The two most common terms used on eco-friendly products are “compostable” and “biodegradable”. Now, when buying a product labeled either of these terms, we feel good right? We feel like we are doing our part in being environmentally conscious and sustainable. If you are paying attention to these terms and choosing your products accordingly, that is a wonderful thing! However, these two terms differ in quite a substantial way. Since we specialize in compostable products, we wanted to clarify the difference between compostable and biodegradable so next time you see these terms used, you can do an evaluation and ask yourself a few questions to make sure you aren’t being “greenwashed”.
The term compostable means that the material or products is able to break down into its natural components if and when given the correct environment without leaving behind toxic residues such as heavy metals. This composting process should only take up to 90 days (in the correct conditions) if the product is truly compostable. Once the product has composted, the nutrients from this process are returned to the soil which can in turn help grow more nutrient-rich foods. When a product is labeled “compostable” it generally pertains to a commercial composting facility which provides just the right amounts of heat, moisture, and oxygen to create this ideal environment for these materials to breakdown properly. If you compost at home in the backyard, you most likely know exactly what we are talking about. What is important to understand is that throwing a product that is otherwise compostable into the trash defeats the purpose. In a landfill, this compostable product is not in an ideal environment where it can break down into its natural elements; these products decompose and produce methane, a well-known and harmful greenhouse gas. Food waste alone generates about 8% of greenhouse gas emissions. This is huge! The very products which were created in efforts to slow down climate change and help people live a more sustainable life are actually becoming the problem. We believe this is simply due to the fact that people are being misled or just have not educated themselves on the topic. Before starting this company, we too did not fully understand the impact of throwing food waste or compostable products in with the trash, thinking “Oh, it will compost there too. Its better than plastic!”. Compost is an extremely beneficial thing and we can grow and nourish our food for the future by composting and using the broken down nutrients to nourish our lands instead of pollute them.
Biodegradable is also a very popular term that many companies use as a marketing strategy. We think it is quite a misleading term, and here’s why. Biodegradable means the material or product is able to break down into its basic elements by the help of microorganisms. However, there is no time limit to this process; it can take anywhere from 90 days to thousands of years. Of course this information is not always included on packaging or on the product itself, this is something we as consumers have to be educated about to avoid confusion and being misled by the marketing of the product. Realistically, a plastic bag can be considered biodegradable. However, it takes about 1,000 years for it to biodegrade, and more often than not, the bag just breaks down into microscopic synthetic granules which are harmful to the surrounding environment its in. Technically speaking, everything is biodegradable. This term is more of an umbrella term which has compostable beneath since everything compostable is considered biodegradable, but not everything biodegradable is compostable.
We hope this article helped shed some light on these similar terms and inspired you to be more aware of the products you support and invest your money in. Next time you see a product labeled compostable or biodegradable, take a second to really think about how you should dispose of the product to help this process.