Know Your Eco-Labels: 11 Confusing Terms EXPLAINED!

Perplexed by the plethora of sustainable product labels? Not any more!
22 April 2021

There is a whole slew of types of eco-labels out there, some you may not even know about!

You might look at different types of eco-labels found in Singapore products and not actually know what they mean. Packaging and labelling might be confusing, especially knowing which is marketing and which is factual. With eco-friendly and ethical products being more readily available, it’s important to recognise what are the specific sustainable product labels you need to know about.

Although this isn’t an exhaustive A-to-Z list about packaging and labelling, it is a quick primer on types of eco-labels you may encounter in food and product descriptions.

Learn more about these 11 different types of eco-labels commonly found in Singapore products.

1. Animal cruelty-free

One of the more common types of eco-labels, it is often shortened to “cruelty-free”. This marketing term is used on everything from makeup and cleansers to clothing and food. Typically, it means the product wasn’t tested on animals or doesn’t contain animal products (e.g., leather). But, sometimes, it is meant to convey the “ethical” treatment of animals.

2. Biodynamic

“Biodynamics is a holistic, ecological and ethical approach to farming, gardening, food and nutrition,” states the Biodynamic Association, which credits Dr Rudolf Steiner as the approach’s founder. You’ll mostly see this “organic”-ish term on wine labels.

3. Biodegradable

The Oxford Dictionary defines this word as: “capable of being decomposed by bacteria or other living organisms and thereby avoiding pollution.” Check for it on product packaging (e.g., paper, plastic), food and beverage containers plus “disposable” dinnerware.

4. BPA free

BPA stands for Bisphenol-A, a chemical used to make some reusable plastics – and that has been linked to health issues, particularly in infants and children in utero. These days, many plastic products claim to be “BPA-free”, but they are not necessarily chemical-free. To be safe, experts suggest that you not heat plastic food or drink containers, as it can cause such chemicals to leach out.

5. Free range

This mostly undefined product label can refer to meat and dairy foods, such as eggs laid by “cage-free” chickens or milk from “pasture-raised” cows. It does not, however, mean the animals were treated “humanely” – only that they spent some time in “natural” conditions.

6. Ethical

Yet another common one amongst the types of eco-labels, it can also be seen as “Humane” and “socially responsible”, which is used to indicate that neither the environment (including animals) nor society (including workers) were harmed in the collection, production or sale of the goods.

7. Fair Trade

Unlike, say, “ethically sourced” products (per above), there is an actual Fair Trade Certified label for food (e.g., coffee beans, seafood). Meaning? They cannot be sold for less than a certain price. This helps to ensure the livelihood of farmers, fishermen and workers.

8. Natural

“Natural” should mean that something is derived entirely from plants, animals, microorganisms or minerals, sans fossil fuels. But – like “clean”, “pure”, “safe” and “wholesome”– it is primarily a marketing term, with no legal definition.

9. Chemical-free

“Chemical-free” is another marketing claim that refers to a product that doesn’t contain artificial chemicals (e.g., parabens, mineral oil). It is not the same thing as “non-toxic”, which simply means something has been tested, and won’t poison you.

10. Reclaimed

This refers to wood that has been previously used (e.g., in a barn), or materials that are “upcycled” from various sources.

11. Sustainable or renewable

“Sustainability” is the “quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources” and “supporting long-term ecological balance,” cites The term is often used in tandem with “renewable” – as in, resources (e.g., solar power), plants (e.g., hemp) and food crops (e.g., rice).

Originally by Sara Lyle Bow, January 2018 / Last updated by Isabel Wibowo / Images:

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