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Biodegradable vs. Compostable

What does biodegradable and compostable mean? 

So, I’m guessing you’ve heard about the new(ish) guy on the block? Biodegradable.
While being around for a very very long time (much like its definition), it has become a little bit of a buzzword. Put simply, any product that is biodegradable will break down in any natural environment in any time frame. This doesn’t specify what it will break down into - most of the times it will break down into micro plastics and leave toxic residues. 1

You may also know about Biodegradable’s mate, Compostable.
By definition, compostable products break down into carbon dioxide, water, and humus - nutrients that any soil would kill for. Compostable products break down within a certain amount of time under commercial compostable conditions. 2, 4 

Another compostable friend is Home Compostable. Home Compostable products are certified to be properly broken down in a home compostable environment i.e. worm farms or organic compost. 2, 3, 4

So, compostable products are all biodegradable, but not all biodegradable products are compostable. 

compostable vs biodegradable

What’s the difference between biodegradable and compostable? 

BiodegradableCompostableHome Compostable
Where to discardLandfillCommercial / Industrial CompostingCommercial / Industrial Composting. Home Composting i.e. Worm Farms or Organic Compost
Australian standardsNo certification is required to claim 'biodegradability' in Australia
Gold standard ASA 4736:2006 2Gold standard ASA 5810:2010 2
ProsIt's hard to say ... 

Some (very few) businesses will have genuine 'biodegradability' testing such as FSC rubber decomposing into natural materials without toxic residue and rough estimates on time.

However, for the most part it is a greenwashing term that is poorly used. 5
- Creates organic matter*
- No methane production*
- Provides nutrients for soil*
- Use less water and energy during manufacturing*

*when composted in Industrial / Commercial Composting facilities. 
- Can be composted at home*
- Creates organic matter*
- No methane production*
- Provides nutrients for soil*
- Uses less water and energy during manufacturing*

*when composted in Industrial / Commercial or Home Compostable environments.
Cons- Anything is biodegradable
- Breaks down into micro-plastics which are harder to clean up
- Generally leave a toxic residue
- Likely a term used in greenwashing 
- If added to landfill it will biodegrade and produce methane
- Less than 15% of Australian councils provide commercial composting making it difficult for users to dispose of the product effectively 4
- Cannot be recycled
- Limited regeneration of product material (i.e. while it provides our gardens with organic matter, its life cycle stops there.)
- If added to landfill it will biodegrade and produce methane
- Cannot be recycled
- Limited regeneration of product material (i.e. while it provides our gardens with organic matter, its life cycle stops there.) 

So, is biodegradable and compostable the same thing?

Okay. That's a lot of info. 

Biodegradable and compostable are not the same thing. 

Biodegradable and compostable products are different. They are made from different materials, and behave differently in different disposal streams. 

Compostable products all are biodegradable, however biodegradable products are not all compostable. 

Compostable Standards

There are different standards for compostability, depending on where your product was made and where it will be composted. For example, something that is certified in Europe may smell like authentic French baguettes and speak Spanish, but it won’t be compostable in our Australian commercial composting systems. 

And remember, always look out for Australian certification by the ABA when selecting compostable products. 

Home Compostable
ASA 5810:2010

certified home compostable logo

Compostable
ASA 4736:2006 

certified compostable logo

What is better? Biodegradable or Compostable? 

Both compostable and home compostable products are fantastic alternatives to eco-friendly disposal of products, particularly packaging.

And, they’re both much better than that buzzword: Biodegradable.

Home compostable products also offer the additional benefit of being composted at home - as the name suggests!

However, both need to be disposed of safely. Remember compostable products can only compost in industrial/commercial composting facilities. Check with your local council if they accept compostable materials. In Australia, there are only 15% of councils that provide this service. For example, in the City of Melbourne, they only accept certain types of compostable material, despite if it is certified Compostable or Home Compostable. 

So what can you do if you don’t have your own home compost?

You can:
     - Use Share Waste to find a neighbour who can home compost your products for you.
     - Start your own home compost - for help with this, see our blog on starting your own worm farm at home!
      - If you’ve found yourself with some compostable products - no worries - jump on Compost Connect to find a commercial composting facility or partner near you.

Just make sure you don’t dispose of your compostable products in landfill. Collect them and dispose correctly! Or contact us and we can recycle / compost it for you! 

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