oil (petroleum) and natural gas. Here is a breakdown of all three forms of fossil fuel energy: 

Coal is a black or brownish-black sedimentary rock that is primarily composed of carbon, along with various other elements like hydrogen, sulfur, oxygen, and nitrogen. It is one of the oldest and most widely used fossil fuels. Coal is burned to produce heat and generate electricity.

Crude Oil (Petroleum): Crude oil is a liquid fossil fuel that consists of a complex mixture of hydrocarbons, as well as sulfur, nitrogen, and trace elements. It is typically extracted from underground reservoirs or beneath the ocean floor. Crude oil is refined into various products, including gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, and various petrochemicals.

Natural Gas: Natural gas is a gaseous fossil fuel composed mainly of methane (CH4), along with small amounts of other hydrocarbons and impurities. It is often found alongside crude oil deposits or in separate natural gas fields. Natural gas is used for heating, electricity generation, and as a fuel for vehicles.

What To Know When You Shop: Unfortunately, there are many products are derived from fossil fuels. Therefore understanding the scope of fossil fuel based productsintegral to becoming a sustainable shopper so you can become aware make better changes to limit the impact of fossil fuels and their impact on our environment. Here at Ursa Nova, our missionis to provide you with eco friendly alternatives so that you can continue to maintain and improve your lifestyle. Always remember, when shopping sustainably, progress is better than perfection. Here is a list of fossil fuel based products:

Plastics: Numerous items you encounter while shopping are made from plastic, which is often derived from fossil fuels like petroleum. This includes plastic bags, packaging materials, water bottles, containers, toys, and a variety of household goods.

Clothing and Textiles: Many textiles and fabrics are made from synthetic fibers derived from fossil fuels. Polyester, nylon, and acrylic are examples of synthetic fibers commonly used in clothing, accessories, and home textiles.

Cosmetics and Toiletries: Fossil fuel-derived ingredients can be found in many cosmetics and personal care products. Ingredients like petroleum jelly and mineral oil are used in lotions, creams, and lip balms.

Cleaning Products: Some cleaning products, such as detergents and cleaning agents, contain chemicals derived from fossil fuels. 

Medications: Certain pharmaceuticals and medications contain components made from fossil fuels, including petrochemicals used in drug synthesis.

Electronics: Electronics and appliances often contain plastics and components made from materials derived from fossil fuels. This includes casings, wiring, and various internal components.

Footwear: Many types of shoes and sneakers are made with synthetic materials like rubber and foam, which can be derived from fossil fuels.

Packaging Materials: In addition to plastic packaging, other packaging materials such as bubble wrap, packing peanuts, and foam inserts can be made from fossil fuel-based materials.

Sports Equipment: Items like sports balls, bike helmets, and some sporting gear may contain materials derived from fossil fuels.

Source: ChatGPT, DOE


10. Recyclable 

Definition: Recyclable refers to an object or material that can be processed and converted into new products, materials, or resources after it has fulfilled its initial use. Recyclable items are typically collected, sorted, and sent to recycling facilities, where they undergo various processes, such as melting, shredding, or pulping, to be transformed into raw materials for manufacturing new products. The recyclability of a material depends on factors such as its composition, durability, and the availability of appropriate recycling facilities and processes. Recycling helps reduce waste, conserve resources, and decrease the environmental impact associated with the production of new goods.

Examples: Common examples of recyclable materials include paper, cardboard, glass, certain types of plastics, metals (such as aluminum and steel), and textiles. 

What To Know When You Shop: Recyclability is an important feature in products when it has completed its useability. Non-recycled products, such as plastic, create large forms of waste in oceans, lands, and waterways causing health problems as they leak toxins, affect wildlife and agriculture, and increase pollution which all limits economic and geopolitical prosperity. When you shop, you can follow these steps to see if a product can be recycled:

Check for Recycling Symbols: Look for recycling symbols or labels on the product or its packaging. These symbols are typically found on the bottom, side, or back of the item. Common recycling symbols include the chasing arrows triangle with a number inside (indicating the resin type) and any specific recycling instructions.

Examine Materials:  Familiarize yourself with common recyclable materials. Products made of materials like glass, paper, cardboard, certain plastics (depending on your local recycling program), and aluminum are often recyclable. Non-recyclable materials may include certain types of plastics, mixed materials, or hazardous items.

Recycling Guidelines for Specific Materials: Paper and Cardboard: These materials are often recyclable. Flatten cardboard boxes, remove any plastic or non-paper elements, and ensure they are dry and clean. Plastics: Check the recycling number inside the recycling symbol. Not all plastics are recyclable, and the accepted types may vary by location. Common recyclable plastics include PET (1) and HDPE (2). Glass: Glass bottles and jars are commonly recyclable, but colored glass may not be accepted everywhere. Metal: Aluminum and steel cans are often recyclable. Ensure they are clean and free of food residue.

Use Recycling Bins: When disposing of recyclable items, use designated recycling bins or containers provided by your local recycling program. Follow any sorting guidelines they provide.

