Is my product biodegradable? Compostable?
“Biodegradable” and “compostable” are often used interchangeably, but they’re not the same thing. Let’s clear some things up:
A product is biodegradable if it can be broken down without oxygen by bacteria or other living organisms such as fungi into carbon dioxide, water, and biomass. Biodegradation is a natural process where things disintegrate into their component parts and return to nature.
Most things can biodegrade. But time matters! Yesterday’s newspaper can biodegrade within six weeks. The leftover apple core needs about two months. Your plastic bottle won’t disintegrate for at least 100 years. Technically speaking, everything is biodegradable, but some things need 10,000 years! Because the definition of biodegradable doesn’t specify a time limit, consumers can get easily confused, and companies can misleadingly claim that a product is biodegradable. The less time a product takes to biodegrade the more environmentally friendly it is.
And that’s not it. Conditions are important too: some products will biodegrade in nature but won’t successfully biodegrade in landfills, where most of our solid trash ends up. If a product can biodegrade in a landfill it reduces waste buildup and contributes to a safer, cleaner and healthier environment. Products may be advertised as “biodegradable,” but may not actually break down in landfills because the conditions there aren’t right.
A product is compostable if it can break down into carbon dioxide, water, inorganic compounds and biomass in a compost environment. Compostable items return to earth safely and leave no toxins. Some even provide earth with nutrients as they break down. Most compostable products take about 90 days to break down completely.
So, what’s the difference?
Biodegradable products can break down naturally while compostable products need a specific compost environment in order to break down. Composting is usually faster and more beneficial to the environment.