Destructive to or inhibiting the growth of bacteria. It’s important to understand this term because not all bacteria is necessarily bad and many products marketed as “Antibacterial” often contain chemicals that are actually toxic to humans. The term Antibacterial has been used by companies to convey a sense that these products are somehow more effective or provide additional protection from diseases and infections than plain soap and water. According to the FDA, however, there is no evidence to suggest antibacterial soaps are more effective or provide more protection than plain soap and water. On the contrary, chemicals widely used in antibacterial soaps such as Triclosan have been linked to hormonal disruption in animals and actually increases bacterial resistance to antibiotics.

Aquatic Toxicity:

Also known as aquatoxicity. The effects of a chemical substance on aquatic species, typically represented by effects on fish, crustaceans, and algae. Aquatic toxicity is a measured factor that is used for determining the classification of how hazardous products are. Hazardous chemicals that create poor aquatic toxicity levels are detrimental to marine life and are often introduced to water systems through improper disposal, poor sewage treatment, and improper manufacturing practices. There has also been a rise in aquatoxicity related illnesses in humans due to contaminated drinking water.


Material that is capable of being decomposed by bacteria or other biological means. Products that are biodegradable are able to break down through natural decomposition processes. However, just because something is biodegradable doesn’t necessarily mean it’s completely safe for the environment in all circumstances. When you consider the definition, there are actually many things that eventually decompose over time. The important things to consider are how long, under what conditions, and what by-products are left behind after biodegradation occurs. For example, phosphorus is a chemical that’s found in some “biodegradable” soaps and cleansers. Phosphorous is a “limiting nutrient” which can disturb aquatic ecosystems by increasing plant and algae growth and oxygen depletion when added lakes and streams. Be sure to follow proper disposal measures for any biodegradable products to make sure they can safely decompose without harming the environment.

Bleach alternative:

Chemicals used in place of bleach in certain products. Typically, these chemicals offer similar effects to bleach such as whitening and antibacterial properties. Bleach alternatives are usually found in cleaners such as laundry detergent or dishwasher solution. Bleach, despite it’s excellent whitening and antibacterial properties, is a very harsh chemical that can cause serious harm to skin and the environment when used improperly. Many bleach alternatives are also unsuitable for direct skin contact and not “safe” chemicals by any means. Just because a product features “bleach alternatives” or is labeled “bleach free” does not mean that it is safe for your health or the environment.


BPA stands for bisphenol A. It is a chemical used in the making of certain plastics and resins. BPA is commonly used in polycarbonate plastics which are widely used for food and beverage containers such as water bottles. It is also found in epoxy resins used to coat the insides of metal food cans, bottle caps, and water lines. BPA has been observed to leech into foods and liquids, especially when exposed to high heat. Although the Food and Drug Association has stated that BPA is safe at that low levels that occur in foods, they are still studying the long term effects of this chemical. Some research has linked BPA to increased blood pressure. Furthermore, some studies have suggested exposure to fetuses, infants, and children have possible health effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate glands. While research continues, many companies have begun to stop using BPA in their products and often label them “BPA-Free”. However, just because a product is labeled “BPA-Free” doesn’t necessarily mean it is safe. Many companies are using alternative polymers that can have possible health/environmental effects.


An acidic or base chemical with actions characterized by the ability to destroy or eat away other materials. Typically, caustic and corrosive agents destroy organic tissue.

Chlorine Free:

Chlorine itself is a type of halogen element that is widely used as a disinfection and bleaching agent in many cleaning products. Chlorine has a wide range of hazardous effects to health, particularly when it comes into contact with skin or is ingested as a gas. Exposure to chlorine gas from cleaning with bleach can irritate the respiratory system causing difficulty breathing, chest pain, cough, eye irritation, increased heartbeat and even death in some cases. Skin exposure can cause irritation and prolonged exposure (usually from chlorine treated swimming pools) has been linked to asthma and tooth decay. Chlorine-free products are those that utilize alternative chemicals to provide similar antibacterial and bleaching effects as chlorine. While there are many great alternatives for cleaning, a chlorine-free product is not necessarily safe for human or environmental health.


Chemicals/ingredient that are able to catch fire or burn easily. Many household products utilize various ingredients that are highly combustible and should therefore be used with caution. In additional to safe usage of combustible products, it’s also important to note the means of proper disposal as many combustible chemicals can have hazardous environmental impacts when improperly disposed of.


