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. Biodegradable is a vague term, because a biodegradable product may biodegrade in some environments and not in others in an unknown time frame. What’s cheeky here is that this doesn’t specify what it will break down into - most of the time it will break down into micro plastics and leave toxic residues. 

You may have heard of Compostable materials, well there's actually two different types. Commercial and Home.

Commercially Compostable, but is commonly known as just Compostable. By definition, commercially 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.

While he sounds like the bee’s knees - Commercially Compostable can only break down in commercial compostable conditions, outside of these he’s just biodegradable (we don't love this). 

Home Compostable products are certified to be properly broken down in a home compostable environment i.e. worm farms or organic compost.

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. 
- Creates organic matter*
- No methane production*
- Provides nutrients for soil*


*when composted in Industrial / Commercial Composting facilities. 
- Can be composted at home
- Creates organic matter*
- No methane production*
- Provides nutrients for soil*

*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 
- Cannot be recycled and if added to kerbside recycling can contaminate recovery materials
- 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 and if added to kerbside recycling can contaminate recovery materials
- 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?

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 is not recognised as compostable in our Australian commercial composting systems. This is because Australia and Europe have different ways of commercial composting. 

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 commercial compostable and home compostable products are great alternatives, but this depends on the application. Both require high levels of energy and resources, and are essentially single use as once you have used the product, say home compostable satchels, they cannot be reused and will only be broken down in specific environments, which holds the user accountable. 

If the product is certified, they’re both much better than that buzzword: Biodegradable.

However, if you find 'compostable' products that are not certified, then I would encourage you to look for other options as it likely won't be accepted in Australia's composting environments and can contaminate the material recovery.   

However, both home compostable and commercially compostable need to be disposed of safely. Remember commercially 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
      - If you’ve found yourself with some commercially 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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