Do you know the difference between biodegradable and compostable? Lately, these two concepts are more present in our daily lives as we seek sustainable products. Let’s have a closer look at their definitions:
Something is “biodegradable” if it can be disintegrated by bacteria, fungi, or any biological process. When we look at the word roots, the meaning is right there: bio means life and degrade + able implies the ability of something to be broken down. Biodegradation is simply nature taking its course and breaking down materials.
Whenever a company says that a package or a product is biodegradable, they mean these will break down when in a landfill. The key here is to ask how long it takes to biodegrade. Over time, everything breaks down, even oil-based plastics, but that doesn’t mean they disappear – they simply break down into smaller microplastics, usually leaving toxic residues behind. Whether a plastic is biodegradable, it can be broken down by a naturally occurring organism or purely degrades (i.e. its chemical structure changes), it is still harmful to the environment.
Whenever we talk about a compostable product or package, we mean that they can be broken down and turned into compost only under special conditions, often found in industrial compost facilities. Compostable products usually take up to 90 days to be a broken down.
COMPOSTABLE PRODUCTS ARE ALWAYS BIODEGRADABLE
Is the opposite true? Compostable products are always biodegradable as they can be broken down under special conditions, but the opposite is not true. Although biodegradable materials return to nature sometimes they leave behind some toxic residue. Compostable, on the other hand, create something called humus that is full of nutrients and great for the soil. In summary, compostable products are biodegradable, but with an added benefit.
Under European law, products are only considered ‘compostable’, if they can break down within 3 months and pass ecotoxicity tests, which means leaving no toxic substances on the soil and environment in general.