Products that can be placed into a composition of naturally decaying biodegradable materials and eventually turn into nutrient rich material. Compostsable materials are generally solid (as opposed to biodegradable liquids) and will naturally decompose in the right environmental conditions. Compost able products have the added benefit of degrading into a mature all that can then be utilized for its nutrient rich properties (such as natural fertilizer and soil used for gardening). Much like the term “biodegradable” there has been some debate over the misuse of the term as both processes (compost able and biodegradable) are dependent on the ecosystems in which they are places. For example, many compost able items, when placed in landfills do not actually decompose the same way that they would if added to a compost pile. Since decomposition is a process initiated by microorganisms, it is essential that the amount of microorganism in the ecosystem are able to keep up with the amount of material being disposed of.


At the most basic level eco friendly means not harmful to the environment. This encompasses a variety of products and practices. Eco friendly materials are those that can safely return to natural ecosystems without having any negative consequences. Eco friendly practices include manufacturing, production, and harvesting processes that do not harm the environment or deplete its natural resources. On some level, Eco friendly can be thought of as a philosophy in that it implies a conscious awareness of the environmental impact of the products we use and the choices we make.


Capable of being easily ignited and of burning quickly. Flammable products should be used with care and properly disposed of to avoid hazardous environmental effects.


Products designed to reduce or minimize the possibility of allergic reactions. This is achieved through limiting the amount of potentially irritating ingredients used in the product. Although hypoallergenic products often feature natural, safe ingredients there are many products using the hypoallergenic label while incorporating ingredients that have yet to be studied enough to confirm their safety. In terms of labeling, there is currently no requirement to scientifically support a company’s claim of a product being hypoallergenic. This means that it’s essentially a term with no real substantial standing on labels and as consumers we must still review specific ingredients to determine for ourselves if the hypoallergenic claim matches the actual chemical properties of ingredients used.


A substance that causes slight inflammation, itchiness, or other discomfort to the body. Many products contain various chemicals deemed “irritants” for the way they adversely affect skin and eyes. Although all natural products often reduce or eliminate the amount of irritants used, be sure to research specific ingredients and note any personal reactions to the products you use as this could be a sign of allergies or sensitivity to particular ingredients.


Products and practices that belong exclusively to a particular or neighborhood. Locally sourced products are a great way to ensure that your money is supporting small businesses and investing in the economic future of particular areas. Since the term local exclusively refers to a particular location, supporting local business also has the residual effect of lowering manufacturing pollution as local products are not usually distributed in bulk to commercial retailers. The lowers emissions created by transportation. Local products are also often healthy products as they are sourced from natural ingredients, this is not always the case but you can usually easily contact a local small business to find out more about their specific ingredients and manufacturing practices in order to make an informed decision about supporting their products/services.


Pieces of plastic that have been worn down by the elements into tiny fragments (less than 5 millimeters). Microplastics are still in their infancy stage of being researched but there have already been an alarmingly high rate of microplastics found in marine life and seabirds. The potential health implications of microplastics is expected to be severe and widespread as it is estimated that there are even more microplastics on land than in the oceans. In the past few years scientists have found microplastics in soil, tap water, bottled water, beer, and even particles in the air we breathe. One major contributor is the use of commercial fertilizers derived from treated sewage. Plastic items that end up in sewer systems are broken down into microplastics and then used to fertilize soil.


Natural/All natural refers to the composition of products being entirely derived from substances that are found naturally in the environment (as opposed to artificial). All natural ingredients are neither synthesized nor artificially rendered by any human processes. This term is applied to both household products and primarily food items to indicate a lack of chemicals, pesticides, GMOs, or other imposed treatments used in their production. However, like many labeling terms it has been misused and I effectively regulated in such a way that many foods and products are able to be labeled as natural or all-natural while still including GMOs, pesticides, synthetic chemicals etc. As always, we recommend you look at the specific ingredients found in the products you use as well as find out about that products manufacturing process to determine if it’ sturdy all-natural or simply using the term as a marketing strategy.

