What does biodegradable mean?
What about compostable?
When comparing biodegradable vs compostable how easy is it to get the two terms and their meanings confused?
Many people get a little confused on the difference between “biodegradable” and “compostable” materials. Some items may overlap and fit into both of these categories, but the two terms are not the same thing.
When you’re planning to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle and reduce waste in your household, it’s important to understand the difference between biodegradable and compostable materials. This way, you won’t run the risk of putting the wrong item into the wrong bin and effectively contributing to the waste problem anyway.
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Keep the following information in mind:
- Biodegradable is a term that refers to items that can be broken down in an organic way. For example, anything that can break down when exposed to fungi or microorganisms is a biodegradable material. This is a completely natural process that is really just nature doing what it has always done—reclaiming materials.
- Many items are biodegradable depending on the circumstances and the amount of time available for them to biodegrade. Even some items you might not expect at all can break down biologically over a long period of time.
- Something that is compostable, however, can be broken down into compost through a very similar but slightly different biological process.
- Compost breaks down when exposed to heat, water, and microorganisms too. It can then be mixed with moisture, soil, air, and heat to create a completely broken-down material that is often used for growing healthy plants organically.
- Some items are compostable but not biodegradable, and some are the other way around. Some items that can biodegrade can also be safely added to a composting pile, like fruit or vegetables, but others cannot.
In this article, we’ll give you some of the basics you need to know in order to better understand biodegradable and compostable materials. Read on to brush up on these terms!
All About Biodegradable and Compostable Terminology
Below, we’ll give you a quick rundown of the difference between the terms “biodegradable” and “compostable.” You’ll find out if there are any similarities between the two as well as any differences you need to keep track of when planning your eco-friendly, sustainable, and healthier lifestyle. Brush up on this information to find out the best way you can help improve the local environment.
Are these terms interchangeable?
- No; the two terms do not mean the same thing. Biodegradable items can be broken down by nature regardless of the amount of time it takes to allow this to happen. Compostable items can be added to a compost pile and used to provide nutrients to the soil used for growing plants.
- Many biodegradable items can also be composted, and many compostable items are also biodegradable. They do not all overlap, however, and it can be tricky to tell the difference between the two, especially if you’re new to the concepts.
What are some of the essential differences between these two terms that can help you keep them straight?
- Biodegradable items always break down eventually. Even if they are left entirely alone in a landfill, they will break down, even if it takes decades or centuries for that to happen.
- Compostable items will also break down, but they don’t usually take nearly as long. The process can be sped up by human intervention and by adding them to a functioning composting pile.
- Biodegradable items can still contribute to pollution. As they break down, they may release chemicals into the groundwater at landfills and cause significant water pollution issues.
- Compostable items do not cause pollution when they break down. They are safe to add to the soil and are used for healthy plant growth.
What are some items that are biodegradable, and how long do they take to break down?
- Paper – two weeks for natural paper and up to six weeks for treated paper.
- Natural fabrics such as jute, cotton, silk, and wool – around a month for completely natural fibers and up to five months for those that have been treated or dyed unnaturally.
- Keep in mind that natural fabrics that are blended with synthetic fabrics (such as polyester) will not break down.
- Diapers – up to 500 years. Yes, it can take diapers centuries to decompose completely, and this is a big reason why cloth diapers have seen a resurgence in popularity in recent years. Feminine hygiene products may take almost as long to break down, too.
- Cosmetics and hair care – up to 400 years. If these cosmetics include plastic in their packaging, containers, or materials, they can take centuries to break down.
- Beeswax, on the other hand, can break down in just a few months, so stick to beeswax and other all-natural cosmetics for best results.
What are some items that are compostable, and why are they great additions to a compost pile?
- Paper – You can add paper to a compost pile as long as it isn’t glossy or waxy. This choice breaks down fast and doesn’t add any unwanted issues to the pile, even if it has ink printed on it.
- Wine – Wine that’s gone bad can be added to the pile as long as you pour it out of the bottle first. Add that bottle to the recycling bin while you’re at it!
- Animal waste – Animal waste contributes to groundwater pollution, but adding it to the compost pile gives it a new purpose.
- Food waste – Food waste takes up a lot of space in landfills that could be used for other items. Add it to the compost pile to put it to work in a sustainable way.
Why is it necessary to keep track of which term refers to which definition?
- By learning the differences between these two terms, you’ll be better able to live sustainably, organically, and in an eco-friendly way.
Is something that is biodegradable more eco-friendly than something that is compostable, or is it the other way around? Overall, something that is compostable is more eco-friendly than something that is biodegradable. Since all plastics will eventually break down in landfills, they can still be considered biodegradable. However, since they may take many decades to break down completely and will release harmful chemicals into the soil as they go through the process, they are not eco-friendly at all.
Compostable materials do not have this issue; they don’t contribute to pollution and, in fact, they make it easier to live a low-waste lifestyle. Therefore, they are the more eco-friendly of the two options. If you’re looking to improve your environmentalism, you should try to stick to compostable items whenever possible.
Remember, however, that it is not a bad thing to buy or use biodegradable items. Just because compostable items are safer and healthier, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should just avoid anything with “biodegradable” on the label. However, if you’re trying to contribute to the overall health and wellbeing of the planet and of your local environment, it’s generally better to stick to compostable items instead of biodegradable ones.
In the end, if you use both of these types of materials, you’ll be living a low-waste lifestyle. Just be cautious about biodegradable materials you purchase and, as always, try to cut down on the use of chemicals and plastics in your household too.