Green Glossary

Unsure what some words on a supposed "green" cleaner mean? Use our glossary to understand some common terms in the realm of green.

  • #

    2-butoxyethanol (also known as butyl cellosolve, butyl glycol, ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, BE or EGBE)
    BE is used as a solvent in household cleaners , as well as varnishes, lacquers and paints. Short term exposure may cause nausea, vomiting, dizziness, headache, and irritation to the eyes as well as the respiratory system. Like many solvents, BE causes nervous system and reproductive effects in animals. According to the fact sheet issued by the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, long term effects may include cancer, reproductive and liver or kidney damage. BE enters the air as solvents dry and enters the water supply from industrial activities as well as from municipal landfills and hazardous waste sites. It is regulated under the Clean Air Act, including the National Emissions Standard for hazardous Air Pollutants.
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  • A

    Air Pollution
    Airborne contaminants or pollutants that adversely affect the environment or human health.
    Alkylphenol ethoxylates (APE)
    APEs, which include nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) and octylphenol ethoxylates, are surfactants, or "surface active agents", that are key to the effectiveness of detergents. They are added to some laundry detergents, disinfectants, laundry stain removers, and citrus cleaner/degreasers. In 1984, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) concluded that APEs can cause several serious adverse health effects including (i) cancer of the blood (leukemia) and other organs, (ii) mutations and other undesirable changes in the DNA, (iii) increased risk of adverse reproductive effects in both men and women, and (iv) neurological effects. In addition, APE exposure may cause sensitization and irritation to the eyes and respiratory tract. Washington State only permits trace amounts of APEs in products purchased by the State due to its potential dangers to wildlife and humans when released into the water supply.
    Ammonia is a naturally occurring substance often found in household and industrial cleaners. Exposure to high levels of ammonia in the air may irritate skin, eyes, throat, lungs, and may also cause coughing and burns. Extreme exposure may cause lung damage and death.
    Antioxidants are vitamins, amino acids, and other natural substances that prevent oxidation. In biological systems, the normal processes of oxidation produce free radicals, which are unstable, oxygen containing molecules that can damage cells. Free radicals damage cell membranes and normal cellular metabolism and may also damage DNA and RNA, contribute to the hardening of collagen and elastin cells, and may cause cancer. This cell damage leads to premature aging, increased skin sensitivity, irritation, age spots, and dryness. The main focus of anti-aging skincare products is on antioxidants that combat free radicals in the skin. According to scientific research, the most effective agents are vitamins E, C and A.
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  • B

