Ecology glossary

According to the French law of 15 July 1975, waste is considered to mean the following: ‘Any residue of a production, transformation or usage process, any substance, material product, or more generally any tangible asset that has been abandoned or is intended to be abandoned by its owner’ (Article L.541-1-1 of the French Environmental Code).

Sustainable development is the idea that human societies need to live and meet their needs without compromising future generations’ abilities to meet their own needs.

This is a product or material made entirely or partially from materials of biological origin.

A waste treatment process for products at the end of their life, enabling some of their materials to be reincorporated into the production of new products.

Any substance that decomposes and disappears ‘naturally’, i.e. without human intervention, is said to be biodegradable. This natural decomposition process happens thanks to living micro-organisms such as bacteria, fungi or algae.

Temperature, moisture and oxygen also play a role. This means that if a biodegradable product is discarded in a natural setting, it will be 100% digested by these living micro-organisms and transformed into water, CO2 or biomass without any adverse impact on the environment.

Plastic is therefore technically a biodegradable product. However, its biodegradation process can take hundreds or thousands of years. In principle, any product can be considered biodegradable.

This is why the question of time is a vital one when talking about a product’s biodegradability! It would therefore be more accurate to say that a product is biodegradable within a period on a human timescale, i.e. fewer than 18 months.

A product or packaging is compostable if its biodegradation process is controlled by humans or living organisms.

There are two types of composting:
• Composting at home, at the bottom of the garden or in the kitchen. Max 30°C
• Composting as part of a specialist industry. 55°C – 60°C However, the majority of the time that a product is described as being compostable, this does not mean it can be composted at home.

In fact, very few materials can be composted naturally, as they require fermentation at a high temperature with very high levels of moisture, which can only be achieved in an industrial setting. Composting enables faster biodegradation: after just a few months of repeating this fermentation process, the result is rich nutrients that are primarily used as 100% organic fertiliser.

The EN 13432 standard dates from 2002 and is a harmonised standard from the European Committee for Standardisation covering the characteristics that a material must possess in order to be described as biodegradable or compostable. The term ‘compostable’ refers to standards relating to a decomposed material’s non-toxicity if it is released into nature. This standard is entitled ‘Requirements for packaging recoverable through composting and biodegradation – test scheme and evaluation criteria for the final acceptance of packaging.’
• 90% biodegradation must be reached in fewer than six months
• When left in contact with organic waste for a period of three months, the bulk material must consist of at least 90% residue of less than 2 mm in diameter
• The material may not have any negative impact on the composting process
• A low concentration of heavy metals
• pH values within set limits
• A mineral salt content within set limits
• A concentration of volatile solid elements within set limits, a concentration of nitrogen, phosphorus, magnesium and potassium within set limits

A gas of natural origin (water vapour) or anthropogenic origin (associated with human activities) that absorbs and re-emits part of solar rays (infrared radiation), the phenomenon behind the greenhouse effect. The primary greenhouse gases (GHGs) associated with human activities are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and fluorinated gases: hydrofluorocarbons (HFC), perfluorocarbons (PFC), sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) and nitrogen trifluoride (NF3).

Emissions of these gases are weighted by their global warming potential (GWP) and expressed as a CO2 equivalent to give a total volume of emissions as a CO2 equivalent. The six greenhouses gases (GHGs) monitored under the Kyoto Protocol are: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), sulphur hexafluoride (SF6), hydrofluorocarbons (HFC) and perfluorocarbons (PFC).