Source: ChatGPT, The Association of Plastic Recyclers


 11. Sustainability

Definition: Sustainability refers to the ability to maintain or preserve a system, process, or condition over an extended period of time without depleting its resources, causing harm to the environment, or compromising the well-being of future generations. Environmental experts tend to prefer the term "sustainable" over "eco-friendly" because even environmentally conscious practices can have some negative impacts during production. "Sustainable" acknowledges that products may not be entirely devoid of drawbacks, but their overall production and use should not harm nature in the long run.

Examples: Circular Economy: Businesses are adopting circular economy principles by designing products for longevity, repairability, and recyclability, reducing the need for constant production of new goods.

What To Know When You Shop: Sustainable products are designed, produced, and used in a way that minimizes their environmental and social impact throughout their lifecycle. Sustainable products are a crucial part of transitioning to a more sustainable and environmentally friendly way of living. Here are some examples of sustainable products across various categories: Reusable Water Bottles: Instead of single-use plastic bottles, reusable water bottles made from materials like stainless steel, glass, or BPA-free plastic help reduce plastic waste and promote responsible consumption. Bamboo Toothbrushes: These toothbrushes have biodegradable bamboo handles, reducing plastic waste generated by disposable toothbrushes. Eco-Friendly Cleaning Products: Cleaning products made from natural and biodegradable ingredients are less harmful to the environment than conventional chemical-based cleaners. Recycled Paper Products: Items like recycled paper towels, toilet paper, and notebooks are made from post-consumer waste, reducing the demand for virgin wood pulp. Upcycled Furniture: Furniture made from reclaimed or upcycled materials (e.g., pallet wood or old barrels) gives new life to discarded items and reduces the need for new resources. Reusable Shopping Bags: Cloth or durable plastic shopping bags can replace single-use plastic bags, reducing plastic pollution. Plant-Based Meat Alternatives: Plant-based meat products, made from sources like soy, peas, or mushrooms, have a lower environmental footprint compared to traditional meat production. Compostable Cutlery and Plates: These items are designed to break down naturally, reducing the environmental impact of disposable tableware. 

Source: ChatGPT, Ecofriendly Fact

12. Zero-waste

Definition: Zero waste is a sustainable philosophy and set of principles aimed at minimizing the generation of waste and reducing its environmental impact. The core idea behind zero waste is to design, produce, and consume products in a way that prevents waste generation and ensures that resources are used efficiently throughout their lifecycle. While it may be challenging to achieve absolute zero waste, the goal is to reduce waste generation to the greatest extent possible with the ultimate goal of sending as little waste as possible to landfills or incineration facilities. Instead, it emphasizes sustainable practices that prioritize recycling, reusing, composting, and reducing the consumption of disposable items.

Examples: Some key principles of the zero waste concept include the 3 “R’s” of sustainability - reduce, reuse and recycle. Reduce: Emphasizing the reduction of waste at the source by producing and consuming less and using resources more efficiently. Reuse: Promoting the reuse of products and materials whenever possible to extend their lifespan and reduce the need for new resources.Recycling: Encouraging the recycling of materials that cannot be easily reused to divert them from landfills and incineration.

What To Know When You Shop: Practicing zero waste when shopping involves making conscious choices to minimize waste and reduce your environmental footprint during the shopping process. Here are some tips and strategies to help you achieve zero waste when shopping: Bring Reusable Bags: Carry reusable cloth bags or tote bags to avoid using single-use plastic bags provided by stores. Use Reusable Containers: Bring your own containers for bulk items like grains, nuts, or liquids. Many stores now offer bulk bins where you can fill your containers. Choose Products with Minimal Packaging: Opt for products with minimal or no packaging. Items in glass, metal, or cardboard packaging are often more eco-friendly than plastic. Buy in Bulk: Purchase items in bulk to reduce the amount of packaging per product. This is especially common for pantry staples like rice, pasta, and spices. Avoid Single-Use Plastics: Refuse items like plastic cutlery, straws, and disposable water bottles. Instead, carry reusable alternatives like a stainless steel straw and a refillable water bottle. Shop Local and Seasonal: Support local farmers' markets and buy seasonal produce to reduce the carbon footprint associated with transportation and refrigeration. Choose Refill Stations: Some stores offer refill stations for household items like cleaning supplies, shampoo, and detergent. Bring your containers and refill them as needed. Buy Secondhand: Consider purchasing used items such as clothing, furniture, and electronics, which helps reduce waste associated with manufacturing new products. Say No to Receipts: Decline paper receipts if possible, as they often end up as unnecessary waste. Some stores offer digital receipts.Repair and Reuse: If you need new items, consider repairing or repurposing existing ones. Extend the lifespan of your possessions. By incorporating these zero-waste shopping practices into your routine, you can reduce the amount of waste you generate and contribute to a more sustainable and environmentally friendly lifestyle.

Source: EPA, ChatGPT



If you have any definitions, questions or comments, reach out to us  hello@shopursanova.com!