    Bioaccumulation refers to the process of gradual buildup, in an organism, of a substance that is not easily metabolized and eliminated. Toxic chemicals such as dioxins can bioaccumulate in the systems of cattle, fish, and chicken, for example, and enter the systems of humans when they digest these foods. In humans, repeated exposure to toxins considered safe in small amounts can bioaccumulate and may become hazardous to one's health.
    As distinct from biodegradable, biocompatible refers to products that break down, not simply into basic elements, but into elements that are actually beneficial or harmless to the environment.
    A biodegradable substance is one that can be broken down by living things, generally microorganisms, into innocuous products, i.e., those not harmful to the ecosystem (soil, water, or air). Most organic waste, including paper, food scraps, and natural fibers fit this description; plastic is an example of a non-biodegradable material.
    Bisphenol A (BPA)
    BPA is a chemical building block that has been used for forty years primarily to make polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins. Polycarbonate plastic is a lightweight, high-performance plastic that possesses a unique balance of toughness, optical clarity, high heat resistance and excellent electrical resistance. Polycarbonate is used in a wide variety of common products including reusable food and drink containers, canned food, packaged formula and many others. Of particular note, historically BPA had almost always been found in plastic baby bottles.
    There has recently been a debate about the safety of BPA's leaching from water bottles, canned food (both baby and adult) and formula with the potential to cause developmental, reproductive and neural problems. The findings prompted a Canadian ban on BPA and the removal of baby bottles containing BPA from the shelves of certain retailers. Also in response to the concerns, numerous manufacturers are now producing BPA free baby bottles and water bottles for those who prefer to reduce their exposure to BPA. There is also considerable information to support BPA’s safety when used as prescribed.
    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) designation for existing facilities or sites that have been abandoned or underused because of real or perceived environmental contamination. The EPA sponsors an initiative to help mitigate these health risks and return the facility or land to renewed use.
    Building Envelope
    The entire perimeter of a building enclosed by its roof, walls, and foundation. Properly designed, the envelope can minimize temperature gain or loss and moisture infiltration.
    Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT)
    BHA and BHT are both used as antioxidants and preservatives in numerous products, including some foods, food packaging and cosmetics to stabilize flavors and increase shelf lives. They are also used in some pharmaceuticals and petroleum products. Both are able to stabilize free radicals and prevent further free radical reactions. Some studies have found that BHA can produce allergic reactions, and in larger doses, affect liver and kidney functions. In the late 1980s, it was determined that BHA could be reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen, based on sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals. However, no direct data on humans was available at that time. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends caution in its use and suggests additional studies on possible risks to human health. Currently FDA regulations limit the concentration of BHA in commercial foods to 0.02% in products containing fats and oils and to somewhat higher concentrations in other food products.
    BHA and BHT have undergone the additive application and review process required by FDA. The same chemical properties which make BHA and BHT may also be implicated in health effects. The oxidative characteristics and/or metabolites of BHA and BHT may contribute to carcinogenicity, however the same reactions may combat oxidative stress. There is evidence that certain persons may have difficulty metabolizing BHA and BHT, resulting in health and behavior changes. BHA and BHT may also have antiviral and antimicrobial activities.

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  • C

    Carbon Footprint
    An estimate of how much carbon dioxide an entity (person, family, or building) produces and releases into the atmosphere (the EPA has a personal calculator at The resulting figure is used to buy carbon offsets (see definition) or engage in ameliorative activities such as planting trees.
    Carbon Neutral
    Carbon neutrality can be attained by reducing energy use and compensating for the amount of carbon dioxide an entity generates through either obtaining energy from renewable sources or offsetting.
    Carbon Offsets
    Credits earned for activities that help balance CO2 emissions, such as planting trees. They can also be bought from a provider who uses the money to plant trees, generate renewable energy or conserve energy.
    Certified Wood
    Under the guidance of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), wood-based materials used in building construction that are supplied from sources that comply with sustainable forestry practices, protecting trees, wildlife habitat, streams and soil.
    Chemistry is the study of matter and its interactions with other matter. Anything made of matter is therefore a chemical, i.e., any liquid, solid or gas, any pure substance or any mixture. Water is a chemical. However, people generally use the term 'chemical' to refer to a substance that appears homogeneous or the same throughout its structure.
    Chlorine Bleach (aka sodium hypochlorite)
    Chlorine bleach is an all-purpose whitening agent that is highly caustic and may cause skin irritation and redness. Its fumes can irritate eyes, nose, and airways; it also can be fatal if swallowed. According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC), chlorine-based bleaches caused 19,581 poisonings in U.S. children under six years of age in 2005. Chlorine also poses a hazard because it can react with other cleaners to form toxic gases. If mixed with cleaners containing ammonia, chlorinated cleaning products form lung-damaging chloramine gases. Chlorine mixed with acids, such as those in some toilet bowl cleaners, can form toxic chlorine gas, which damages airways.
    When released in waterways, chlorine is toxic to fish and can create organochlorines that may contaminate drinking water. Organochlorines, which are suspected carcinogens as well as reproductive, neurological and immune-system toxins, have also been known to cause developmental disorders. Damaging substances – including dioxins, furans and trihalomethanes – can be produced when chlorine products come in contact with organic matter such as wood, soil and waste. Dioxins and furans are extremely toxic chemicals, known carcinogens and hormone disruptors. Trihalomethanes may cause miscarriages, birth defects, bladder and rectal cancers.

    Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)
    A group of volatile gases believed to deplete the ozone layer of the Earth's stratosphere. These gases have been discontinued from use as refrigerants and as blowing agents used to make foam.
    Composting is an easy, natural form of recycling wherein organic waste such as yard trimmings, kitchen scraps, and the like can be decomposed into a nutrient-rich, soil-like material. Composting keeps material out of landfills and creates an excellent planting medium, mulch and amendment for soil lacking in nutrients or adequate drainage.
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  • D

    D&C Colorants
    D&C colorants are those used in drugs and cosmetics with certain restrictions. Some have been shown to be carcinogenic in laboratory animals, in particular, certain reds (#8,9,37) and orange (#17).
    Diethanolamine (DEA)
    DEA is used as a wetting agent in shampoos, lotions, creams, and other cosmetics. DEA is used widely because it provides a rich lather in shampoos and keeps a favorable consistency in lotions and creams. DEA by itself is not harmful but while sitting on the shelf, DEA can react with other ingredients in the cosmetic formula to form an extremely potent carcinogen called nitrosodiethanolamine (NDEA). DEA is readily absorbed through the skin and has been linked with stomach, esophagus, liver and bladder cancers.
    According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), "There is sufficient evidence of a carcinogenic effect of nitrosodiethanolamine (NDEA)". IARC recommends that NDEA should be treated as if it were a carcinogen in humans. The National Toxicology Program similarly concluded that there is sufficient evidence for the carcinogenicity in experimental animals.
    Short term exposure may be corrosive to the eyes. Long term or repeated exposure may cause skin sensitization and may also affect the liver and kidneys.
    Dioxins are primarily byproducts of man-made activities, including the burning of waste (particularly plastics) and fuel, the chlorine bleaching of paper and other products, and from the manufacture of certain chemicals. They are released into the air, can then settle into water and soil, and eventually end up in the food supply, mainly through the systems of livestock, where they bioaccumulate. Dioxins have been in the environment for the last century, so most human intake of these chemicals comes from food. The EPA acknowledges that Americans are born with dioxin in their bodies.
    Due to industrial accidents or chemical spills, higher than normal levels of exposure occur occasionally. Dioxins are linked to numerous adverse health effects, including reproductive and endocrine system damage and an increased risk of cancer; the precise level of risk is unclear, as some dioxins are more toxic than others, and it is unknown exactly how much exposure it takes to cause harm. Efforts have been made to reduce dioxin emissions, and levels have been dropping in industrialized nations (where they are highest) for the past 30 years. However, since the chemicals linger in the environment, they are not likely to disappear anytime soon.

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  • E

    Eco-friendly, environmentally friendly, and nature friendly are all synonyms used to refer to goods and services that are generally believed to inflict minimal or no harm on the environment. However, there is no single international standard for this concept. Thus, the use of these terms can be confusing without a specific definition and the U.S. EPA has deemed this language "useless" in determining whether a product is truly "green". provides a valuable service by testing products claiming to be "green" to confirm that they are, in fact, eco-friendly.
    Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
    The EPA leads the nation's environmental science, research, education, and assessment efforts. The mission of the EPA is to protect human health and the environment. Since 1970, EPA has been working for a cleaner, healthier environment for the American people.
    Essential Oils
    An essential oil is a concentrated liquid containing volatile aroma compounds from plants. They are also known as volatile or ethereal oils, or simply as the "oil of" the plant material from which they were extracted, such as oil of clove. An oil is "essential" in the sense that it carries a distinctive scent, or essence, of the plant. Essential oils do not as a group need to have any specific chemical properties in common beyond conveying characteristic fragrances.
    Ethoxylated Nonyl Phenols (NPE)
    NPEs are a group of endocrine-disrupting chemicals used in cleaning products, even though Environment Canada has declared them CEPA-toxic under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. Known as "gender-benders," nonyl phenols can induce female characteristics in male fish. The threat posed to the environment by nonyl phenols prompted the European Union to ban them from all cleaning products manufactured or used in the EU.
    Environmentally Preferable
    Products or services that have a lesser or reduced effect on the environment.
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  • F

