Many pathogens are able to replicate or survive in abiotic environments. Disease transmission models that include environmental reservoirs and environment-to-host transmission have used a variety of functional forms and modelling frameworks without a clear connection to pathogen ecology or space and time scales. We present a conceptual framework to organize microparasites based on the role that abiotic environments play in their lifecycle. Mean-field and individual-based models for environmental transmission are analysed and compared. We show considerable divergence between both modelling approaches when conditions do not facilitate well mixing and for pathogens with fast dynamics in the environment. We conclude with recommendations for modelling environmentally transmitted pathogens based on the pathogen lifecycle and time and spatial scales of the host-pathogen system under consideration.