Difference between "biodegradable" and "compostable". Which bin should they be placed?

compostable vs biodegradable

Photo Source: Nature Fresh Farm; https://www.naturefresh.ca/why-sustainable-packaging-is-important/

 

 

Two of the questions that we get queried a lot from our lovely followers are, "What is the difference between biodegradable & compostable?" and "Which bin should they be placed in?"

"Biodegradable" & "compostable" are often used interchangeably and we understand how it can confuse consumers. There are many differences between them BUT the similarities are that they have to be placed in an environment that facilitates its breakdown.

The important thing to know is that, whilst compostable materials are biodegradable, NOT ALL biodegradable materials are compostable.

Let's elaborate further, by first, understanding the terms "degradable", "biodegradable" and "compostable" and then indicating WHICH BIN should they be disposed in. Let's dive right into it!

1. Degradable

Essentially means (of materials/substances) capable of being decomposed chemically or biologically. So, technically, EVERYTHING is degradable.

These materials are usually made from substances WITH other chemicals added, including heavy metals, that cause the material to breakdown & disintegrate over time when exposed to sunlight & heat. 

The problem with such materials is that it is not completely dissolved in nature & contaminates our environment with microplastics that can end in foodchain. Animals can consume the smaller pieces of plastic more readily than they would if the bags were still whole and much more difficult to remove these tiny pieces of plastic from the environment than it is to remove a single bag. 

🗑  WHICH BIN should they be disposed in? 🗑 

GENERAL WASTE. E.g. of degradable materials are conventional plastic bags, soft plastics, styrofoam

 

2. Biodegradable

The term "bio-degradable" means (of materials/substances) capable of being decomposed by bacteria or other living organisms.

Natural mineral-based, animal-based and of course, plant-based are generally biodegradable. In normal conditions, they will breakdown and disintegrate back into the earth. This process can take months/years, depending on what the materials are i.e. food scraps, or paper which breakdown rapidly whereas aluminium, steel, glass bottle can take longer time.

Materials that are biodegradable in nature may not biodegrade properly in landfills where the environment is insufficient of water, bacteria and light to assist the process. This, then, causes the material to breakdown anaerobically, which releases harmful methane, leading to an increase of greenhouse effect.

Hence, it is important to know which biodegradable materials are compostable or recyclable to determine which bin they go into. Biodegradation may seem like a more natural way of breaking up material, however, it isn't exactly eco-friendly as it can just end up adding more wastes to the pile.

🗑  WHICH BIN should they be disposed in? 🗑 

Biodegradable materials that are compostable (e.g. food scraps, tree leaves): COMPOST BIN (check with your local council - green bin, over here, where I live Glen Eira council)

Biodegradable materials that are recyclable (commingled recyclables e.g. cardboard, milk cartons, papers, tin cans): RECYCLE BIN  

Biodegradable materials that are neither compostable or recyclable (biodegradable-certified plastic bags, used tissue papers, rubber, latex ): GENERAL WASTE

 

3. Compostable

Essentially means (of organic matter, or products) capable to disintegrate into non-toxic, natural elements. Compostable products, such as Ecotasticpack mailers (as you already know 😉 ) are usually made of polylactic acid (PLA), derived from corn starch or sugar cane, and will completely breakdown into natural elements through fungi, bacteria, insects and worms. Similarly, these should be done in a sufficient environmental settings i.e. sunlight, oxygen, water, nitrogen, carbon. See previous blog post here, to learn more about the process.

Compostable products breakdown much faster than degradable & biodegradable products, which is generally 90 - 180 days. The added advantage is that they breakdown into nutrient-rich matter, which is great for the garden, leaving behind no toxic residue.

As the case with biodegradable products, it should be disposed in the right bin or better yet, COMPOST AT HOME to avoid these materials ending up in landfills, which generates harmful methane.

For products, packagings, carry bags, cutleries, etc., to be classified as compostable in Australia, they have to meet the Australian Standard for compostability AS4736 which means they can be industrially compost, and AS5810 which is a strict requirement for home compostability.

compostable, home compostable, biodegradable, sustainable packaging

We are proud to emphasise that Ecotasticpack mailers are ethically sourced from our manufacturer that has meet these standards & proudly possess these certification ✨✨

🗑  WHICH BIN should they be disposed in? 🗑 

COMPOST BIN (green bin, or check with your local council).

Pro-tip: These bags can be used to line your kitchen caddy for collection of food scraps, and then disposed into the green-lidded bin!

Or better yet, home composting! 😉 

 

Sources:

"Compostable VS Degradable and Biodegradable Bags": https://www.burnside.sa.gov.au/files/assets/public/environment-amp-sustainability/waste-recycling-amp-composting/waste-collection/what-goes-in-which-bin/compostable-degradable-and-biodegradable-bags-fact-sheet.pdf

"What's The Difference between Biodegradable & Compostable?": https://www.floraandfauna.com.au/blog/whats-the-difference-between-biodegradable-and-compostable