    Fossil Fuels
    Fossil fuels include those, such as coal, oil, and natural gas, that are extracted from beneath the Earth's surface. These fuels are a finite resource and are non-renewable.
    Fragrances and dyes frequently contain phthalates, chemicals linked to reproductive abnormalities and liver cancer in lab animals and to asthma in children. Fragrances in detergents, fabric softeners, and dryer sheets may provoke skin irritation, allergic reactions and asthma; they also can contain hormone disrupting phthalates, chemicals that have been linked to cancer and reproductive system harm in lab tests. Fragrances can cling to clothing or bedding for weeks after washing and may cause stuffy nose, sneezing, headache, skin irritation and other allergic symptoms.
    Household sources of formaldehyde include fiberglass, carpets, permanent press fabrics, paper products, and some household cleaners. Low levels of formaldehyde can cause irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and skin. Asthmatics may be more sensitive to the effects of inhaled formaldehyde. Ingestion of large amounts can cause severe pain, vomiting, coma, and possible death. Some studies of people exposed to formaldehyde in the workplace air found more cases of cancer of the nose and throat than expected, but other studies did not confirm this finding. The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has determined that formaldehyde may reasonably be anticipated to be a carcinogen.
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  • G

    Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO)
    GMOs are organisms whose genetic materials have been altered using genetic engineering. Many health professionals around the world have sounded the alarm on GMOs claiming environmental concerns such as increased cancer risk, allergens, toxins, and contamination.
    Green (also eco-friendly, environmentally friendly, nature friendly)
    Green goods and services are generally believed to inflict minimal or no harm on the environment. However, there is no single international standard for this concept. Thus, the use of the term can be confusing without a specific definition. provides a valuable service by testing products claiming to be "green" in order to confirm that they are, in fact, eco-friendly.
    GreenGuard certification indicates that a product has been tested to ensure that chemical and particle emissions meet acceptable standards. It uses performance-based standards to define goods such as building materials, interior furnishings, furniture, cleaning and maintenance products, electronic equipment, and personal care products with low chemical and particle emissions for use indoors. The standards establish certification procedures including test methods, allowable emissions levels, product sample collection and handling, testing type and frequency, and program application processes and acceptance.
    Derived from the term "whitewashing', this term is used when a company or product claims to be environmentally responsible when in fact it is not. Greenwashing takes many forms, from a snack food maker claiming "natural" ingredients to convince shoppers they are making a healthy buy, to automakers claiming to be eco-friendly while continuing to mass produce gas guzzlers. Unfortunately, this tactic may produce cynical consumers who may reject the green movement rather than embrace it. Regulations on labeling help somewhat, but it requires diligence to be certain that purportedly green products really are eco-friendly.
    Green Building
    Green building is the practice of constructing, maintaining, renovating, and demolishing buildings in a manner that is ecologically and socially responsible, resource-efficient, sustainable, and healthy.
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  • H

    Hazardous Waste
    Byproducts of society with physical, chemical, or infectious characteristics that pose hazards to the environment and human health when improperly managed.
    Heavy Metals
    These naturally occurring metallic elements include arsenic, lead, cadmium, cobalt, chromium, mercury, nickel, and selenium. In very small amounts, many of these metals are necessary to support life, but in larger amounts, they become toxic. They may build up in biological systems and become a significant health hazard. In addition to a wide variety of potentially serious effects on organ systems, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) have determined that many of the heavy metals are carcinogens or probable carcinogens to humans.
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  • I

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  • J

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  • K

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  • L

    Leaching refers to the drawing out of chemicals from a material. For example, potentially hazardous chemicals called phthalates are thought to leach out of certain plastics thereby contaminating food or otherwise threatening human health. Leaching also refers to the removal of nutrients, pollutants, or other components from soil--by rain, flooding, excess irrigation, or another source.
    LEED Certification
    For green builders, this is both a benchmark and a support system. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) developed LEED as a rating and certification system to provide consistent standards for the design, construction and operation of green buildings. A LEED-certified building will have taken into account sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality. GreenCupboards identifies which of its certified products are produced in a LEED certified facility.
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  • M

    Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS)
    Informational fact sheets that identify hazardous chemicals and health and physical hazards, including exposure limits and precautions for workers who may come into contact with these chemicals. Green design professionals review product MSDS when specifying materials and require a submitted copy of the fact sheets during the shop drawing phase.
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  • N

    Naphthalene, and another chemical called paradichlorobenzene, are used in moth balls and moth crystals. Short-term exposure by inhalation, ingestion, and dermal contact is associated with hemolytic anemia, liver damage, neurological damage, and cataracts. Long-term exposure has been reported to cause cataracts and damage to the retina. EPA has classified naphthalene as a Group C, possible human carcinogen. Naphthalene is listed by California's Office of Environmental Health Hazards Assessment as a substance "known to the state to cause cancer," paradichlorobenzene is listed by IARC as a possible human carcinogen. Naphthas and mineral spirits, found in furniture polishes, are neurotoxins and considered hazardous waste.
    National Organic Program (NOP)
    Develops, implements, and administers national production, handling, and labeling standards for organic agricultural products. The NOP also accredits the certifying agents (foreign and domestic) who inspect organic production and handling operations to certify that they meet USDA standards.
    National Organic Standards Board (NOSB)
    The Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, part of the 1990 Farm Bill, authorized the Secretary of Agriculture to appoint a 15-member National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). The board's main mission is to assist the Secretary in developing standards for substances to be used in organic production. The NOSB also advises the Secretary on other aspects of implementing the national organic program. The current board is comprised of four farmers/growers, two handlers/processors, one retailer, one scientist, three consumer/public interest advocates, three environmentalists, and one USDA accredited certifying agent who sit on various committees. Members come from all four U.S. regions.
    Natural compounds refer to those that are produced by plants or animals.
    Not containing any genetically modified substances.
    Non-renewable Resource
    These natural resources, including forests, coal, and oil, either do not replenish themselves or do so much more slowly than they are consumed.
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  • O

    From a chemistry perspective, organic refers to substances containing carbon compounds. The term is also used to refer to food grown without the use of synthetic or chemically formulated fertilizers, growth stimulants, antibiotics, or pesticides. Products that can be produced organically include foods, fabrics, and gardening supplies. They must meet certain government requirements in order to be labeled organic.
    Organic Cotton
    Organic cotton is grown without toxic chemicals and pesticides throughout the growing process, utilizing biological pest control methods and relying on natural fertilizers to dramatically reduce the crop's environmental impact.
    Organically Grown
    Though this term has been subject to considerable debate, in general, organic food and fibers are produced without using most pesticides, fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge.
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  • P

    Parabens are a group of chemicals widely used as preservatives in the cosmetic, personal care, and pharmaceutical industries, primarily for their anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. A report published in the Journal of the American College of Toxicology in 1984 estimated that parabens could be found in over 13,000 cosmetic products, including shampoos, conditioners, deodorants, and sunscreens; that is in addition to food and pharmaceutical products. Their efficacy as preservatives, low cost and long history of safe use, likely explains why parabens are so commonplace. While more research needs to be conducted, there is evidence to warrant caution in the use of, or exposure to, parabens. Although there is no definitive consensus on the danger of parabens, some companies have adopted a 'precautionary principal' and have committed to removing parabens from all formulations, thus resulting in their products exceeding the European Union's strict standards for cosmetics. The EU has banned more than 1,300 ingredients that are known or strongly suspected of causing cancer, birth defects, or fertility problems. Parabens are not on this list.
    Phosphates are water softening mineral additives once widely used in laundry detergents and other cleaners. When phosphates enter the water supply, they function like a fertilizer, causing overgrowth of algae, and in turn depleting the oxygen supply in the water, killing fish and other organisms. Many states have banned the use of phosphates in laundry detergent, and far fewer have banned their use in dishwasher detergents.
    Phthalates are a group of chemicals used in hundreds of products, including toys, vinyl flooring and wall covering, detergents, lubricating oils, food packaging, pharmaceuticals, and personal care products, such as nail polish, hair spray, soap, and shampoo. The health effects of phthalates in people are not yet fully known. The EPA found that short-term exposure may cause mild gastrointestinal disturbances, nausea, and vertigo. Long-term exposure has the potential to cause damage to liver and testes, reproductive effects, and cancer.
    Because the chemical formulas of fragrances are considered trade secrets, companies are not required to list the individual ingredients but merely label the entire formula as "fragrance" on a product's label. Fragrance formulas, however, often include phthalates.
    Any number of man-made durable and flexible synthetic-based products that are long lasting, inexpensive to produce, and composed mainly of petroleum. It does not biodegrade in landfills. Some, such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC), also release toxic chemicals into the environment during production and/or disposal. Different types of plastic are made from different chemical compounds; each is identified by one of seven recycling-category numbers. In general, numbers 1 and 2 are the most easily recycled.
    Plastic Recycling
    There are seven different categories of plastics that can be recycled, as described below:
    #1 PETE

