What does eco-friendly mean, exactly? – The Daily Dot

What does eco-friendly mean, exactly? – The Daily Dot

Transitioning to a green lifestyle can feel like a massive undertaking. What does eco-friendly mean? What is composting and what is biodegradable? How do you tell the difference? And how effective is recycling really?

Words like ‘green’ and ‘eco-friendly’ are umbrella terms that can be slapped onto any label. No matter what the label says, it’s good to know how your products are actually affecting the environment.

Learning your way around some common green terminology can help you better buy the products that are the most beneficial for you and the planet we share.


Beginner’s guides to going green

  • Eco-friendly subscription boxes for a happy environment (inside & out)
  • Best composters to turn food scraps into soil
  • How to have a sustainable orgasm

A quick guide to eco-friendly vocabulary

Living 100% green and squeaky-clean ain’t easy. Lack of income, access, and green legislature make it nearly impossible for the average person to live in harmony with the earth. Different people have different priorities, and it’s important to know yours.

There are a lot of different terms to describe how a product impacts the environment. Each term is designed to help answer one of two questions: how is it made and how is it thrown away?

What does ‘biodegradable’ mean?

Products are considered biodegradable if you leave them in nature and they will be eaten by bacteria or other microorganisms. Biodegradable materials include:

  • food
  • plant clippings
  • paper
  • cardboard
  • untreated wood
  • & other naturally decaying materials.
  • Yes, even you, meatbag.

The ‘but’s of biodegradables

Biodegradable plastics only degrade under certain conditions, like those at an industrial facility. And those conditions may not be a truly sustainable option. Those plastics just break down into much smaller microplastic particles.

If organic materials are surrounded by synthetic materials like plastic, they don’t break down. Instead, they start to rot, releasing methane, a dangerous greenhouse gas. This is why many cities are redesigning landfills to separate out compostables.


Our favorite biodegradable alternatives:


What is composting?

Similar to biodegradables, microrganisms can break down compostable materials in about 90 days. The breakdown process has zero harmful effects on the environment and helps gardeners and farmers to have happier healthier soil.

Lots of people use their own scraps to create compost for their yard. Others send their scraps to a community facility. If you live in the U.S., you can use this ‘Where to Compost’ list by Litterless to find a facility near you. Or find your neighborhood community garden that composts.

What’s the difference between biodegradable and compostable?

All compostables are biodegradable. Not all biodegradables are compostable. Those plant-based plastics we mentioned? Not compostable. Items around your home that are compostable include:

Ecological products