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Zero Waste Dictionary

Along with Zero Waste comes a number of new words and phrases you may not have come across before. Here’s your very own guide to the madness. Good luck!

Bulk Shopping

Most of us grew up hearing the phrase “bulk” and associating it with a wholesale store like Sam’s Club or Costco.  That’s not really the case as it relates to Zero Waste. When we say “bulk” we mean buying loose products that can be purchased at any volume or weight from a bulk bin. Think a giant bin of pasta that we scoop from into our own container at the store.

Why do this?

Buying bulk is great for a number of reasons! You cut out single-wrap plastic/foil/paper packaging entirely, can purchase the exact amount you need in the moment, and ultimately ensure you’re more likely to eat what you buy.


“BYOC” means “Bring Your Own Container.”

Zero Wasters are huge proponents of this because it helps cut out waste created at grocery stores, from eating out, purchasing a coffee or at stops along a road trip. We do all our grocery shopping with reusable totes and glass or stainless steel containers for meats and other bulk items.

I carry a reusable stainless steel cup and a reusable set of silverware in a pouch in my purse, and I keep a travel mug in each of my vehicles! If we go out to eat, I take along my own glass container to use in place of a “doggy bag” or Styrofoam takeout container.

Throwing a barbecue with friends? Just ask them to bring their own cup, rather than provide sets of plastic ones. I’m sure they can handle it.

Upcycling vs. Downcycling

Upcycling essentially means taking toss-able materials like leftover cardboard or an old, broken washing machine drum and turning them into something different with a new purpose. That cardboard becomes party decorations and the metal drum becomes a super unique fire pit! This is where the creativity of Zero Waste comes in.

Downcycling is just the opposite, and it’s something we want to avoid as much as possible. Downcycling is a recycling term that describes the process of breaking products into recyclable elements and then creating products of lower quality. A great example is that plastic water bottle you tossed being pressed into a plastic park bench.

Even though that bottle gets a second life, once the bench has run its course, the material goes straight to the landfill. No more recycling is possible at that point.


Waste is anything that ends up in a landfill. When we talk about waste, we will be discussing anything we create or purchase that has no future life but to be eliminated or discarded. Think “unusable remains.”