The world is becoming more sustainability conscious with increased access to recycling facilities. However, more than 90% of the world’s plastic still hasn’t been recycled. We have accumulated more than 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic in the past six decades. Most of it ends up in landfills and the seas, harming birds, marine animals, and entire ecosystems.
The industry offered plastic recycling as a solution, but it’s not feasible. It takes a lot of money, resources, and facilities to recycle plastic. So, the next big step was compostable and biodegradable packaging products.
But what’s the difference between the two?
Let’s compare the two and find out if compostable is really better than biodegradable.
The Terms Aren’t Interchangeable
Biodegradable and compostable are used interchangeably when it comes to recycling and waste management. But there are a lot of differences between the two terms. They have different processes to control consumer waste. Though they both represent the breakdown of waste, their similarities cause a lot of problems when it comes to proper disposal.
What Does Degradable Mean?
You’d often see the label of biodegradable on some products like shampoo or soap. However, there is a difference between biodegradable and plain degradable. You might’ve heard that everything is degradable. But degradable products don’t break down fully into their natural compounds.
Plastics especially are either photo-degradable or oxo-degradable into microplastics. This means every piece of plastic still exists.
So, What Does Biodegradable Mean?
In comparison, biodegradable things will break down safely into harmless compounds like water, carbon dioxide, and biomass. So, they can be repurposed by the earth. Bacteria and fungi help the decomposition process without releasing any toxic compounds into the air.
Plant-based, animal-based, or natural mineral-based products are usually considered biodegradable. However, these products break down at different rates depending on the material or their manufacturing process. Moreover, it also depends on the conditions it has to biodegrade in, for example, landfills contaminate the process with toxic chemicals. That’s why not everything biodegradable does it in a suitable amount of time.
What Does Compostable Mean?
If some material is compostable then it’s biodegradable, but biodegradable materials aren’t necessarily compostable.
Compostable products break down into natural elements in a compost environment. Unlike biodegradable products that take 6 months to degrade, compostable materials only need 90 days to break down. Composting does it by increasing the biodegradation process through temperature and moisture control. It also does it through oxygenation to optimize microbial action.
However, the process only takes place in compost piles, bins, and other compost-specific environments. The process of composting won’t happen in landfills or oceans.
The criteria for compostable products are that they must break down into fully non-toxic components and not harm the environment in any way. So, sometimes “natural” materials aren’t compostable at all. For example, wood is completely compostable, but building lumber has traces of toxic chemicals which makes it impossible to compost safely.
Compostable vs. Biodegradable: Why Compostable Is Better
Both products must break down into natural materials and leave no toxic traces behind. However, compostable products must do it faster. That’s why looking at the definitions, it makes sense why these two are confused together.
However, a notable difference between the two is that biodegradable materials break down into fewer natural elements. But compostable products leave only one single organic material behind called humus.
Humus is an organic material that formulates in the soil after plant and animal matter decays. Animal and plant remains decompose over time into most basic chemical elements. These elements play a crucial role in providing important nutrients for the soil and plants. Moreover, composting also reduces methane emissions (greenhouse gases) into the atmosphere.
In comparison, although biodegradable materials can disappear and return to nature, they sometimes leave behind metal residue. This makes compostable options a lot safer. Moreover, you can compost at home.
The Problem Lies in the Solution: Issues in Biodegradable Products
Biodegradable is a misunderstood term, and it leads people to believe products still biodegrade no matter how they’re disposed of. That’s not true at all! This blind belief is why biodegradable plastic is harming landfills and the environments. Though biodegradable materials have the potential to be the solution to our world’s waste problem, it only works when it’s processed correctly.
Most people throw biodegradable products in the trash, unlike compostable products that biodegrade in proper composting environments. So, biodegradable materials don’t get broken down properly in landfills. They get buried under trash where they can’t break down without oxygen, bacteria, and some amount of light.
You can play a crucial role in saving the environment by using sustainable and innovative compostable products.
You can buy reusable items like porcelain tableware, bamboo cutlery, food waste composting machine, etc.
Get in touch with TP Green to find out more.