Ecomedia Letter: p

Palm Oil

An oil derived from fruit of palm trees. It is a common ingredient in many foods and is often labeled as vegetable oil in ingredient lists. It can also be used to make biodiesel. The large scale deforestation of tropical forests to plant palm oil is a major threat to the environment of the area, and animals such as endangered orangutans living there.


Outdoor areas set aside for recreation and leisure. Parks can provide habitat for local wildlife and native plants, as well as education to people about nature.

Passive Building Design

The design of a building so that it suits its environment and needs minimal energy input for heating and cooling. Buildings are designed for keeping cool in the summer and staying warm in the winter. Air flow and the influence of the sun's path are also considered.

Peak Oil

The point in time when the world is producing the most amount of petroleum. The point of peak oil is followed by a decline in petroleum production. The year at which peak oil is reached is debated as it depends on future discoveries (or lack thereof) of new reserves.

Perceived Obsolescence

The perception that a product is obsolete although the product itself still functions. For example fashion, where a coat may still function to keep someone warm but is viewed as obsolete as it is not current. Also see Planned Obsolescence.


The movement that tries to make agriculture mimic the natural cycles found in ecology in order that it is sustainable over the long term. It is also linked to the idea that if managed right, human communities can become self sufficient with local Permaculture activities supporting local populations.


A substance used to kill unwanted pests and animals such as insects. There are chemical and natural pesticides. Chemical pesticides are often dangerous to human health, wildlife and the surrounding environment. Pesticides can kill animals that are not the intended target and also end up in the ecosystem. Also see Bioaccumulation.


Our extended animal families who live with us in our homes. Pets are shown to reduce your stress and keep you healthier. They have the potential to impact the environment with the food we feed them, as well as if we let them interact with local wildlife, so keep your cat away from those wild birds! De-sexing your pets is a great way to help animal welfare.


A chemical derived from petroleum oil or natural gas. It includes a wide range of chemicals that are key in making plastics, paints, rubbers, flooring, pesticides and even explosives.

Phantom Load

When an appliance is 'off', is it really? Often switching something off will still leave on something in standby mode or keep a pilot light on. The phantom load is the electricity that is still being used when this happens. Switch things off at the wall socket or where it is plugged in and reduce your energy use.

Phosphate free

This is usually seen on detergents and soaps. Phosphate is used to aid in cleaning, and is a natural plant nutrient. The trouble is that too much phosphate entering waterways means that algae blooms are more frequent which in turn can seriously alter the suitability of that water for drinking, swimming or as a habitat. Buying phosphate-free means your daily life contributes less toward water pollution problems in your areas.


A great way to leave only footprints and take only memories. With the advance of digital photography, you can take more photos and print only the ones you want, and reduce the use of a lot of harsh chemicals used in the developing process, so get snapping.

Photovoltaic Panel

Most solar panels are photovoltaic meaning they contain material that produces electricity when exposed to light. They are the main form of generating electricity from sunlight.


Chemicals used in many plastic products that are in everyday use. There is concern of long term health risks from phthalates and the European Union has banned six different phthalates from products for children.

Planned Obsolescence

Purposely producing a product that has a limited time before it becomes obsolete. For example, software companies may sell one product while already having a superior product developed and will wait to release the superior product. Also see Perceived Obsolescence.


Materials that are made from a structure of atoms called polymers, which can be molded to an infinite number of shapes. The majority of plastics are derived from petroleum gas by-products. Plastic can also be made from cellulose from plants such as corn. Most plastic is biodegradable only after thousands of years.


People who illegally take or kill plants or animals protected by law. Poachers are a major challenge to the conservation of many endangered and threatened species. Many poachers only risk poaching when in desperate situations or when the international black market for such species is willing to pay huge sums.

Polar Ice Cap

All that ice at the North and South Poles. In the South Pole, there is land under a great deal of the ice sheet which hold about 70 % of the world's water. In the North, the ice forms and breaks up and changes with the seasons and floats above the Arctic Ocean. The status of these ice caps is a good indication of how the temperature is rising with global warming and greatly affect potential rises in sea level.


Politicians are usually the people making the decisions on Environmental Laws and Climate Policy. They should be representing the people that put them into power, so let them know how you feel!


Any substance that causes the environment to be contaminated and causes damage to organisms or the ecosystem. Pollutants can be a huge range of things from litter, chemicals, gases to heat, energy and noise. Something may be a pollutant in one place and essential in another, such as ozone which is needed in the upper atmosphere but a danger to health in the lower atmosphere.

Polluter Pays Principle

The idea that the people who cause the pollution should be paying the cost resulting. It sounds simple but has complicated results sometimes, for example who should pay for the carbon dioxide emitted by the coal used to make electricity-the coal miners, the power plant owners or the consumer using the electricity?


The contamination of the environment by unwanted substances. Pollution comes in a huge range of sizes and substances, from gas, liquid, solids to heat, noise and light.

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET)

The type of plastic found in most drink bottles and many types of packaging. It can also be recycled into fabric and insulation.

Post Consumer Content

Materials that have finished their lives as originally intended by the consumer, and are then recovered and recycled. For example, paper used in an office, which is then recycled to make cardboard, may be listed on the label as post consumer content.

Post Industrial Content

The same as post consumer content although the material is waste from an industrial process rather than from a consumer. The waste is then recovered and recycled.


Poverty and environmental degradation are linked. Millions of people around the world face the everyday hardships of not having enough food for themselves and their families, let alone health care and education. The environment would be a priority to few, given those conditions. Reducing poverty must be a link to any environmentally sustainable world.

Precautionary Principle

The idea that given no or little information on the effect a given activity or development could have on the environment, it is in the best interest of society to decide on the side of caution. It also implies that it is the burden of the person or organization proposing that activity to provide evidence that activity poses little risk to the environment. It is a powerful idea, especially when incorporated into laws and regulations.


A term that conveys the idea of reduction of materials used before production and therefore eliminates or reduces materials that need to be recycled.

Primeval Forest

See Ancient Forest

Public Transportation

Transport open to all provided you can pay the fare! If well used and efficient, it means fewer trips and less distance made by private vehicles, which are more polluting per person. It also saves the need for manufacture of new cars, if there are fewer car owners.

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