How do we save the planet? It’s a question that concerns us all. The World Meteorological Organization has been closely watching climate change for the last few decades. In 2021, the group published the United in Science report, which summarizes the research, which tells us what many of us already knew. The breakneck speed of climate change is leading to natural disasters like floods, droughts and wildfires, which are wreaking havoc on an unprecedented scale.
The report’s authors expect that within the next four years, the air temperature on Earth may rise by up to 1.5° Celsius (compared to the temperatures observed before the Industrial Revolution). And while this increase may seem insignificant, it’s enough to trigger tragic events such as Australian wildfires, German floods or Canadian droughts. These natural disasters are motivating even former naysayers into acting for our planet. But how can we protect the Earth, and where do we start? Recycling? Flexitarianism? Fighting against microplastic pollution?
The spreading awareness of the hazards and risks caused by global warming and the existing countermeasures affects our language, adding a slew of new words and phrases. Like “flexitarianism,” some eco-friendly terms are only beginning to get traction. Others, like recycling, have been around for quite a while. To make things more complex, various terms still have no equivalents in many languages, which impedes their broad understanding.
Our glossary of eco-friendly terms won’t tell you what to do to prevent climate change. Instead, it explains terms related to environmental protection so that you can take full accountability for your actions and decisions that affect our planet.
A Glossary Of Eco-Friendly Terms
Bio – “Bio” usually denotes a natural or ecological product made in a way that does not affect the environment, e.g., by using chemicals or plastic. The term is legally defined in the European Union, so it’s not just a marketing buzzword.
Carbon footprint – This is the total amount of greenhouse gases generated through the manufacturing and consumption of products and services. The term was coined to calculate the impact that one person, a factory, or a particular industry has on gas emissions and – consequently – on environmental pollution. Are you wearing your favorite T-shirt, sipping on the morning coffee while chilling on the balcony of your favorite hotel? Check how much carbon dioxide you have just added to the atmosphere.
Flexitarianism – This term refers to the occasional inclusion of meat in one’s diet, for example, when eating out or dining with the family. It’s for people who want to cut down on meat consumption, without the same limitations as vegetarianism or veganism.
Microplastic – Microplastics are fragments of polymers, including plastic, smaller than 5 millimeters. Microplastic can also be invisible to the human eye due to its minuscule size. How does it permeate the environment? For example, as a result of washing polyester clothes, the biodegradation of plastic in soil and water, or car tire wear. Microplastic is everywhere, even in the air we breathe. For now, the consequences of human exposure to microplastics remain unknown.
4R/5R & 6R – This acronym stands for actions you can take to help protect our planet. While you may be familiar with “reduce, reuse, recycle,” there are a number of variations that broaden the scope of people’s commitment to the planet.
- Refuse – refrain from taking a plastic bag in a shop, refuse a drinking straw at a bar, and avoid buying new items when the ones you already have are still good to be used.
- Reduce – save water and energy, avoid compulsive shopping and don’t buy things you won’t need or use. Also, cut down on waste generated in your household.
- Reuse – fix broken or torn things instead of throwing them away. Sew up holes in your clothes, cover up scratches, let your creative juices flow to bring new life into old objects.
- Repurpose – find new uses for everyday items that you no longer want or use according to their initial purpose. The internet is brimming with videos with hacks showing how to make a bottle into a flower pot or repurpose wine cork as furniture pads.
- Recycle – recycle waste so you can convert it into new items. You don’t know where to start? Check out a recycle app. You have to type in the name of an object to be scrapped, and the app will tell you how best to do it. Here’s one such page.
- Rot – compost food, i.e., throw rotten produce into a special composting bin.
Organic food – This is food grown with no or little use of synthetic chemicals, including human-made fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, hormones, and drugs.
Upcycle – Reusing of products or materials to create higher quality or value objects than the original. Today, one of the hot trends is DIY upcycled furniture that adds value to the items.
Sustainable (materials) – These materials can be used and produced without harming the environment. They might be made from renewable resources or created through recycling, for example. Sustainable materials — such as bamboo, shoots and leaves of crop plants, or oak bark — are harvested in an environmentally-friendly way.
Zero waste – It is a set of principles that encourage reducing waste generation to the minimum, regardless of whether it applies to large manufacturing plants or small households. For example, zero-waste cooking means using fruit and vegetable peels, stalks and other parts for cooking, as well as utilizing food scraps.
Sustainable development – This term refers to the organizing principle applied in economies and households. It posits that we should meet the current needs without compromising the ability of future generations to use natural resources and ecosystem services.
The issue of global warming and environmental protection is very broad, and there are more eco-friendly terms and phrases to know than the ones we provided above. But when developing our eco-friendly glossary, we also wanted to include a list of products that – to our surprise – contain plastic. By trying to avoid them, you are contributing to saving our planet.
- Wet wipes
- Chewing gum
- Disposable cups
- Synthetic fabrics
- Loofahs and sponges
- Cash register receipts
Companies manufacturing some of these items are not required to include a detailed list of all ingredients or materials contained in their products. As a result, the consequences of their everyday use are little known.
Learn More And Take Action
Keeping abreast of eco-friendly terms is just one way to learn about important environmental issues. A slogan postulated by eco-activists saying that “There is no planet B” (meaning that if plan A fails, there is no backup) accurately reflects the massive scale of global warming. To find out more on this topic, check out the following podcasts. They are multilingual so that you can combine language learning with environmental education.
- How To Save a Planet is a podcast started by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, a marine biologist, and journalist Alex Blumberg. Together, they explain the most important environmental and climate issues in a friendly and funny way.
- Zero Waste Your Life is a podcast in German hosted by Laura Konieczny. She touches on the most recent topics with her guests, such as finding an eco-friendly job or running a sustainable household.
- Zielony Podcast (“Green Podcast“) is a Polish podcast hosted by a radio presenter Krzysztof Rzyman. It provides listeners with simple tips and hacks for being and living green.
A version of this article originally appeared on the Polish edition of Babbel Magazine.