Many of our customers are confused by the wide variety of products that claim to be either compostable or biodegradable and whether these products can go into a compost container. These terms do have a key difference that 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 primary 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.
Single-use disposable items such as cups, lids, straws, utensils, and containers are particularly problematic contaminants in the organics waste stream therefore it is essential that users confirm these items are compostable before placing them in the compost bin. The good news is it’s actually straightforward to figure out. The Compost Manufacturer’s Alliance (CMA), which tests product compostability under actual field conditions, has a web page for users to search by product type and brand. The Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) also has a product certification program; items carrying the BPI Certified Compostable emblem can be composted. If an item is not CMA Approved or BPI Certified Compostable, it must go in the trash.
Remember, for a product that can turn into compost, make sure it is compostable. And when in doubt, THROW IT OUT!