There is no standardisation of definitions for the terminology used in written regulations and/or for campaign messaging. Yet the importance of defining all terms to maintain clarity and avoid loopholes is critical. The below glossary of terms was published in the 2018 UNEP Report – Legal Limits on Single-Use Plastics and Microplastics: A Global Review of National Laws and Regulations.

Single-use plastics – often also referred to as disposable plastics, are commonly used plastic packaging including items intended to be used only once before they are thrown away or recycled, e.g., grocery bags, food packaging, bottles, straws, containers, cups, cutlery, etc.

Plastic Carrier Bag – carrier bags, with or without handle, made of plastic, which are supplied to consumers at the point of sale of goods or products. Lightweight plastic carrier bags – plastic bags with a wall thickness below 50 microns.

Very lightweight plastic carrier bags – plastic bags with a wall thickness below 15 microns which are required for hygiene purposes or provided as primary packaging for loose food when this helps to prevent food wastage.

Packaging – all products made of any materials of any nature to be used for the containment, protection, handling, delivery and presentation of goods, from raw materials to processed goods, from the producer to the user or the consumer. ‘Non-returnable’ items used for the same purposes shall also be considered to constitute packaging.

Reusable packaging – packaging, including plastic bags, that are conceived and designed to accomplish within its life cycle a minimum number of uses for the same purpose for which it was conceived.

Recyclable packaging – packaging, including plastic bags, that can be reprocessed in a production process of the waste materials for the original purpose or for other purposes including organic recycling but excluding energy recovery.

Biodegradable – packaging in which the waste shall be of such a nature that it is capable of undergoing physical, chemical, thermal or biological decomposition such that most of the finished compost ultimately decomposes into carbon dioxide, biomass and water.

Compostable – packaging waste that can be recycled through a process of organic recovery comprised of composting and anaerobic digestion.

Extended Producer Responsibility – an environmental policy approach in which a producer’s responsibility for a product is extended to the post-consumer stage of a product’s life cycle. It has two related features: (1) the shifting of responsibility, physically and/or economically (fully or partially), upstream toward the producer and away from municipalities for the treatment or disposal of post-consumer products; and (2) providing incentives to producers to incorporate environmental considerations in the design of their products.

Deposit-Refund System – a system that combines a tax on product consumption with a rebate when the product or its packaging is returned for recycling.

Microplastics Any synthetic solid particle or polymeric matrix, with regular or irregular shape and with size ranging from 1 μm to 5 mm, of either primary or secondary manufacturing origin, which are insoluble in water.

Microbeads – Man made plastic particles intentionally added to consumer products, typically less than or equal to 5 mm in size. Microbeads can vary in chemical composition, size, share and density.

Primary microplastics – typically used to refer to microplastics originally manufactured to be that size. Primary microplastics can include but are not limited to microbeads as they can also refer to industrial plastic powders and pellets.

Secondary microplastics – Small particle pieces that have resulted from the fragmentation and weathering of larger plastic items.

Pellets/Nurdles Categorised under primary microplastics these plastic resin beads are spherical or cylindrical in shape and a few mm in diameter. They are the form ‘raw’ plastics are produced in, for transport to production facilities for further processing.

Sources: European Parliament and Council Directive 94/62/EC of 20 December 1994 on packaging and packaging waste; Directive (EU) 2015/720 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 April 2015 amending Directive 94/62/EC; Extended Producer Responsibility: A Guidance Manual for Government, OECD 2001.

Adapted from IM0/ FAO/ UNESCO-IOC/ UNIDO/ WMO/ IAEA/UN/ UNEP. UNDPP Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (GESAMP) 2015.