    Polyethylene terephthalate

    A strong, shatter-resistant plastic that is inexpensive to produce. Bottles for soda, water, mouthwash, various foods (peanut butter, salad dressing, vegetable oil), as well as food trays and some household cleaners. May be recycled into fleece, clothing, fiberfill in coats, tote bags, furniture, carpet, paneling, and automotive parts. PETE is lightweight, one of the most recyclable plastics, and poses a low risk of leaching toxic chemicals into contents. Like all traditional plastics, it is petroleum-based. Collected by most curbside recycling programs.

    #2 HDPE

    High density polyethylene

    A lightweight, translucent, flexible plastic used for bottles containing milk, juice, bleach, detergent, shampoo, and motor oil. May also be used for margarine and yogurt containers, plastic wrap products, and some grocery bags. Can be recycled into bottles, pens, bins, tile, drainage pipe, and lumber. One of the most common and least toxic petroleum-based plastics, with a low risk of leaching. Collected by most curbside recycling programs.

    #3 V or PVC

    Vinyl or Polyvinyl Chloride

    A durable plastic widely found, for example, in water pipes, bottles for window cleaners, detergent and shampoo, cooking oil, meat wraps, baby bottle nipples, teethers, squeeze toys, coffee containers, shrink wrap, shower curtains, raincoats, vinyl dashboards, seat covers, some construction materials, electronic and medical equipment. Rarely recycled but is accepted by some plastic lumber makers for decking, paneling, gutters, flooring, cables, mats. Potential toxicity from leaching of phthalates (used to make PVC flexible) and release of dioxin, a potent carcinogen, during production and disposal.

    #4 LDPE

    Low density polyethylene

    Found in squeezable bottles, bread, frozen food, dry cleaning and shopping bags, wrapping film, clothing, furniture and carpet. May be recycled into trash can liners and cans, compost bins, envelopes, paneling, lumber, landscaping ties, and floor tile. Not often collected by curbside recycling programs, but some communities accept it. Gradually getting easier to recycle.

    #5 PP


    Found in rigid containers, including some baby bottles, cups and bowls. Also may be found in syrup, ketchup and medicine bottles, yogurt containers, margarine tubs, straws, microwavable meal trays, diapers, and outdoor carpet. May be recycled into signal lights, battery cables, brooms, brushes, auto battery cases, ice scrapers, landscape borders, bicycle racks, bins, pallets, and trays. Recycled through some curbside programs. Has a high melting point, so it is often chosen to contain hot materials. Likely poses a low risk of leaching.

    #6 PS


    Found in coffee cups, disposable cutlery and cups (clear and colored), bakery shells, meat/fish trays, "cheap" hubcaps, packing peanuts, styrofoam insulation, yogurt containers, carry out containers, egg cartons, protective product packaging (e.g., for toys and electronics such as compact disc cases), insulation, egg cartons, vents, rulers, foam packing, and carry-out containers. Some styrene compounds may leach from food containers and disrupt normal hormonal functioning. Styrene is also considered a possible human carcinogen. Rarely collected by curbside recycling programs.

    #7 Miscellaneous other plastics

    Found in large water containers, bullet-proof materials, DVDs, iPods, signs, food containers, nylon, and some baby bottles as well as metal can linings. Products labeled as "other" are made of any combination of 1-6 or other less commonly used plastics including compostable plastics made from corn or other plants (which are safe and green!). Not usually recycled, but may be recycled into plastic lumber and custom products.

