Compostable or Biodegradable?

Updated: Mar 11, 2019

Biodegradable vs Compostable: What's The Difference?


I have been looking at a variety of sustainable packaging for my sustainably sourced travel logs. I have found it far from clear at times to know the difference for example between compostable materials and biodegradable.


I came across this post from Paramount Labels who focuses on providing environmentally-friendly labeling. I think they have provided an excellent, easy to understand post about the difference between compostable and biodegradable. *************************************************************

So what do these terms mean and what is the real difference is between them?

What Does Compostable Mean?

Compostable materials are similar to biodegradable materials as they are both intended to return to the earth safely.


The difference being compostable materials will go one step further by decomposing providing nutrients to mother earth once the material has completely broken down.

These materials can be added to compost piles, which are designated sites with specific conditions dependent on wind, sunlight, drainage and other factors.


While biodegradable materials are designed to break down naturally within landfills, compostable materials require special composting conditions.

What Does Biodegradable Mean?


Biodegradable refers to the ability of materials to break down and return to nature.

In order for packaging products or materials to qualify as biodegradable, they must completely break down and decompose into natural elements within a short time after disposal - typically six to nine months.


The ability to biodegrade within landfills helps to reduce the buildup of waste for a safer, cleaner and greener environment. Materials that are biodegradable include untreated papers, corrugated cardboards and even some PET plastics.


Most plastics are not biodegradable unless stated - meaning they cannot break down easily after disposal and can remain on the planet as waste for up to 400 years.

So, not only do we need to think about products from a "are they sustainably sourced" point of view but also from the view of what happens to them after we are finished with them. We need to go further in terms of how they break down and where we then need to recycle them.

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