Were you ever told at primary school that all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares? It is a great example of two terms that aren’t necessarily interchangeable and it’s the same for the terms biodegradable and compostable. It is important to know the difference because it is one of those sneaky marketing ploys that companies use to make us think something is sustainable when in reality it isn’t.
Not only is it important to know the difference, but it is also important that we consider home composting, as currently, as much as 40% of the waste products that go into our bins can actually be composted at home.
What does biodegradable mean?
Biodegradable simply means that eventually (a very important word here) a material will break down – with the help of some microorganisms – into smaller and smaller parts. Notice how generic that is? In fact some plastics are biodegradable but this isn’t necessarily good. Why? Because when a plastic breaks down into smaller and smaller parts, it will break down into microplastics, which can actually be toxic.
Going back to that key word – eventually – in order for something to be classed as biodegradable, there is actually no given time frame. This means that if something will break down in 1000 years it can still be classed as biodegradable.
Make sure you aren’t caught out by this as even items such as nappies can be classed as biodegradable.
What about composting?
For those mathsy people among you, compostable material is essentially a subset of biodegradable material. Going back to this square vs rectangle scenario – just like a square is to a rectangle.
Compostable materials are those which will break down into organic matter that is non-toxic, and will not have a negative impact on the environment (provided the conditions are right). Once compostable materials have decayed, the matter left behind can be returned to the earth and will nourish plants.
Unlike biodegradable materials, compostable material will break down much faster, usually within a few weeks.
Home Compostable vs Commercially compostable
So we understand the difference between biodegradable and compostable! Awesome. We’re good to go and live our best sustainable lives. Well almost… Super annoyingly, there is actually more than one type of compostable which often catches consumers out.
Home compostable means that if you pop the item into your compost bin, in a few weeks or months time it will have broken down and will be ready to be used to give your plants a little treat!
Commercially compostable (or insustrially compostable) is different, however. Industrial composting is a process that has been developed to break material down into nutritional agricultural material, however it differs significantly to home composting. In short, it is essentially a very specifically controlled environment.
Some companies like to use this one as well as a marketing ploy as many people don’t know there is a difference.
The Moral of the Story
The moral of the story is make sure that when you are buying ‘eco-friendly’ products you check to see whether the materials are biodegradable, home compostable or industrially compostable. Home compostable is always the best bet!
Today’s post is a definitely one of the shorter ones I have done however I hope you have got something important from it. Make sure to check in on my YouTube channel on Wednesday for a new video and back here on Thursday for another blog post. Speak soon.