Unraveling the Difference: Understanding if Biodegradable Means Compostable

Does Biodegradable Mean Compostable?

In recent years, there has been a growing interest in environmentally friendly solutions to combat the issues caused by non-biodegradable products. One term that often arises in discussions on sustainability and eco-friendliness is “biodegradable.” But what does it mean for a product to be biodegradable? And does being biodegradable automatically imply that a product is compostable? Let’s delve into this topic and explore the differences between these two terms.

The Meaning of Biodegradability

Biodegradability refers to the ability of a material or product to break down naturally over time through biological processes, such as microbial action or exposure to natural elements like air, water, and sunlight. When an item is classified as biodegradable, it suggests that under appropriate conditions, microorganisms present in nature can consume it without leaving behind harmful residues.

The Essence of Compostability

In contrast, compostability goes beyond mere biodegradability. A compostable item not only breaks down but also turns into nutrient-rich organic matter called compost when placed in specific environments known as industrial or home composting facilities. These facilities provide controlled conditions where temperature, humidity, oxygen levels, and other factors are optimized for efficient decomposition. The resulting compost can then be used to enrich soil health and support plant growth.

Different Standards: Certifications Matter

To ensure clarity regarding whether a product is truly both biodegradable and compostable according to industry standards, certifications play a vital role. Various organizations have established criteria that products must meet before they can label themselves as truly biodegadable/compostable.

Biodegradablity Certifications:

  • ASTM D6400: This certification is specific to biodegradable plastics, ensuring that they decompose within a certain time frame under optimal composting conditions.
  • EN 13432: Widely recognized in Europe, this standard verifies the compostability of packaging materials through the required degradation rate and absence of harmful substances after decomposition.

Compostability Certifications:

  • BPI Compostable: Products with this certification meet high standards for industrial composting facilities and demonstrate their ability to convert into nutrient-rich compost.
  • OBA Home Compostable: This certification ensures products can break down in home compost systems without causing harm or leaving any toxic residues.

The Importance of Proper Disposal

To maximize the benefits of both biodegradability and compostability, proper disposal plays an essential role. Biodegradable products should ideally be sent to industrial composting facilities where they can efficiently break down. However, throwing them in regular waste bins or littering them outdoors means they might end up in landfills where oxygen levels are low, hindering decomposition processes. Similarly, certified home-compostable items must be placed in well-managed home compost systems rather than conventional curbside recycling bins.

In Conclusion

In summary, while both terms—biodegradability and compostability—relate to the breakdown of materials over time, there are distinct differences between them. Biodegradability simply implies natural breakdown under suitable conditions without specifying the quality or duration of decomposition. On the other hand, compostablity refers explicitly to a material’s ability to become nutrient-rich soil when processed at specialized industrial or home-level compsting facilities. By understanding these distinctions and ensuring proper disposal, we can actively contribute to a more sustainable future.