Food Waste Terms and Phrases You Need To Know

January 24, 2022

When discussing food waste and larger sustainability concepts, there are often a lot of terms thrown around with no explanation as to where they came from or what they actually mean. For example, did you know that food loss and food waste are two completely separate concepts? Read on to equip yourself with the knowledge you need to have a productive conversation that everyone can understand! 

Carbon Footprint

A carbon footprint is a measure of the impact human activities (as an individual, event, place, or organization) have on the environment based on carbon outputs (including both carbon dioxide and methane). 

Carbon Neutral

Carbon neutral means making no net release of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by producing emissions equivalent to the amount sequestered by carbon sinks (anything that absorbs more carbon from the atmosphere than it releases). This is commonly achieved by offsetting emissions through planting trees. 

Carbon Sequestration 

Carbon sequestration is the process of capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide in plants, soils, geologic formations, and the ocean. It is a natural process (think trees) and one of the most effective ways to reduce the greenhouse effect. 

Circular Economy

An economy that uses a systems-focused approach and involves industrial processes and economic activities that are restorative or regenerative by design is a circular economy. You will often see this phrase in the context of recycling programs or regenerative farming

Climate Change

Climate change is a long-term change in the average weather patterns that have come to define Earth’s local, regional and global climates. This term often replaces “global warming,” as it more accurately describes the phenomenon. 

Cradle to Cradle

If you were to buy a reusable water bottle, use it for 5 years, and then recycle it to be used to create a new water bottle, you’ve participated in a cradle to cradle system. It is a biomimetic approach to the design of products and systems that models human industry on nature’s processes. It sees garbage as an eternal resource and promotes doing the right thing from the beginning.

Ecological Footprint

The impact of a person or community on the environment expressed as the amount of land required to sustain their use of natural resources is the ecological footprint. Denver’s ecological footprint includes all of the surrounding land used for agriculture and ranching to feed our population. 

Ecological Restoration

Ecological restoration is the process of repairing sites in nature whose biological communities (that is, interacting groups of various species in a common location) and ecosystems have been degraded or destroyed.

Environmental, Social, And Governance (ESG)

The ESG is a set of standards for a company’s operations that socially conscious investors and consumers use to screen the company’s sustainability. Environmental criteria consider how a company performs as a steward of nature. Social criteria examine how it manages ethical relationships with employees, suppliers, customers, and the communities where it operates. Governance deals with a company’s leadership, executive pay, audits, internal controls, and shareholder rights.

Food Security (Food Insecurity) 

Food security is the state of having reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. Food insecurity thus means the opposite, having unreliable access. 

Food Systems

Food systems encompass the entire range of interlinked activities involved in the production, aggregation, processing, distribution, consumption and disposal of food products that originate from agriculture, forestry or fisheries, and parts of the broader economic, societal and natural environments in which they are embedded.

Food Loss

Food Loss refers to food that gets spilled, spoiled or otherwise lost at production, post-harvest, processing, and distribution stages in the food supply chain. Loss happens before consumers have access to food.

Food Waste 

Food waste refers to food that completes the food supply chain (referred to as the retail and consumption stages), of good quality and fit for consumption, but still doesn’t get consumed because it is discarded, left to spoil, or expired. Up to 60% of food loss and waste occurs in consumer’s homes. 


Greenwashing is the process of conveying a false impression or providing misleading information about how a company’s products, services, or practices are more environmentally sound.

Organic Waste

Organic waste is any material that is biodegradable and comes from either a plant or an animal. Biodegradable waste is organic material that can be broken down into smaller parts, making it an essential component of composting

Social Enterprise

A social enterprise or social business is defined as a business with specific social objectives that serve its primary purpose. Social enterprises seek to maximize profits while maximizing benefits to society and the environment, and the profits are principally used to fund social programs. Think of Tom’s shoes donating a pair of shoes for every pair sold.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)

The Sustainable Development Goals (commonly shortened to SDG) are a set of interlinked global goals designed to be a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that by 2030 all people enjoy peace and prosperity. The SDGs were set up in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly and are intended to be achieved by the year 2030.

Sustainable Food System 

A sustainable food system is a food system that delivers food security and nutrition for all in such a way that the economic, social and environmental bases to generate food security and nutrition for future generations are not compromised. 

Supply Chain

In the context of food waste, the supply chain refers to the production, post-harvest, processing, distribution, retail, and consumption stages of food. 

Zero Waste

Designing and managing products and processes to reduce the volume of waste and conserve or recover all resources so no trash is sent to landfills, incinerators, or the ocean. 

Now that you are an expert on all things food waste, keep the conversation going on social media and share what you learned with the world!