Neutral pH:

Neutral pH is a measure of the baseless/acidity of a substance. Pure water, for example, has a neutral pH balance of 7 which indicates it is neither acidic nor basic. Taking n toe of the pH levels of the products you use is very important for the environment and disposal. Many biodegradable products also indicate a neutral pH level which means that they can return to the environment safely, without increasing or decreasing soil or water acidity.


Nontoxic refers to substances that are not poisonous. Nontoxic describes things that are not of, not relating to or caused by a toxin or poison. When it comes to product labeling, nontoxic unfortunately falls into a bit of a grey area. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) regulates products in accordance with the Federal Hazardous Substance Act. They define a product as toxic “if it can produce personal injury to illness to humans when it is inhaled, swallowed, or absorbed through the skin.” Although this seems pretty clear, the actual legal regulation and definition are quite concerning. This leads to many products being deemed nontoxic when in reality they can have a range of harmful effects, as long as they aren’t fatal within 14 days of use.

Optical Brightener:

A fluorescent substance commonly added to detergents in order to produce a whitening effect on laundry. Typically, optical brighteners are not found in “Green” products as they are not biodegradable and can cause hazard to aquatic life. Optical brightened function by using synthetic chemicals that make fabrics appear to glow in ultraviolet light, giving the impression of clean clothes. These fluorescent particles actually coat the fabric and remain after washing which allows them to have direct skin contact. Many are derived from benzene which is a harmful substance that doesn’t naturally decompose and poisons aquatic life. Optical brighteners have also been linked to allergic reactions known as photo toxicity which has symptoms similar to sunburn/skin rash. Some common optical brighteners includes: Tinopal, Optiblanc, Disodium diaminostilbene disulfonate, and Disodium distyrylbiphenyl disulfonate.


Organic refers to production processes that eliminate artificial or synthetic chemicals, pesticides, fertilizers, sewage sludge, GMOs or ionizing radiation in the growing of plants and animals for food and other products. Organic farming utilizes methods that avoid pesticides and chemical treatments. While organic certification is most widely used in food labeling, many companies are also using it for household products to indicate manufacturing methods that are free of chemical treatments.

Plant Based:

The term Plant Based is used in a number of contexts with some slight differences in meaning. The most common use of the term is to describe a Plant Based diet. This type of diet is defined as dietary choices based on foods derived from plants with little to no consumption of animal products. The term is also used in product labeling to describe the ingredient composition of natural products as being made from plant products.

Plant Derived:

Plant Derived is a term used to identify products and ingredients that are made purely from plants. These terms indicate that the ingredients used in a product are those that occur naturally through plant growth as opposed to synthesized or artificially created chemicals. However, plant derived ingredients are not always safe as they can be processed in ways that introduce harmful toxins. For example, organic coconut oil is considered a plant derived ingredient but when processed to make Sodium Lauryl Sulfate it can become a vehicle for 1,4 Dioxane (a known carcinogen). Although ingredients are plant derived, there’s no guarantee that they are not exposed to harmful chemicals through processing and manufacturing of various products. In addition, many plants derived products are actually having widespread environmental consequences as farms and farmland is exploited to produce plants for the sake of crating plant extracts. These plant derived extracts are used in many eco-friendly products but if they are manufacture irresponsibly they can contribute to increased emissions, poor land stewardship, and exploitation of farmers. Be sure to look at a company’s sourcing and manufacturing practices before buying products marketed as “plant-derived” to ensure they are not having harmful environmental impacts.

Pure Essential Oil:

A pure essential oil is one that does not contain any additives or chemicals of any kind. A pure essential oil has absolutely nothing added to it. Pure Essential oils are both used as ingredients of various natural products and as standalone oils that are applied topically, inhaled, or ingested. While pure essential oils can offer many health benefits, it’s important to note that some can induce allergic reactions or are unsuitable for certain individuals ( for example, fennel and sage oils are not recommended for those with high blood pressure). In addition, the essential oil industry has grown rapidly and with the growth has come some manufacturers using exploitative, unethical harvesting practices with negative effects on people and the environment. Many essential oils are not deemed “pure” or “therapeutic grade” because they are mixed with synthetic chemicals which can actually be harmful to your health. Be sure to look into the company you buy essential oils from and talk with a health care professional before ingesting any oils.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle:

