Understanding the Difference between Compostable and Biodegradable

Is Compostable the Same as Biodegradable?

In today’s world, sustainability and environmental responsibility are becoming increasingly important. As consumers, we often encounter terms like “compostable” and “biodegradable” while shopping for eco-friendly products. However, many people mistakenly use these terms interchangeably without truly understanding their differences. In this blog post, we will delve into the distinction between compostable and biodegradable materials to help you make informed choices when it comes to protecting our planet.

The Basics: Defining Compostable and Biodegradable


Composting is a natural process where organic matter breaks down into nutrient-rich soil called compost. Compostable materials refer to items that can undergo this decomposition process when placed in a controlled environment such as a compost heap or facility. These items are typically made from plant-based substances like cornstarch or sugarcane pulp.


Biodegradation occurs when living organisms break down organic materials over time through natural processes involving bacteria, fungi, or other microorganisms present in the environment. Biodegradable products can disintegrate into smaller pieces under suitable conditions but may not necessarily leave behind beneficial nutrients like composting does.

The Key Differences

To summarize:

  • All compostable items are biodegradable,
  • Not all biodegradable items are compostable.

Degradation Process

The main difference between these two terms lies in the degradation process each material undergoes.

  • Compostable: Compostable products break down into nutrient-rich soil within a specific timeframe under controlled conditions, leaving behind no harmful residue or toxins.
  • Biodegradable: Biodegradable items disintegrate into smaller pieces over an extended period, but the end result may not be as beneficial to the environment. The process can leave behind traces of pollutants that are less environmentally friendly.

Timeframe for Decomposition

The time it takes for compostable and biodegradable materials to decompose varies significantly based on several factors such as temperature, moisture levels, oxygen availability, and microbial activity. However, compostable materials generally degrade faster than biodegradables due to their suitability for composting processes.

Making Conscious Choices

With all this information in mind, understanding whether a product is compostable or simply biodegradable becomes crucial when aiming for sustainable choices. Let’s explore some practical considerations:

  1. Purpose:
  2. Determine how you intend to use the item. If you want something that can enrich soil quality through composting at home or in municipal facilities, opt for certified compostable products.

  3. Certifications:
  4. Look out for recognized certifications like “Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI)” or “TÜV Austria” labels ensuring compliance with industry standards. These certifications guarantee that the product will break down safely without harming the environment.

  5. Disposal Options:
  6. If your area lacks access to industrial-scale composting facilities capable of processing certified-compostable items properly, choosing biodegradables could still offer a more eco-friendly alternative compared to non-degradable alternatives.


While both compostable and biodegradable materials contribute positively to reducing waste, it is essential to recognize their differences. Compostable items undergo controlled decomposition processes, leaving behind nutrient-rich soil, while biodegradables break down over time without necessarily providing the same benefits. By understanding these variations, we can make informed choices that align with our sustainability goals and protect our environment for future generations.

Remember: All compostable items are biodegradable, but not all biodegradable items are compostable.