What’s The Difference Between Biodegradable & Compostable?

What is the difference between biodegradable and compostable

May 5, 2021

What’s The Difference Between Biodegradable & Compostable?

As we become more aware of our impact on the planet, more people are actively trying to be more environmentally-friendly, taking more of an interest in sustainability and the environment – which is always great to see. We love it when people start taking an interest in recycling! This never-ending quest for a greener life leads to questions… like ‘what’s the difference between biodegradable and compostable?’ 

More people are sorting out their plastics, taking care of their glass waste and visiting bottle depots, just like ours. Some people are even composting food waste in their backyards!

It’s crazy to think but yes, composting has really taken off here (seriously, the first week of May is National Composting Week). 

From lawn clippings to banana peels the public is starting to get into the wonderful world of composting. 

Now, it’s easy to know what’s compostable when it’s all organic but what about produce bags you get at the store? 

They clearly say biodegradable on them? Does this mean they’re compostable? Can you put them in your compost bin?

When it comes to biodegradable products and compostable products it can be confusing to learn (and remember) the difference. A lot of people might think that these are actually the same thing, but you’ll be shocked to find that compostable and biodegradable are not the same. 

Today we’re going to show you how compostable products and biodegradable products are different from each other and give you some helpful tips on how you can reduce your carbon footprint and start living that greener life.

What does biodegradable mean?

What does biodegradable mean?
biodegradable box package to go food snack coffee container for take away eco friendly.

Biodegradable means something is able to break down and return to nature quickly. For something to be biodegradable, it has to be able to completely break down and decompose into the ground within a short time period. 

Something that decomposes in a year or less would count as being biodegradable. 

Something that takes over a decade (or even longer sometimes) to break down completely isn’t biodegradable.  

The ability to biodegrade is incredibly helpful for landfills and large dumping areas. The average landfill is 600 acres! With so many landfills around the world, it’s important to try and reduce the amount of space they take up by using more biodegradable products. 

Landfills are plain ugly and terrible for the environment but with biodegradable waste, we can reduce the buildup of landfills and help make a cleaner, healthier Earth. Not only will the environment be healthier but it’ll also be safer for everyone and everything living in it! 

Some biodegradable materials include:

  • Food waste
  • Paper waste
  • Human waste
  • Cardboard 
  • Some plastics

Wait, did you read that right? Yes, some plastics are biodegradable. They include:

  • Starch-based plastics
  • Bacteria-based plastics
  • Soy-based plastics
  • Cellulose-based plastics
  • Lignin-based plastics
  • Natural fiber reinforced plastic

Non-biodegradable plastics can stay on the Earth for years, decades, and in some cases centuries, after being discarded. So for the love of Earth, choose biodegradable plastics whenever you can. 

80% of the items buried in landfills are recyclable so if you’ve got some non-biodegradable plastic that needs to be thrown out be sure to recycle it instead of sending it to a landfill.

This way it’ll be reused for future products and help us keep the Earth clean. 

Does biodegradable mean compostable?

Biodegradable doesn’t always mean that the item, packaging, or product it’s printed on is compostable.

Compostable materials are always biodegradable but it doesn’t work the other way around. 

There are loads of different forms of biodegradation. Compostable materials are only one subset of biodegradable materials. 

What does compostable mean?

What does compostable mean?
A person holding a handful of dark organic compost.

Compostable materials are similar to biodegradable materials. Both can return to the earth safely, helping to decrease the amount of waste clogging up the Earth’s surface. 

However, compostable materials are better as they can provide the Earth with nutrients as soon as the material has broken down. Compost can be made from these materials and used as a fertilizer for soils and food for worms and other living organisms in the ground!

Some compostable materials include:

  • Food waste
  • Coffee grounds
  • House plant trimmings
  • Newspaper
  • Toilet paper & napkins

Can you compost biodegradable plastic?

It doesn’t sound like something that would be true but you can actually compost biodegradable plastic – in certain situations. 

Biodegradable plastic is strictly designed to be biodegradable in soil or water. So, as long as your biodegradable plastic isn’t labelled as ‘marine biodegradable’ then it’s suitable for composting!

However, biodegradable plastics, whether they’re compostable or not, are problematic in their own ways.

Here are a few ways how these plastics can be problematic:

  • Non-compostable biodegradable plastics can build up in compost piles and in the environment because they don’t decompose as quickly as other items. 
  • People might not know the difference and could be unknowingly leaving harsh toxins in the soil. This is why it’s important to remember that just because something is biodegradable doesn’t mean it’s safe for our planet. 
  • Compostable plastics might be better for the earth and they’re definitely a better alternative but they still need a lot of energy to be made. The industrial processing they go through is actually polluting the earth. 
  • Both biodegradable and compostable plastics can’t be recycled. This is because of their unique ability as plastic that decomposes. 
  • If there aren’t appropriate composting facilities available this plastic is put into landfills regardless of its eco-friendliness. 

When these plastic alternatives are stuffed into landfills they can’t decompose right or they decompose and add to the mass of toxic gases that waft from the already towering landfill.

Biodegradable plastics and compostable plastics are a great step towards the right thing but there is still a lot we can do to help make the environment a better and safer place. 

Do you want to help reduce the waste you make?

Help reduce your waste
Hands holding stylish reusable eco coffee cup and steel straw on white wooden background. Zero waste. Green Cup from natural bamboo fiber and metallic straw, Ban single use plastic.

Follow these tips on how to reduce your waste & help save the planet

  1. Don’t buy single-use products, even if they’re compostable or biodegradable. Remember just because it’s better for our environment doesn’t mean it’s the right choice. There are plenty of easy alternatives out there, like reusable travel coffee mugs and cases of metal utensils you can keep in your car or purse!
  1. Don’t try and recycle compostable or biodegradable products. Always check the labels and see whether your item can be recycled or not. Otherwise, it’s going to end up in a landfill. 
  1. Always read product labels before throwing things away, they might not look recyclable, compostable, or biodegradable but you never know until you check! Some items might surprise you. 
  1. If you’re unsure about how to dispose of a product properly then get in contact with the brand to find out. Alternatively, you can get in contact with our team. We’d love to help you out with all your recyclable goods. 
  1. Don’t use plastic utensils when eating takeout and avoid buying plastic bags at supermarkets. These plastic items are unnecessary and you can just buy reusable ones. We know it seems easier but just try to remember to bring a reusable bag when you go shopping. 

We hope we’ve helped shed a little light on the differences between biodegradable and compostable for you. 

They may be similar, but it’s important to know the differences between the two so you can dispose of compostable and biodegradable materials correctly. 

If you want to know more about compostable and biodegradable products or recycling in general, then get in contact with us today. We’d love to answer any questions you might have. 

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