Biodegradable vs Compostable
All compostable items are biodegradable, but not all
biodegradable products are compostable!
Do you know the difference between biodegradable vs compostable when it comes to the things we use in and around the garden?
We keep hearing the terms biodegradable and compostable when talking about doing our bit by recycling and what’s good for the environment. But there’s a massive and important difference between the processes that take place and the different impacts and effects each process has on the environment.
To understand the difference between biodegradable vs compostable, the two let’s break it down (pun intended!) and take a look at the definitions of both words individually.
We often see the word ‘biodegradable’ on products, such as planting bags and plant pots, but what does biodegradable actually mean?
Anything biodegradable will break down quickly and safely into mostly harmless compounds.
What makes a substance biodegradable?
Anything that is plant-based, animal-based or natural mineral-based product is usually biodegradable. However, they will break down at over differing timescales depending on the original material it’s made out of and how much it has been processed.
Biodegradables are anything that undergoes degradation resulting from the action of naturally occurring microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, and algae.
Exact timescales are undefined but biodegradable products may take years to degrade but are broken down in less time than non-biodegradable products like plastic
Biodegradable materials relate to more than just plants, paper, boxes and bags, it also includes items that have been created with the ability to slowly break down until they’re able to be consumed on a microscopic level.
The process of recycling organic waste for reuse, allows organic carbon to return to the earth and reduces methane emissions.
Compostable means that a manufactured product undergoes degradation by biological processes during composting to yield CO2, water, inorganic compounds and biomass at a rate consistent with other compostable materials and leaves no visible, distinguishable or toxic residue. In other words it means that the material is capable of breaking down into natural elements in a compost environment and causes no harm to the environment. The breakdown process can take about3 to 6 months.
The great thing about composting is that it can be done at home, though it must be properly managed so that the nutrient-rich material can return to the earth. Just because something is labelled compostable doesn’t mean consumers can successfully compost it. Instead, some products need to be sent to commercial facilities that regulate the environmental conditions necessary for composting.
What’s The Difference?
The definitions of both terms are very similar so it’s not surprising that they are so easily confused, but there’s a big difference!
While all compostable material is biodegradable, not all biodegradable material is compostable.
Although biodegradable materials return to nature and many can disappear completely, many biodegradable materials can only be broken down to the base components used in manufacture, so they will degrade, but leave a crude residue behind such as base metals and micro-plastics that can contaminate the food chain.
Alternatively, compostable products are biodegradable, but with an added benefit, as the compostable packaging materials break down they release valuable nutrients to create humus that is full of nutrients and great for trees and plants.
While biodegrading is totally dependent on the products being exposed to the right amount of moisture and temperature compostable products will break down easily despite external environmental factors. Biodegradables only lessen their environmental impact if disposed of properly.
Plant-based plastics for instance are often labelled as biodegradable. While they are meant to break down more easily than regular plastic recycling and be safer for the environment if the right environmental factors are not present it might take just as long as regular plastics – a few hundred years!
Many household items may be labelled as “oxo-biodegradable” but these are not accepted by UK local authority composting facilities because they take too long to break down and/or will not decompose entirely, disrupting the composting cycle. However, materials that meet either the European or US Standard will break down effectively in virtually all composting systems.
e-Pots products are made of 100% recycled or other natural organic materials, therefore, are all fully home compostable. All of our packaging is made from recycled materials and the ink used to print our labels is water-based and environmentally friendly.
If you are still unsure about what you can and can’t recycle then concentrate on reducing and reusing wherever possible,
minimizing your amount of waste and the need to recycle altogether.
Tips For Reducing Waste – reduce reuse recycle!
- Avoid single-use plastic products, such as plastic bags.
- Look for products that are fully home compostable
- Read product labels carefully.
- Buy products that are reusable
- Hold brands accountable for waste management by asking how to dispose of products and packaging properly.