Compostable Versus Biodegradable—What’s the Difference?
Many of our customers are confused by the wide variety of products that claim to be either compostable or biodegradeable and whether these products can go into a compost container. These terms do have a key difference which impacts their disposal.
For an item to be considered compostable, it must be able to break down into organic materials that can offer nutrients to the soil and plants around it. These items become usable compost in a safe and timely manner in an appropriate composting facility or home compost pile. Food scraps, yard waste, paper towels and napkins, tea bags and coffee grounds, 100% paper plates, and compostable serving ware are all compostable and can be placed in a compost container.
The term biodegradable simply means that an item will break down into smaller parts after disposal. However, being biodegradable does not mean that it is also compostable. The largest reason for this is that while a biodegradable item may break down into smaller bits, these components may not be able to provide any nutrients when used as compost. Biodegradable products can include everything from diapers to packing peanuts and these products can leave metal residue in their return to nature, something compostable materials will not. Items simply listed as biodegradable cannot be placed in your compost container, nor should biodegradable bags be used to set out your extra organic material.
If you have a product such as a disposable cup and are not sure if it can be composted, look for a label from the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) stating that it is compostable. Additionally, a product may state that it is ASTM D6400 and ASTM D6868 certified which is a certification for compostable materials. Finally, there may just be the familiar chasing arrows with a “7” inside and the letters “PLA”. This indicates it is made with plant based materials such as corn or sugar cane and is compostable.
Remember, for a product that can turn into compost…make sure it is compostable!