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Quick Guide to Eco-friendly Packaging Terms

Quick Guide to Eco-friendly Packaging Terms

A topic that continues to make headlines is packaging that supports eco-friendly, planet-saving, sustainable initiatives. Fortune 500 companies are teaming up to prove exponential change is the key to saving our planet. But there’s a lot of jargon that goes unexplained in these conversations.

This is the Hughes guide to understanding the key terms that are buzzing in the popular articles and social media posts about sustainable packaging options.

Terms explained below:

  1. Bioplastics
  2. Environmental Protection Hierarchy
  3. Carbon Footprint
  4. Microplastics
  5. Organic
  6. LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance (LEED EB: O&M)


Products that are classified as bioplastic are made from alternative resources, such as fats and oils, rather than traditional fossil fuel plastics. These products are renewable and also require less energy to produce. Packaging products that are manufactured from bioplastics include bags, trays, foils and more.

Related article: Packaging for E-Commerce? Buy Shrink Wrap!

Environmental Protection Hierarchy

The EPA has a systematized approach to pollution prevention. The Environmental Protection Hierarchy provides a guide for “more preferable” to “less preferable” source reduction options (view the hierarchy here). From top (most preferable) to bottom (less preferable): Prevent, Reuse, Recycle, Treatment, Disposal.

Often discussed in combination with the Environmental Protection Hierarchy is P2 (or Pollution Prevention). This involves any practice that is aimed at reducing or eliminating pollution.

Related article: Cleaning up the ocean with sustainable packaging

Carbon Footprint

This is the total amount of carbon dioxide an individual or other type of group/organization produces to maintain their lifestyle for a specified amount of time. This can be as small as one person or organism up to a company, city, state, or country. Examples of factors that contribute to one’s carbon footprint include energy usage, transportation, and products used.

Related article: How2Recycle Label Brings Attention to Sustainable Packaging


When plastics end up in the ocean they are demolished by the ever-present currents in the ocean. The fractured specs of plastic pieces of from all types of goods used by humans become one with the tides. While almost invisible to the human eye, these tiny pieces are referred to as microplastics and are contributors to the general plastic pollution problems in our oceans.

Related article: Wrap Rage and Going Green- Top Two Food Packaging Considerations


A word that is often over-used and mis-used is organic. For a product or food item to pass the USDA standards for organic labeling it must meet certain criteria. This criteria includes no genetically modified organisms and the products must adhere to the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances.

Related article: Green Your New Year With Green Packaging Solutions

LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance (LEED EB: O&M)

The US Green Building Council has a guide for green protocols related to building operations and maintenance. Examples include LED lighting options, skylights, HVAC requirements, delivery regulations, water consumption standards, and more.

Related article: Creating a Sustainable Distribution Facility

What should you do next?

Consumers are continuing to show their preference for green options. By working with Hughes you will have access to a packaging expert who can guide you to selecting the most sustainable options for your company. Click here to contact a certified packaging professional now. 

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