    The most controversial is polycarbonate, which can release bisphenol A, a suspected hormone disruptor, into liquids and foods. Compostable plastics are easy to dispose of, but the rest can be tricky.

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  • Q

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  • R

    Rapidly Renewable Materials
    Those that can be rapidly replenished as they are used, such as some woods, grasses, and cork.
    Recycling is the collection and reprocessing/reusing of old materials into new products, with the aim of preventing the waste of potentially useful materials, reducing the consumption of fresh raw materials, reducing energy usage, reducing air (from incineration) and water (from landfilling) pollution by reducing the need for "conventional" waste disposal, and lowering greenhouse gas emissions as compared to virgin production. Recyclable materials are typically broken down into their raw components and then made into new products.
    Plastic soda bottles get a new life as comfy fleece coats; scrap paper is reincarnated as charming stationery; old carpet tiles become new carpet tiles. Other examples include collecting aluminum cans, melting them down, and using the aluminum to make new cans or other aluminum products; the virtually endless recyclability of glass, which can be recycled and reused over and over again.
    Renewable Energy
    Energy harvested from sources that are not depleted when used, typically causing very low environmental impact. Examples include solar energy, hydroelectric and wind power.
    Renewable Resource
    Any material that can be quickly regrown or replenished after harvest or use, or a source of power that is created as quickly as it is consumed, so that the resource is not depleted. Identifying and using these resources, and reducing dependence on non-renewable resources, is the key to long-term sustainability.
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  • S

    Sick Building Syndrome (SBS)
    Ill health effects conceived simply by spending time in a building. Factors that contribute to SBS are inadequate ventilation, chemical air pollution (including VOCs) from both indoor and outdoor sources and biological contaminants such as mold. Leaving the building usually relieves the symptoms. SBS should not be confused with "building-related illness", which occurs when a specific airborne contaminant is known to cause the symptoms, as with Legionnaires' disease.
    Made from finely ground quartz and is found in some abrasive cleansers. It is carcinogenic when it occurs as fine respirable dust. For virtually all applications, abrasive cleansers can easily be replaced with a cream cleanser or a similar product that does not contain silica.
    Sodium Hydroxide
    Sodium hydroxide is widely used in drain, metal and oven cleaners. It is corrosive and irritating to the skin, eyes, and mucous membranes of the nose and throat and can burn those tissues on contact. It may be fatal if swallowed.
    Sodium Methylene Chloride
    This chemical, or products containing methylene chloride, have been used for years as paint strippers. It may also be found in some aerosol and pesticide products. Inhalation of large amounts may cause dizziness, nausea, and a tingling or numbness of the fingers and toes. Inhalation of smaller amounts may cause decreased attentiveness and decreased accuracy in tasks requiring hand-eye coordination. Skin contact causes burning and redness of the skin.
    Methylene chloride is listed as a possible human carcinogen (Group 2B) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). In 1987, regulators in the U.S. compelled manufacturers to put warning labels on products containing methylene chloride. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that since that time, there has been a 55% reduction in the number of cancers that could have been caused by these products. The World Health Organization (WHO), the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have all made statements that methylene chloride can be reasonably anticipated to be a cancer-causing chemical in humans.
    Soy-based Inks
    Those made from soybeans. They are considered more eco-friendly than traditional petroleum-based inks.
    These substances are often found in many personal care products such as soaps, shampoo, and toothpaste. Surfactants lower water surface tension, enabling cleaning chemicals to spread and penetrate more easily. Linear alkylbenzene sulfonate (LAS) is derived from the non-renewable petroleum byproducts benzene (which the EPA has classified as a human carcinogen) and paraffin. It is often used in laundry powders and liquids. LAS, often listed in ingredients as "anionic surfactant," causes contact dermatitis, respiratory irritation and, if ingested, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. It is also corrosive to the eyes. Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is a common sudsing agent, can penetrate the skin, and cause contact dermatitis. SLS and sodium lauryl ether sulfate (SLES) may be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a probable human carcinogen, which may also be present in vegetable-derived alcohol ethoxylate surfactants. Even though we recommend avoiding SLS and SLES in personal care products, finding a cleaner without it can be difficult.
    Sulfuric Acid
    This acid is often found in drain cleaners and other cleaning products. It is highly corrosive and can cause severe irritation and permanent damage to the skin, eyes, and lungs. It may be fatal if swallowed. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has concluded there is sufficient evidence that occupational exposure to strong inorganic acid mists containing sulfuric acid, is carcinogenic to humans (Group 1).
    The ability to use a resource without depleting or permanently damaging it. A broader, commonly accepted definition, as set out by the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), is "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". Ideally, a truly "sustainable" product would be durable, reparable, energy efficient, made with recycled materials, and eventually recyclable. Also, the manufacture, use, disposal and packaging would have minimal impact on the environment.
    Sustainably Sourced
    Products that are sourced with environmental and social impacts in mind.
    Compounds that are prepared by reaction of other compounds. Naturally occurring substances can be produced synthetically, as can compounds that do not otherwise occur in nature.
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  • T

