Eco Sense

Trying to make eco sense of sustainability

There is currently a mad rush to ditch all plastic as Sustainability becomes the buzz topic for the next decade. It seems some alternatives might not be such a good alternative. So as a starting point to try to make eco sense of sustainability let’s start with a jargon buster!

Let’s dive into some of the terms we’re hearing and that you might come across as you research eco friendly promotional products and beyond:

Promotional Product Raw Materials

Product Material Sustainable Credentials Sustainable Considerations
The Good and the Not So Good

Bioplastics are plastic-like materials made from natural sources like vegetable fats, oils, starches, straw, wood chips and sawdust. The Good

Made from natural materials which are renewable Does not contain toxic chemicals or compounds Biodegradable and compostable under the correct conditions

The Not So Good

There is A LOT more research needed on this material and its sustainability credentials.

A call for evidence was recently published by the UK government on the sustainability of bio-based and biodegradable plastic and they are now considering the responses.

At the moment, there is a question mark on whether this product is adding to the plastic issue or helping to solve it. Bioplastics are a product of farming and take up valuable capacity that could be used for growing much-needed food

Most types are not recyclable

Local authorities have no way of recycling bioplastic, meaning it will end up in landfill or being incinerated – causing further release of CO₂ and pollutants into the atmosphere. We contacted our local authority on this point and they have confirmed that bioplastic cannot be recycled. Their letter can be found here

Only some types of bioplastic are compostable and those that are require industrial composting facilities. They cannot be discarded in domestic compost bins

The use of compost can be compromised by any ink printed on the product, as this could pass into  the food chain


When recycling bioplastic pens, remove the refill and spring

Remove the ink from the product where possible

Remember that composting requires a set temperature In the promotions industry, we have mainly seen pens and bags made of this material

Printed pens and packaging should not be placed in composting bins as the print will contaminate the compost heap and, if the compost is used as fertiliser, contaminants will enter the food chain

Organic farming promotes ecological balance and biodiversity by not using harmful chemicals in the growing process.

There’s a long-standing joke that organic food is what your grandparents called food! That’s because we’ve become reliant on pesticides and chemical fertilisers to grow crops on a commercial scale.
The Good


Better taste

Contains high levels of antioxidants

The Not So Good

Organic farming requires more labour and higher production costs than pesticide-assisted farming, resulting in an expensive end product

It cannot produce enough food for the world’s population

Bamboo is a renewable natural product and the fastest growing plant on Earth. The Good

Naturally pest-resistant – requires no nasty pesticides!

Requires far less water than similar plants

Regrows to adult size in 3-5 years (it can grow 2 feet in 1 day!)

Absorbs 5 times more carbon dioxide than similar plants

Produces 35% more oxygen than similar plants

Bamboo fibres that make up the natural element of processed bamboo products reduce the amount of plastic required

The Not So Good

Some bamboo products use a chemical process to convert the material into the end product

Processed bamboo products only contain bamboo fibres and the rest is made up of polymer

Processed bamboo products cannot be recycled and must be put in a landfill or incinerated

Processed bamboo products cannot be composted


If the product is made from processed bamboo and is used to store food or liquid, it should have tests completed prior to use to ensure chemicals are not released when heated

Presently, we see products made from processed bamboo across our industry

Recycled materials are products made from discarded or no longer needed products or materials. The Good

This product will have been made up of one or more materials from an item previously used and no longer needed

The Not So Good

Product quality or colour can be impacted

There is no universal standard for accreditation


Trusting your supply chain is key here to ensuring the products are as described

Post-consumer recycled material is the best form of recycled product

Recyclable materials can be reused in order to make new materials. See Sustainable Considerations for “Recycled”

Plastic is made from non-renewable resources like fossil fuels to create a solid material.

The most popular plastics are:

PET: Polyethylene Terephthalate
PE-HD: High-density Polythene
PVC: polyvinyl chloride

PET plastic – Highly-recyclable material accepted by 94% of UK councils.

PE-HD: High-density Polythene – collected by 92% of UK councils. PVC: polyvinyl chloride – Not generally collected from households for recycling, which could explain why PVC use is in decline.

PE-LD: Low-density Polythene & PP: Polypropylene – Not generally collected for recycling, but mixed plastic recycling is expected to be under way within five years.

PS: Polystyrene – Not generally collected from households for recycling with the exception of some commercial polystyrene.

LDPE – Only recyclable at specialist facilities.
The Good

Cheap Strong & long lasting


Can be sterile

The Not So Good 


Impacts wildlife and marine life if not disposed of correctly

Takes up landfill space

Not all plastic can be recycled, so contact your local facility before attempting to recycle it

Plastic cannot be recycled an infinite number of times

Recyclability isn’t always clear or consistent


Contact your local authority

Plastic products have a long shelf life when made well

Reusable plastic products are still a great sustainable choice because they will not be thrown away, so choose wisely when buying plastic products
WoodA natural, renewable material commonly used in construction and product design.The Good 





Biodegradable in its raw state

The Not So Good

The use of wood in manufacturing contributes to deforestation, leading to loss of habitats and increased carbon emissions


Make sustainable choices by opting for FSC® certified or reclaimed wood

The EU has introduced legal measures to protect forests. Wood from outside the EU may have originated from endangered species and tends not be supported by replanting initiatives

Be aware that some wood treatments can compromise the biodegradability of the wood
PaperA versatile material made from pressed pulp fibres, commonly derived from wood sources.The Good



Usually derived from natural sources

Recycled paper production saves more energy than the production of virgin paper

The Not So Good

Directly contributes to deforestation

Toxic chemicals are used to recycle paper

When decomposing, paper releases a harmful greenhouse gas called methane

Paper production requires very large volumes of water


Always opt for paper from sustainable sources like the FSC®

Remember that paper is only recyclable when clean – it cannot be stained with grease, foodstuffs, paint or dirt

Be sure to remove any plastic wrapping from newspapers and magazines before recycling. This must be recycled separately

To determine if paper is recyclable, scrunch paper up. If it remains scrunched and doesn’t spring back, it is suitable for recycling.