This iconic slogan (also known as the Three R’s) was a major catalyst for the rise in popularity of the environmental movement in the 1950s to present. The slogan encapsulates a simple philosophy about ways to manage our environmental impact by reducing the waste we create, reusing items that could have a future purpose, and recycling as much as you can. This three part process is an easy way for be mindful of how we manage our waste products and care for the planet. Many companies encourage some or all aspects of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle philosophy and promote these values as steps every individual can take to lower our negative environmental impact. Reducing the waste we create is hugely important, especially with the unprecedented rise of single-use plastics. A great way to reduce our waste is through the process of creatively reusing products we would otherwise throw away. Many so called “disposable” items such as containers can continue to serve a wide variety of purposed after their intended use is concluded. Instead of buying new food storage containers, consider washing and reusing jars and boxes from previous foods. Recycling is the final step in the process where, if an item is simply unable to be reused it can be recycled to be broken down and used to create something usable in the future.

Single-Use Plastic:

Also known as disposable plastics, single-use plastics are plastic items that are used only once before being thrown away or recycled. Some of the most common single use plastic items include shopping bags, straws, beverage bottles, coffee stirrers, and most food packages. Of the roughly 300 million tons of plastic produced annually, nearly half of it is considered disposable or single use. Due to the type of plastic used, many of these items are ineligible for recycling and end up being buried in landfills or in the ocean. Although plastic does not decompose or biodegrade, it does go through a degradation process that releases a variety of the synthetic chemicals used to make the plastic back into the environment. These chemicals can have toxic effects for plant, animal, and human life. Many of them have been documented to have links to cancer and other diseases. Additionally, the degradation has led to a massive rise in microplastics which are tiny, microscopic plastic particles that have been found ingested by marine life (which in turn harm the marine life and lead to plastic consumption by those who ingest microplastics through eating plastic-contaminated foods). Here are a few more single use plastic facts to check out from the Earth Day Network’s Single Use Plastics Fact Sheet.


Surfacants are compounds that lower the surface tension of liquids, which in turn increases the contact between the liquid and other substances. Also known as “wetting agents”, surfacants can be found in a wide range of personal care and cleaning products as the generally help products to penetrate surfaces more effectively. For example, surfacants used in soaps typically have a foaming effect that helps water to get under grease and dirt on the surfaces of dishes, hands, and fabrics. There are many safe, effective natural surfacants but there are also many surfacants used in cleaning and personal care products with associated health risks. In particular, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate are both surfacants that, depending on how they are processed, can contain the known carcinogen 1,4 dioxane.


This term is used to identify methods of harvesting or using resources that do not deplete or permanently damage the resource. Sustainable manufacturing practices are those that do not deplete the planet’s natural resources or cause permanent damage to resources through high emissions, toxic waste, or over harvesting. Sustainability has another meaning in relation to society. A sustainable lifestyle refers to applying sustainable living methods to your own personal life. As individuals, we all have the power to adopt sustainable lifestyle methods such as reducing our waste, reusing items that would otherwise be thrown away, recycling what we can, composting, conserving energy, generating renewable energy, supporting sustainable businesses, and a whole host of other things. Sustainability considers the future implications of our actions today and examines the processes by which we sustain life. With a planet that has already lost so many precious natural resources, we encourage sustainable living as a way to minimize our environmental impact and even promote to resurgence and growth of over exploited resources.


Toxic is a term used that refers to any substance deemed poisonous. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) regulates products in accordance with the Federal Hazardous Substance Act. They define a product as toxic “if it can produce personal injury to illness to humans when it is inhaled, swallowed, or absorbed through the skin.”


A toxin is any poisonous substance produced by a living organism (bacteria, plants, animals).

Toxin Free:

Toxin free refers to products that are created without having any toxins in them. It is also a term used to describe a household/lifestyle that avoid using any products that are toxic.


Upcycling is the process of recycling an item into something of even greater value than the original item. To upcycle is to recycle something into an even better item than it was to begin with. For example, there are companies that upcycle shopping bags by using them as the main material component for creating footwear. The result is an item (shoes) that are of a high value than the original material (shopping bags).


Vegan is used to describe people and products that avoid consuming or using any animal products. Commonly the term is related to a dietary choice to abstain from consuming any animal products or any products produced by animals (such as eggs and milk). The term has been adopted by many companies as a way to signify that their products are created without using any animal derived ingredients.


Zero-waste refers to a variety of processes that generate little or no waste.


Sources Consulted:

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