4 Facts About Biodegradable vs Compostable Products
Wondering what the heck is the difference between biodegradable vs compostable bags, cups, utensils, plates, etc? And what does “biodegradable” mean? “Compostable”? Are they really environmentally-friendly products or is it simply green-washing?
I’ve wondered myself and done some research on the subject. Surprisingly, the terms are not one and the same. There’s actually an important distinction and I’ll walk you through the details.
Definitions: Biodegradable vs Compostable
Although you may think they’re identical, biodegradable vs compostable definitions are uniquely different when we’re considering consumer products.
Biodegradable. An item that “undergoes degradation resulting from the action of naturally occurring microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi and algae.”
A few other points that distinguish biodegradable from compostable items:
- Timing. A biodegradable product doesn’t specify the length of time it takes to degrade. But when you think about it, everything biodegrades over time. It’s just how long it takes that’s key. So if that plastic cup is labeled “biodegradable” it could take 1,000 years for it to decompose and technically the label would be correct. But it certainly wouldn’t help with our increasing waste problem!
- Method of Breaking Down. A biodegradable product doesn’t specify the type of environment in which it will break down.
- Confusion. In short, the product label “biodegradable” carries with it a lack of clarity. And for this reason, many items labeled “biodegradable” may be intentionally misleading and designed to green-wash the consumer.
Compostable means that within a compost environment, a product can break down into natural elements (carbon dioxide, water, inorganic compounds and biomass) in around 90 days.
What’s a “compost environment”? As explained by World Centric, it’s typically a commercial facility that adheres to the following set of criteria:
- Timing. The product must achieve 90% disintegration in around 90 days.
- Disintegration. The product must demonstrate a 60% conversion to carbon dioxide within 180 days.
- Toxicity. The product leaves no toxicity in the soil.
Now that you understand the distinction, let’s take a look at biodegradable vs compostable products so you can identify and purchase those that are truly green.