What is the Difference between Biodegradable and Compostable

What is the Difference between Biodegradable and Compostable

“There are a lot of crossovers between something being biodegradable and being compostable.” This is a statement that a friend of mine made in conversation recently. After asking a few more questions I realised that not only does she not understand the difference between these two terms, but she is not the only one. In this article we will demystify these terms.

What does it mean when something is said to be biodegradable?

With the amount of information that is available nowadays, you would think that it would be easy to know more about the effects that our lives have on the planet and the environment. However, it is easy to get overwhelmed with so much at your disposal. We are here to demystify and make it simpler to understand. Surely you have heard a lot of terms thrown about concerning recycling and how to preserve the earth. Some of the terms are technical and seem like they could be confusing. 

When something is said to be biodegradable, it means that it can be broken down within the space of a year. This process is helped along by the presence of living microorganisms in the soil. This means bacteria and other microorganisms such as fungi all work together to break the object up. When something is biodegradable it should also be broken down with releasing harmful toxins into the soil and the atmosphere. This is a natural process that breaks down different types of waste. 

How does bio-degradation work?

How biodegradation takes place, depends on various factors such an environment, climate and also the makeup of the waste. The production of natural gases also helps the process along. Different types of waste decompose differently. Organic waste in a landfill, in an anaerobic environment, produces methane gas.

This is harmful and toxic it is more toxic than the emission of carbon dioxide. This means that you need to be looking at providing the best conditions for the least harmful degradation process, which includes aerobic biodegradation. The rate at which matter decomposes is determined by several factors. Certain conditions have to be met, to have organic matter biodegrade effectively. 

It can be broken down into 3 basic processes which are assimilation, bio-fragmentation, and biodeterioration which is also known as surface-level degradation. This process changes the physical properties of the matter.

Biodeterioration happens when the matter is exposed to biological factors like fungi, sunlight chemicals in the environment and other factors. It is the process that allows the waste matter to further deteriorate. Biodeterioration is the first of the stages during biodegradation. It can also occur at the same time as bio-fragmentation. 

By definition, bio-fragmentation is the process by which bonds within a polymer are cleaved. The materials are broken down in the presence of oxygen. This is what is called aerobic digestion. If there is no oxygen, it is called anaerobic digestion. During anaerobic digestion, the volume and mass of waste materials produce natural gas and this is the technology that is used in waste management.

It is also a great source of renewable energy. What you then get after bio-fragmentation, is then integrated microbial cells and this is the third and final stage also known as assimilation. The rate at which matter decomposes is affected by light, temperature, and also the amount of oxygen available for the process to take place. 

What does compostable mean

Composting is a way of turning your leftover food and organic matter into something good for the ground and the environment. The very act of composting refers to when the waste matter can breakdown entirely to its natural elements, leaving no toxic residue in the soil, all this in the prime environment provided by a compost heap.

If something is compostable, it should be able to breakdown entirely at least within 90 days. This is an aerobic method of getting rid of organic matter, which means that there has to be air present. It is a good way to recycle organic matter.

What is compostable?

Any matter that is organic and comes from the ground, is a compostable product. If it can be broken down in a compost heap entirely within 3 months, then it is compostable. Most organic matter suits this description. Optimum conditions include the presence of natural elements like oxygen, and moisture as well as sunlight. Small pieces of food after dinner, for instance, can be thrown into the compost heap because they are compostable items. 

What is compostable waste?

Compostable waste is organic matter that you can recycle and turn into healthy minerals for the soil. At the end of the day, when you have composted waste matter, you end up getting an accumulation or the decayed matter which is called humus and is great manure for plant growth. It is important to know what is compostable and what is not.

Nowadays, plastics have joined the bandwagon of materials that can be composted. Traditional plastics can not be composted, however, modern plastics can. A new generation of plastics is now biodegradable and these are made from raw materials such as starch. These are not harmful or toxic to the soil and they decompose back into carbon dioxide, water, and biomass. Some of these plastics are from petroleum whilst some are made through fermentation.

What are compostable bags made of?

A great innovation that is fast replacing traditional shopping bags, for those who consciously decide to buy products that are eco friendly, is the compostable bag. These bags are made of vegetable matter which means that they can easily decay and it will not take time either.

It also means that you can toss it into compost without fear of releasing harmful toxins or running the risk of the bag taking years to decompose. This is the case with some bags that are said to be bio-degradable. 

What are compostable straws made of?

You can now get straws that you can throw into the compost when you are done. These are made of compostable material, which is plant starches and oil. This material that they are made of, also means that the straws easily decompose.

What to do with compostable plastic?

When you are done with compostable plastic, the best way to get rid of them is to take them to an industrial composting facility. At these facilities, the plastic is broken down with the right factors involved. 

Where to buy compostable bags

Compostable bags are widely available from retailers in environmentally conscious stores. You may be surprised to find that your local grocer stocks them as well. Be sure to ask. If you want them delivered, there are several online stores that can help. Check out the following:


Am Compostable

What is compostable plastic

Compostable plastic is plastic that you can put into the soil and be assured that it will degrade and become a part of the soil.

Where to buy compostable cups

If you are unable to find a local retailer for compostable cups. Here are some great online options:

Green Paper Products

Eco Products

GreenMan Packaging

Where to buy compostable plates

Compostable plates are probably the easiest of all of these products to find. Most chainstores will have them. Here are some online stores to get them from:


Green Paper Products

GreenMan Packaging

Whole Leaf Co




Where to buy compostable trash bags

Here are some great sources of compostable trash bags:

Bin Liners Direct

Bio Bag USA

Good Start Packaging

If you have questions or some great places where you get some of these products, please let us know in the comment section.

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