What is the Difference between Compostable and Biodegradable Products?
If you are interested in leading a ‘greener’ lifestyle, it is important to understand the difference between compostable and biodegradable products. What do each of these products mean for the environment, and how can you maximise the benefits? Is one better than the other? We answer all of your questions below.
What are compostable products?
A compostable product is an organic product that can be recycled in a compost heap or in an industrial composting facility and eventually re-used to fertilise the earth. For example, you can compost anything that once lived, including food waste, tea bags, coffee grounds, garden cuttings, paper towels and newspapers among many other compostable items. These compostable products then become decayed organic material, which we call ‘compost’ (and which is amazing for the soil).
Be careful, though. Not all ‘compostable products’ are naturally and quickly compostable. Some require very specific conditions in order to properly be turned into compost – conditions that are only found in composting facilities; while others can be composted using commercial composting vessels or more “home-friendly” composting solutions like Bokashi. That said, remember that compostable products do not compost at landfills, due to the lack of oxygen.
What are biodegradable products?
Biodegradable products do not need to be recycled or re-used as they are able to disintegrate back into the earth naturally, usually with the help of either fungi or bacteria.
However, do not be deceived. Almost all products out there are, in fact, biodegradable. Even plastic is biodegradable. Having said that, what is most important is how long a product takes to biodegrade, and what the material will biodegrade into.
For instance, a paper-based product can take around four weeks to biodegrade after being disposed of (depending on the conditions), while a piece of plastic will take decades to break down. When the plastic does biodegrade, however, it will biodegrade into tiny little pieces of plastic – known as Micro-Plastics – and those microplastics are almost impossible to remove from the environment.
Because of this, we do not want plastics left to biodegrade in our environment and should rather recycle them whenever possible. Being able to identify your plastics helps when it comes to separating your waste – many plastic goods are graded for recycling, and you will identify the different types by looking at the numbers inside the ‘chasing arrows’ triangle;
- PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) – mainly drinking bottles: recyclable.
- HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene) such as milk containers: recyclable
- PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) – which is normally not recyclable
- LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene), mainly used for bags: recyclable
- PP (Polypropylene): recyclable
- PS (Polystyrene): recyclable, although it depends on the product.
- Other plastics that don’t fit above, such as polycarbonates -normally not recyclable.
Ultimately, you want compostable products (not plastic) that will biodegrade into the environment easily, and hence become compost quickly, without having to be sent to composting facilities.
Do not be fooled with products that are said to be biodegradable but yet are made from plastic. Plastic should be recycled, not left to biodegrade into the environment.