Compostable Vs Biodegradable: Outlining The Difference Between Them

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There is a lot of interesting products flooding the market that claim to be either biodegradable or compostable. It naturally leads to the question of how different they are, and which is better for the environment. We need to simplify the compostable vs biodegradable structures and find out which structure is the ideal to which most aspire to measure up to.

We all realize that if a technology is made from renewable materials, utilizes a minimum of energy, and is consistent with nature, it is ideal for humans.

But the words ‘compostable’ and ‘biodegradable’ are used interchangeably and are often considered the same. This makes it difficult for someone trying to go green.

Compostable Vs Biodegradable

Many people assume that these two terms mean the same thing, but it isn’t true. Each has its process and methods as is apparent when we explore compostable vs biodegradable. Composting is a common term these days, as creating a perfect compost pile is a key to living a sustainable life.

Compostable refers to organic matter that can be turned into a nutrient-rich material through the process of natural or controlled decomposition. Organic wastes, leaves, fruit and vegetable peels, tea leaves, coffee grounds, and grass trimmings can be returned to nature where they can eventually be useful as compost.

The primary difference in compostable vs biodegradable products is that the former requires certain conditions for the decomposition process to function properly.

Compostable products need a certain balance in the factors to break down totally and correctly. For a matter to turn into compost, it needs soil, air, moisture, plus a mix of various carbon and nitrogen-rich neighbors that feed the microorganisms that devour it and turn it into compost. The process can be slowed or accelerated depending on the conditions and the ingredients.

Biodegradable these days is normally about getting green-washed by false claims. Most products, even most plastic products, are biodegradable if given the time.

Read: Quitting Single-Use Plastics: A Major Step Towards Building A Safer World

But whether it is good or harmful for the environment depends on the base product. Disposing of such products requires you to know the conditions that help them biodegrade, and dispose of them according to the conditions which apply to them.

Biodegradable refers to materials that are broken down with the help of microorganisms such as fungi or bacteria and become assimilated into a natural environment. It is a process that occurs naturally. Objects degrade from the original composition into a simpler composition such as water, carbon dioxide, and biomass.

This process takes place with or without the involvement of oxygen. The presence of oxygen slows down the process. For instance, a pile of leaves lying in the open takes more time to degrade. Depending on the object, the process can take a few weeks (as for vegetable waste) to many years (like for a disposable plastic bag).

The items that biodegrade early include vegetable waste, paper, pure cotton products, and tree leaves. But Styrofoam, plastic bags, and aluminum products are virtually non-biodegradable as they take centuries.

Both the terms, compostable and biodegradable are interlinked as products go over the process of composting to biodegrade. Compostable vs biodegradable is also the difference between a process requiring human intervention and one which is a completely natural procedure. Composting requires microorganisms to break down the organic matter aided by oxygen, water, and certain organic matter that hastens the process.

Pros And Cons: Compostable Vs Biodegradable Plastics


Most commercial establishments now offer bio-plastic, which is either compostable or biodegradable plastic. They are also being used for takeout packaging, like cups and utensils. Such items are generally made from cellulose, corn starch, and soy. They break into biomass, carbon dioxide, and water upon composting.

Read: Biodegradable Cutlery From Avocado Seeds Decomposes In Just 8 Months

Bio-plastics are plant-based, unlike petroleum-based conventional plastics. Bio-plastics have a lower carbon footprint generally than traditional ones.

But bio-plastics require high temperatures to break down and this can only be achieved at commercial composting sites. They take a long period to decompose in the compost site at home. Bio-plastics also do not degrade quickly in oceans, and thus need to be recycled in segregated streams.

Choosing Compostable Vs Biodegradable Products


Going for compostable items reduces the environmental impact considerably. Composting at home will help you improve the soil quality of your backyard or garden. It also encourages you to go more for compostable products.

But some products, though compostable, require conditions to decompose. So it becomes vital to commit to composting such items and not dump them in landfills. It is also important to ensure that items that require commercial composting are sent to facilities that can process such waste.

Read: Plastic Food Packaging Deserves A New Look: The 3 R’s

While choosing biodegradable products remains a priority an even more important factor is the time it takes for the completion of the process. Go for products that have been processed and will break down naturally in a relatively short period and get assimilated into the natural environment.

Bio-plastics are better than normal plastics, but not disposing of them properly defeats the very purpose of manufacturing them. The best option thus is to reduce usage through reuse and avoiding the use of single-use plastics and similar products. It is also necessary to choose products that require minimum packing.

The use of logos and standards helps in determining the ability of a product to compost and biodegrade and thus helps us in choosing it. But there is no European standard for assessing biodegradability in water. This is because the variable conditions make it difficult to standardize in marine or freshwater environments.

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