    Toluene is added to gasoline and is used to produce benzene as well as a solvent. The central nervous system (CNS) is the primary target for toluene toxicity in humans. Short term effects may include fatigue, headaches, nausea, weakness, and confusion. Long-term effects may include more pronounced nervous disorders such as spasms, tremors, impairment of speech, hearing, vision, memory, coordination, liver and kidney damage. Toluene is listed by California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment as a reproductive toxin that may cause harm to the developing fetus.
    A toxin is a poison. Within the scientific community, it is the term used specifically to refer to poisonous substances that are produced by living organisms (animals, plants or bacteria). Botulism, for example, is a bacterial toxin. People commonly use the term, however, as a catchall for all poisonous substances, both naturally occurring and man-made.
    Trisodium Nitrilotriacetate (NTA)
    NTA can be found in laundry detergents, stain and soap scum removers. Prolonged inhalation may cause respiratory irritation. Ingestion may cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. NTA also causes irritation of skin and eyes. Major U.S. detergent manufacturers voluntarily agreed in 1970 to discontinue the use and manufacture of NTA; it is listed as a possible human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC 2B). It can disrupt the elimination of metals in wastewater treatment facilities.
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  • U

    USDA Organic
    Only products in which every ingredient is organically produced as defined by the National Organics Standards Board (NOSB), in which products that ban the use of harmful pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and genetic engineering can bear the USDA Organic seal.
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  • V

    Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
    VOCs include a variety of chemicals emitted by a wide array of products. Examples of household products that may contain VOCs are paints and lacquers, paint strippers, cleaning supplies, pesticides, cosmetics, degreasing, hobby and craft materials including glues and adhesives, permanent markers, and photographic solutions.
    VOCs are airborne chemicals that can irritate the eyes, nose, throat, lungs, and skin. They can also causeheadaches, loss of coordination, nausea, damage to the liver, kidney, and the central nervous system. Some organics are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans.
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  • W

    Waste Reduction or Waste Prevention
    Consuming less and throwing away less. All products purchased, or at least their packaging or containers, will eventually require disposal. Packaging alone now accounts for 33% of all our garbage. For example, if each person in Spokane County reduced waste by only one pound per week, the amount of reduction county-wide would total over 11,000 tons a year.
    Wind Turbine
    A wind turbine is a device that converts the kinetic energy of the wind into mechanical energy that can be used to drive equipment such as pumps. The addition of a generator allows the wind’s kinetic energy to be converted into electricity.
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  • X

    An extremely toxic, organic compound that is often found in graffiti and scuff removers, spray paints and some adhesives. Symptoms of acute exposure may include headache, fatigue, irritability, lassitude, nausea, anorexia, flatulence, irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, motor incoordination and impairment of equilibrium. Chronic exposure may cause conjunctivitis, dryness of the nose, throat, and skin, dermatitis, kidney and liver damage.
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  • Y

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  • Z

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