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Biodegradable vs. Compostable: Is One Better Than the Other?

In the confusing world of green products, we see a range of words and phrases thrown around. Eco-friendly, environmentally sustainable, organic, and recyclable are just a few of them.

Two of the most commonly used terms are biodegradable and compostable. 

The question is, what do these terms mean? And is one better than the other? Neither biodegradable nor compostable are “better” than one another in any sense. They are simply different words that mean different things.

In this article, we’ll shed some light on biodegradable and compostable products. We’ll also discuss what the terms mean, and if there is a difference between the two. 

What is the Difference Between Biodegradable and Compostable?

The key difference between biodegradable and compostable is that biodegradable products break down through natural processes, while compostable products require specific conditions for them to disintegrate. 

Composting is typically a quicker way to break down a product, although it requires the right conditions and, therefore, can be more of a hassle than biodegradable.

What is Biodegradable?

Biodegradable refers to something that can be broken down by a natural process. 

The actual word indicates exactly what it represents, with the definition of ‘bio’ being life, the meaning of ‘degrade’ being to disintegrate or break down, and ‘able’ referring to the ability to do something. Biodegradable means that disintegration might occur through bacteria, fungi or another natural process entirely, but the key message is that it happens naturally. Essentially, a product that is biodegradable will be broken down naturally into its original components.

If a product is described as biodegradable, it means that it is something that can be broken down in landfills and doesn’t need any special conditions for this process to happen. Something like biodegradable diapers.

That being said, it is worth being cautious when purchasing products that are described as biodegradable as companies don’t always identify how long it takes for a product to break down. 

Even products that are bad for the environment could technically be described as biodegradable. For instance, plastic will break down in landfill if left for long enough. It could take decades or even centuries. Still, it will eventually be broken down into water, carbon dioxide, and other materials through natural means. Technically biodegradable, right? And yet consumers looking for eco-friendly products would hardly consider plastic to be biodegradable and a green choice. It’s always worth checking the fine print when it comes to marketing terms.

Pros and Cons

Pros of biodegradable

Biodegradable products are effective.

Some green products do not work as well as their conventional alternatives, making it challenging to make environmentally conscious choices. 

Biodegradable products typically have no difference in their effectiveness or functionality, providing the same quality as other similar products.

Biodegradable products don’t have toxins.

Biodegradable products are usually made from natural resources and are free from toxins that other products might contain. 

This means that they won’t release toxins as they break down, but also makes them safer for the user.

Biodegradable products conserve energy.

Given that biodegradable products are designed to break down themselves through natural processes, no extra energy is required in order for them to disintegrate. 

This makes them an excellent eco-friendly choice as they can go to a landfill and do not require the energy needed for recyclable products.

Cons of biodegradable

Biodegradable products can be dirty and smelly as they break down.

Like with any waste that breaks down through natural processes, biodegradable products can smell as they disintegrate. 

This might not be a problem if products are disposed of correctly; however, it may deter some people from purchasing biodegradable products

Biodegradable products don’t always break down in landfills.

Some products are marketed as biodegradable, even though they require special processes to break them down. 

For instance, biodegradable plastic needs to be separated from the normal waste and sent to an industrial compost plant. 

Many people will see the biodegradable tag and dispose of it with normal waste, preventing the biodegradable process from occurring.

Tip: check how long it takes for a product to break down and try to purchase biodegradable products with the shortest biodegradation period.

What is Compostable?

Composting refers to a process where organic waste is collected and broken down to create fertilizer. 

It typically requires special conditions for the waste material to decompose. Essentially, it is a recycling process that allows waste to be reused.

This is true of compostable products as they, too, can be decomposed through special conditions that allow them to be repurposed. 

The catch? 

Most compostable products require industrial-grade composting and cannot be done by a simple, at-home compost system. 

A commonly used marketing term, the compostable label can trick consumers into purchasing a product that isn’t easy to dispose of correctly. 

If there is no industrial composting facility in your area, where will you compost these products?

Compostable products are a great green choice and much better for the environment if, and only if, they can be disposed of correctly. 

Copyright protected content owner: and was initially posted on November 30, 2019.

These products are unlikely to decompose in a landfill, especially if the landfill has no air.

Pros and Cons

Pros of compostable

Compostable products generally require less energy to produce.

In comparison to the production of more traditional products, compostable products require less energy and water to be made. 

This saves resources simply in the way they are created.

Compostable products don’t emit toxins as they decompose.

Unlike other products that release toxins as they break down, compostable products are much better for the environment. 

They will release gases that are much less harmful and will not contribute so greatly to pollution.

Cons of compostable

Compostable products require special conditions to break down.

It’s not always easy to dispose of compostable products. 

They cannot simply be thrown into landfills as they require special conditions for them to decompose. 

This can be a big deterrent for people who live in areas without industrial composting facilities.

Compostable products usually need industrial composting to break down.

Unfortunately, just because a product is compostable doesn’t mean it can be thrown into your home compost. 

They typically require conditions that can only be provided by industrial-grade composting, so putting them in your home compost will not make them break down.

Copyright article owner is for this article. This post was first published on November 30, 2019.

Tip: Check composting instructions before purchase. If a product can only be disposed of through an industrial composting facility, make sure that there is one in your area.

Final Thoughts

The world of biodegradable and compostable products is a little more complex than first expected. 

As outlined above, both of these are marketing terms and can vary in meaning. It’s worth reading the fine print on the packaging to check what the term actually means in reference to a specific product. 

Both biodegradable and compostable products are better for the environment than your average product, although they should be consumed with caution.

The process for disposal for each of these types of products is also not as straightforward as it initially seems. 

Biodegradable can refer to a product that disintegrates naturally in 90 days, 90 months, or even 90 years. 

Compostable suggests that a product will decompose in standard composting conditions, yet this is rarely the case with these products requiring industrial-grade composting.

Regardless of the details, both types of products are produced using less energy, less water, and fewer toxins. 

This alone makes them a better choice in an environmental sense; however, it is worth bearing in mind the technical details to ensure you purchase the most sustainable products and the ones that suit your lifestyle best. 

Any product that is created using less energy and produces less pollution as it is broken down is a greener choice. 

ReadyToDIY is the owner of this article. This post was published on November 30, 2019.

Biodegradable and compostable products do just this and are certainly a step in the right direction.