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We get it. In an age of buzzwords and trends, achieving ecoliteracy isn’t exactly an easy feat. Come on, even the word “ecoliteracy” is intimidating. But below you’ll find some foundational terminology that we’re sure will help you get your bearings. Because at Simply Spruce, it’s our mission to guide you toward confident, informed choices for your journey with sustainable living.
Technically, nearly everything is biodegradable. That just means that, given the right conditions, it will eventually break down into its basic components. However, some products take years (we’re talking hundreds or thousands of years) to break down. And even then they might leave behind toxins.
In terms of environmental benefits, the best biodegradable materials will break down quickly, leaving nothing harmful behind and saving valuable landfill space. But even all-star materials have very specific composting needs. For example, many bioplastics will only break down in a controlled environment. They won’t degrade in your average backyard compost.
Compostable products break down really well in compost environments. And when we say really well, we mean that not only do they break down quickly (in 90 days or so), but they also break down into nutrient-rich, healthy soil. All compostable products may also be called biodegradable, in that they break down, but not all biodegradable products are compostable, in that they might not break down simply and efficiently.
A product has earned the distinction of being cruelty-free if there’s no animal testing involved in its creation or production. It’s a common misconception that if a product is cruelty-free it must also be vegan. While it’s very likely that vegan items are cruelty-free, a product made without the use of animal testing could still be made with animal-derived ingredients.
When we recycle an item, it’s because that item is made up of materials that can be used again. Usually a recycled product needs to be melted down or otherwise manipulated in order to produce something new. Through the practice of recycling, plastic, paper, steel, and glass are brought back into the consumer stream rather than the fast-track to the landfill.
Are you picturing the slightly more expensive version of various produce items? That’s a common (and accurate!) first association with the word “organic.” However, many different products—including non-food items—can actually be described as organic. That’s because the term applies to any product that’s made with minimal synthetic pesticides and fertilizers or produced from animals that have been raised according to specific standards.
Upcycling is the wonderful practice of taking something that’s no longer being used for its intended purpose and finding a new function for it. Our Second Life boxes are an example of upcycling. We take boxes that a business has already used and extend their life as part of Simply Spruce’s own packaging process. We bet you could upcycle something in your home right now: turning an old t-shirt into rag or a wine bottle into a vase, perhaps.
It’s not just a diet, it’s a lifestyle! A product is vegan if it does not contain any animal ingredients or animal-derived ingredients. You might be thinking of meat, eggs, and cheese off the top of your head, but there’s also honey, beeswax, lanolin, collagen, albumen, carmine, cholesterol, and gelatin, among several other animal-derived products to consider. For many, a vegan label also means that a product qualifies as cruelty-free.
The goal is straightforward and clear: produce no trash. Zero waste is a philosophy that calls for people to turn a linear waste structure (products are used and then become unusable waste) into a circular structure where there is no waste (products are used and then are reused). In order to achieve this circular structure, people adopt a bunch of practices: buying less, reusing and upcycling what they already own, recycling only when absolutely needed, and composting anything that can no longer serve any other purpose.
We at Simply Spruce think about zero waste as a valuable mindset that results in a spectrum of positive behaviors, choices, and outcomes. You don’t need to be flawless to be part of the zero waste movement. In fact, here’s a quote our founder loves: “We don't need a handful of people doing zero-waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly."