CleanHub's Plastic Waste Glossary

By Beth Howell on January 17, 2024
CleanHub's Plastic Waste Glossary
Beth Howell
Beth Howell

Beth has been writing about the environment and climate change for over four years now – with her work being featured in publications such as The BBC, Forbes, The Express, Greenpeace, and in multiple academic journals.

Environmental issues are being talked about more and more as the years go by. 

If you've started reading up more on climate change, the plastic waste crisis, and other environmental topics, you'll have noticed that it comes with a whole lot of jargon and complex phrases.

To make it easier, we've compiled a list of the top plastic waste vocabulary to be aware of — demystifying phrases and making our experience with the topic much better.


Plastic waste vocabulary to be aware of


Co-processing is an industrial process that involves using waste as raw material, turning it into energy, and ultimately replacing fossil fuels in certain industrial processes.

It does this by burning plastic waste in a cement kiln at incredibly high temperatures, between 2,800 ºF and 2,550 ºF (1,250 ºC and 1,450 ºC). 

Unlike regular incineration, co-processing is an oxygen-rich method, which encourages the complete combustion of plastic waste without leaving any ash behind. This process also has a steady flow of alkaline materials in it, neutralizing any potential acidic gasses and reducing the risk of air pollution.

CO2 emissions

CO2 stands for carbon dioxide. The natural sources of CO2 include decomposition of food, respiration, and ocean release. However, human activity — namely burning fossil fuels — has driven these emissions through the roof over the past few decades, making it one of the key factors contributing to climate change.

The main human source, which is the major reason behind the ever-increasing CO2 in the atmosphere in the current era, is the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal and oil.

Since plastic is created with the use of crude oil, this material has become on of the most polluting items on the planet, and continues to drive CO2 emissions year on year. 


Greenwashing is when a company provides false or misleading information to the public, investors, and other stakeholders about the environmental impact of a product, service, or its operations.

The most common form of greenwashing is providing incomplete information or exaggerating a claim to convince people to buy a product. Common examples include mentioning recycled materials without providing the exact percentage or claiming energy-saving benefits without going into detail.


A landfill is a type of waste disposal, where solid waste is dumped inside a large space.

The idea is that this waste is contained within this area to ensure the pollutants (commonly referred to as 'leachate' – a liquid material leaked from the waste) don’t enter the ground and contaminate the soil and the groundwater.

However, it's been found that these contaminants frequently leak into the surrounding environment.

Ocean plastic

The term 'ocean plastic' is pretty self-explanatory — it refers to any plastic items present in the ocean. This can include both macro and microplastics.

It usually enters through numerous land and ocean-based sources, such as rivers, drains, and beach pollution.

The most commonly found plastic items in our oceans are plastic bags, plastic bottles, food containers and cutlery, wrappers, and synthetic rope. 

Ocean-bound plastic

Unlike ocean plastic, ocean-bound plastic is material that is headed towards or at risk of entering the oceans, rather than items that are already there.

Ocean-bound plastic generally comes from litter in rivers, dumped on beaches, and plastic waste generated by companies and communities along the coastline — within the range of 50 km.



Plastic credits

Plastic credits are an auditable unit to measure the amount of plastic reduced either through collection from the environment or via recycling into a new item or packaging.

The whole process comprises two parties: the companies using plastic in their products or packaging, and the organization working towards collecting plastic from the environment or recycling it.

Together, both of these parties remove a specific amount of plastic from the environment, which is generally equal to the amount used in business activities. 

Plastic footprint

A plastic footprint is a measure of how much plastic waste a company, household, or individual generates. It includes the amount of plastic you use and produce.

Plastic neutral

Plastic neutrality is when a company or individual recovers the same amount of plastic from the environment that they produce — balancing one another out. The most common way to achieve plastic neutrality is to buy plastic credits.  

Plastic offsetting

Plastic offsetting is a way for companies to compensate for their plastic use by purchasing credits. The ultimate goal of doing this is to reduce the amount of plastic that reaches the environment.

It's done by first calculating the brand's plastic footprint, and then compensating for all the plastic that they use in products and packaging. 

Plastic treaty

The Plastic Treaty is a legally binding treaty signed by the UN Member States in March 2022, with the aim of ending global plastic waste and pollution.

The main objective is centered around the whole plastic lifecycle, starting from production to waste management, to encourage and develop opportunities to reduce plastic waste and make the industry circular.


The word pyrolysis is a combination of two Greek words, ‘pyro’ meaning fire and ‘lysis’ meaning separating — which is pretty much what it means.

Pyrolysis is a chemical degradation process, and introduces very high temperatures, typically over 430 °C or 800 °F) to organic matter in the absence of oxygen. This then causes it to irreversibly change physically and chemically.

The goal of pyrolysis is to obtain a secondary raw material, pyrolysis oil, from plastic waste.


Recycling is the process of turning waste into new products, which would otherwise be landfilled or handled via other harmful waste management processes. There are three main types of recycling:

  • Mechanical recycling — Mechanical recycling is a type of recycling where the waste products are turned into new products through mechanical means, without changing their chemical composition
  • Energy recycling — This process involves turning products into thermal or electrical energy through incineration
  • Chemical recycling — This involves changing the chemical composition of the waste being recycled. The produced raw materials are then used in different industries to manufacture new products

Sustainable packaging

Sustainable packaging is a type of material that ​​is used to wrap, store, and protect products. It supports sustainable development by reducing environmental impact and ecological footprint.

These sustainable items are usually made from recyclable or compostable materials, such as recyclable and biodegradable plastics, recycled cardboard and paper, cornstarch, or cellulose, which can either be broken down and reused for other products or into compost.

It's important to be aware of the rising number of products that are labeled as biodegradable or compostable. However, only a minority of them are actually home-compostable. The label 'compostable' most often means 'industrially compostable', so the material will break down only inside the right industrial equipment.

Waste management

Waste management is the process of disposing of, reducing, reusing, recycling, and preventing waste. It starts with waste generation and ends at the final disposal.

The most common forms of waste management include:

  • Landfills Burying and placing the waste on top of each other in a large facility
  • Incineration – Burning waste at high temperatures that vary based on the type of waste
  • Recovery – Recovering useful materials and resources from discarded items and converting them into an energy source, such as electricity or heat
  • Recycling – Converting waste into new products 
  • Composting – Turning organic waste into nutrient-rich fertilizers
  • Waste-to-energy – Turning non-recyclable items into energy, such as electricity or fuel
  • Avoidance – Reducing waste generation 


Waste to energy is a technology or a treatment process of converting or recovering energy from a waste source in the form of heat, electricity, or transport fuels as a substitute for e.g. coal.



Hopefully you're now feeling more clued up on key terms and jargon that commonly crop up in the environmental space. 

If you're interested in learning how CleanHub works to reduce plastic pollution, check out our helpful articles below:


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