Unraveling the Difference: Are Biodegradable and Compostable really the same?

Is Biodegradable the Same as Compostable?

When it comes to environmentally friendly products, terms like “biodegradable” and “compostable” often get thrown around interchangeably. However, there is a distinct difference between the two concepts that is worth understanding.

The Basics: What Does Biodegradable Mean?

Biodegradability refers to an item’s ability to break down naturally over time through biological processes. When something is biodegradable, microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi can consume it and decompose it into smaller organic components.

The Meaning of Compostable:

Compostability takes biodegradability one step further. A compostable material not only breaks down but also turns into nutrient-rich compost or humus under specific conditions within a certain timeframe.

Distinguishing Factors:

Biochemical Breakdown Process:

In contrast to biodegradation, composting involves controlled aerobic decomposition in a specific environment known as a composting facility. This process requires oxygen, moisture, temperature control, and proper carbon-to-nitrogen ratios for optimal microbial activity.

Certification Standards:

To avoid confusion in the market and ensure transparency about environmental claims made by manufacturers, several certification standards have been established for both biodegradability and compostability. For instance:

  • The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) has created guidelines (D6400/D6868) that define criteria for labeling materials as “compostable.”
  • The European Standard EN13432 sets similar requirements for packaging waste which should be labeled as “compostable.”

Choosing the Right Option

Environmental Impact:

When it comes to selecting between biodegradable and compostable products, considering the specific environmental impact is crucial. Biodegradation might occur in various settings, such as landfills or oceans, but can take years or even decades to complete. On the other hand, composting ensures a faster and controlled transformation into nutrient-rich soil.

Waste Management Facilities:

The availability of suitable waste management facilities also plays a role in determining which option is more advantageous. While many regions have established composting facilities that process organic waste efficiently, not all areas may have access to such infrastructure.

The Bottom Line

In conclusion, while both biodegradable and compostable materials contribute positively toward sustainability efforts by reducing waste accumulation and minimizing pollution risks, their differences are significant. Compostability implies fulfilling specific requirements and conditions for turning into valuable humus within a defined timeframe. Ultimately, understanding these distinctions empowers consumers to make informed choices that align with their environmental values.