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Compostable vs Biodegradable: What's The Difference?

Posted by Kat 2 years, 4 months ago

Compostable vs Biodegradable

As a consumer, or purchaser, of sustainable products you have probably come across many different “green” marketing practices sometimes known as greenwashing. One term that is commonly used to signify a "sustainable" item is biodegradable. But what does biodegradable mean, and is that label a good indication of a sustainable item?

Biodegradable simply means that something will be broken down over time. However, this is true for most materials in our world today. Styrofoam, for example, will eventually break about 500 years! The label biodegradable tells us nothing about much time it'll take for that item to break down, what basic components it'll break down into, or what resources were used to manufacture the item. In short, the label biodegradable is essentially useless and holds no significance in how sustainable a product is. Those tricky greenwashers! 

Biodegradable does not equal compostable! 
Why? Because the label biodegradable doesn't give us insight into what raw materials make up the item in question (and what raw materials it'll eventually be broken down into). These items may be made of raw materials, such as plastics, that would disqualify them from the composting process. As such, these materials need to be sent to landfills. 

For a product to be labeled compostable, it must meet the three following strict requirements:

  1.  within 90 days, 90% of the material must disintegrate into pieces two square millimeters or less in size
  2. within 180 days, 60-90% of the material will biodegrade (i.e., be broken down by microorganisms into carbon dioxide, water, biomass, and inorganic compounds)
  3. leave behind no more toxic residue or heavy metals than a control (e.g., paper).

In summary, these items will be consumed by microbes and turned into nutrient-rich compost once they go through the composting process! 

Most items that are labeled as compostable are only suitable to be composted in a commercial composting facility. CompostNow can accept these items as we ultimately get your compostables to your local commercial composting facility. 

Looking for compostable serviceware for your home? Check out our quarantine kits on our store:

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