Biodegradable and compostable. These are two words that are often used interchangeably. But, they most definitely have their differences. Here’s what they are:
To put it in the most simple way, a biodegradable material is not necessarily compostable, but a compostable material is always biodegradable.
Yes. Confusing. Me too… here is a little more explanation:
Biodegradable is a classification on a material that will break down to organic biomass in a “reasonable amount of time”. This amount of time is not specified, so the title is up to the producer if their break down time is reasonable or not. Biodegradable materials can be broken down with or without oxygen by microorganisms such as fungi, bacteria, and algae. These microorganisms are all that is needed to degrade these materials.
Bottom line: Biodegradable will break down with the help of little organisms eventually, but eventually is never defined.
As for composting…
Composting is a classification on a material that will break down into organic biomass at an average rate of organic materials such as paper or leaves. This is said to be around 90 days. This process needs oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen to break down properly. And when broken down, there is no toxic residue left over.
Bottom line: Composting is a form of biodegrading. It has a set rate of breaking down of around 90 days. This process does need oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen to be efficient.
In cases of both compostable and biodegradable materials, if thrown into a landfill, they either do not break down or break down incredibly slow. With biodegradable materials, this is because of the lack of space and microorganisms within the landfill. And for compostable materials, this is because of the lack of carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen to break the items down.
If you buy these products, try to dispose of them correctly. You can either throw compostable materials into your personal compost pile/bin or many communities have a community pile! Call your town/city hall or rec department to find out where it is. You could also donate it to a local farmer! For biodegradable materials that are not-compostable (some biodegradable plastics and oxo-biodegradable plastics), there has not been a confirmed way to dispose of them besides the landfill. Your best bet is to avoid buying them until further notice.
Both compostable and biodegradable materials are a step in the right direction if disposed of properly. However, if you simply buy these products and throw them into the landfill thinking they will break down, this is a common misconception. Start a compost bin! You can cut down on 60% of your waste by doing so. Plus, it is easy, rewarding and allows you to produce a beautiful garden!