Promotional Product Processes

Process Sustainable Credentials Sustainable Considerations
The Good and the Not So Good

A substance or product that is able to decompose by exposure to bacteria or other living organisms. The Good

Biodegradable products reduce carbon dioxide levels and greenhouse gas emissions

Break down naturally and don’t release harmful compounds when doing so

The Not So Good

Depend on certain weather conditions to break down properly

Do not decompose in water, so they won’t solve the issue of marine pollution


Remember they must be disposed of very specifically

A natural process in which microorganisms, bacteria and fungi break down organic matter into a nutrient-rich substance. The Good

Creates a natural, organic fertiliser

Reduces landfill waste

Improves soil health

The Not So Good

Not all compostable products are suitable for domestic compost bins

Compostable items cannot be placed with your standard recycling
Recycling Widely Recycled: can be recycled at 75% or more of UK facilities

Check Locally: recyclable at 20-75% of UK facilities

Not Yet Recycled: Recycled by less than 20% of UK facilities

The act of converting waste materials into new products to avoid sending the waste to landfill. The Good

Recycling ensures a secure supply chain by processing non-biodegradable plastics that are already in circulation and turning them into new products

Conserves valuable non-renewable resources

Reduces landfill waste

The Not So Good

Some areas do not have access to recycling facilities or simply can’t afford them, so are forced to use landfills as a cheaper alternative

Recycling and manufacturing products from recycled materials uses energy


Not all products that you might assume are recyclable are actually recyclable, so always check the symbols carefully
Renewable Energy Renewable energy works by harnessing power from renewable resources like sunlight, wind, rain, and tides so that we’re not relying on depleting or damaging sources. The Good

Sustainable and abundant

Takes advantage of power that would otherwise go to waste

Low-maintenance systems

The Not So Good

Can result in air pollution

Requires a lot of energy to produce

Can be dependent on seasons

Popular Accreditations

Name What the Accreditation Stands For

Forest Stewardship Council Any product that is FSC® Certified has met the environmental and social requirements of the council.

This makes FSC® paper and card a great option for sustainability, as the organisation ensures that all wood harvested for use is replaced to protect against deforestation.

Choosing FSC® products also guarantees that certain sections of forests and woodlands are left completely intact to protect wildlife and their habitats. All products can be traced from store to source.
Fair Trade

The symbol of a person triumphantly raising one hand in the air means better pay and trading standards for producers in developing countries.
ISO14001 ISO14001 is the international standard that specifies requirements for an effective environmental management system (EMS). It provides a framework that an organisation can follow, rather than establishing environmental performance requirements.

Some Eco Terms in Promotional Products

Biodiversity: the level and variation of life in a particular environment. High biodiversity means that plant and animal life is thriving, while low biodiversity suggests that only a small amount of natural life is supported.

Bioaccumulation: the accumulation of materials within an organism. Over time, chemicals and pesticides build up in certain organisms – often at a much faster rate than the organism can get rid of those substances…

Carbon Emissions: released when fossil fuels are burnt, causing harmful greenhouse gasses to be released into the atmosphere.

Carbon Footprint: determined by the amount of carbon
dioxide a person, product or organisation emits.

Climate Change: climate patterns caused by an increase in carbon dioxide. This has a knock-on effect on the environment and causes global temperatures to rise, leading to the shrinking of glaciers and disruptions to natural habitats.

Corporate Responsibility: In terms of eco-sustainability, corporate
responsibility refers to the self-regulated goals of a company or
organisation to reduce their carbon footprint and adopt sustainable
business practices regarding use of materials and managing waste.

Deforestation: the removal of trees from forest areas to make room for other things that certainly aren’t forests… When deforestation occurs, habitats are lost, and greenhouse gases are increased.

Eco: an umbrella term for anything that is beneficial for the environment. It also refers to any product or practice that is less
harmful than non-eco alternatives.

Global Warming: the warming up of the planet over time as a result of greenhouse gas emissions and carbon dioxide.

Greenhouse Effect: gases in the Earth’s atmosphere trap heat from the Sun, causing the Earth to get hotter. This process is similar to the
heat-trapping phenomenon experienced with actual greenhouses.

Greenwashing: This relatively new term that suggests that an
environmental claim is misleading and has just been made in order to make the manufacturer appear to care about the planet.

Sustainable: we’ve come full circle in our discussion of sustainability jargon. The word itself means maintaining something at a certain level, so in terms of the Earth, we want to make sure we are using processes and materials that we can continue to use over a long period of time in order to cause as little damage to the environment as possible.

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