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The BBC Good Food sustainability glossary

Discover expert definitions of the buzzwords and terminology used when talking about environmental issues and ethical eating in our ever-evolving sustainability glossary.

Biodiversity

The wide variety of life on Earth encompassing different animals, insects, plants, the ecosystem they live in – forest, desert, grasslands or coral reef, for example – and the microorganisms that help support life in that environment. 

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Carbon footprint

Researcher and writer Mike Berners-Lee explains this as; carbon = all the different global-warming greenhouse gases, footprint = a metaphor for the impact something has. By this definition, a carbon footprint is roughly the total climate change impact of something, such as an activity (flying), an item (a banana), a person, or even a whole country.

Related content: 
What is a food carbon footprint?
10 ways to cut your food carbon footprint

Clean energy

Renewable sources of energy that generate power but do not contribute to global warming. Clean or green energy sources include wind, solar, wave, biomass and hydro. 

Deforestation

Cutting down or removing trees to make way for crops, such as palm oil, farms or urban development. Deforestation in tropical rainforests is particularly worrying because of the wide range of biodiversity they support.

Food miles

The distance that your food has travelled from where it’s grown to where you buy it. Curiously, a high number of food miles doesn’t always mean that food is bad for the environment. Bananas, for example, are shipped thousands of miles to the UK but they often have a much lower carbon footprint than produce that has been air freighted in from Europe. 

Related content:
The facts about food miles

Food waste

Any food or inedible parts of food that are thrown away. Avoidable food waste is food that could have been eaten but is either no longer wanted or has gone past its sell-by-date. Unavoidable food waste is food that could never be eaten, such as eggshells or tea bags.

Related content: 
How to reduce food waste

Fossil fuels

Non-renewable sources of energy such as coal, oil and natural gas. Fossil fuels release greenhouse gases when they are burned, while most plastic is made from chemicals extracted from fossil fuels. 

Green diet

A healthy, sustainable way of eating that’s better for you and the environment. Key principles include reducing red meat consumption, eating more plant-based foods and cutting out processed foods.

Greenhouse gases

A number of gases that contribute to climate change by trapping heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. The largest contributor to global warming is carbon dioxide (CO2). Others include methane and nitrous oxide.

Related content: 
What are greenhouse gases?

Landfill

A site where waste is disposed of by being buried in the ground. In the UK, we send almost one quarter (24.4 per cent) of our waste, or 52.3 million tonnes, to landfill.

Overfishing

When too many fish are caught, and there are not enough adults to breed and restock the population. The UN says one third of global fish stocks have now reached ‘overfished’ status.

Single-use plastics

An item of plastic that is only used once before it is thrown away. Single-use plastics include water bottles, plastic straws, cotton buds and food packaging. 

Related content: 
6 pieces of packaging to avoid

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More on sustainability

What biodegradable really means
How to compost food at home
8 ways to be a better recycler
What are greenhouse gases?
Is your diet contributing to water scarcity?
Sustainability hub page