Do you know the difference between biodegradable and compostable?

Updated: 5 days ago

You must hear about biodegradable and compostable packaging, but do you really know the differences they exist? Here is something you should know, including how to dispose of them.


As a brand, YUYUN has committed to producing pure products since we established. Pureness unlimited is our slogan and our first achievement was making our tea and its pouch 100% plastic-free. We do not want our products to end up on the landfill, therefore, all our packaging is either compostable or recyclable.


It might sound like a little bit confusing. You might ask what is the difference between degradable, biodegradable and compostable materials? What do them actually mean? Which bin should I place them in?


Degradable

Degradable bags are made from plastic with other chemicals added (including heavy metals) that cause the plastic to break down and disintegrate over time when exposed to sunlight and heat.



If degradable bags are released into our environment they become quite problematic as they break down into hundreds of tiny pieces of plastic. Animals can consume smaller pieces of plastic more readily than they would if the bags were still whole. It is also much more difficult to remove hundreds of tiny pieces of plastic from the environment than it is to remove a single bag.


So which bin? Degradable bags should only be used for and placed into your residual waste bin.



Biodegradable

“Biodegradable” is a term that has no official definition or requirements, often misleading brands, retailers and consumers. Simply put, something is “biodegradable” if it can be disintegrated by bacteria, fungi, or some other biological process. If you look at the word itself, the meaning is right there. “Bio” meaning “life,” “degrade” meaning to break down, and “able” of course meaning that it can happen. Biodegradation is basically just the process of nature taking its course and breaking down materials to their parts. Pretty simple, right?


Anything biodegradable will break down quickly and safely into mostly harmless compounds. But what makes a substance biodegradable? Anything that is plant-based, animal-based or natural mineral-based product is usually biodegradable. However, they will break down at different rates depending on the original material it’s made out of and how much it has been processed.


Biodegradable products are anything that undergoes degradation resulting from the action of naturally occurring microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, and algae. Although quickly is not defined biodegradable products are broken in way less time than non-biodegradable products.


Biodegradable objects can be much more than plants, as most people assume. It can be papers, boxes, bags, and other items that have all been created with the ability to slowly break down until they’re able to be consumed on a microscopic level.


The truth is that lots of things are biodegradable if given enough time. Plastics, in particular, are known to take decades or even centuries to break down into carbon dioxide, water, and a few other things naturally, but they will break down. So, technically speaking, they are biodegradable. Even diapers, notorious for lasting a long time in landfills, will break down eventually.


When we say that a certain product is biodegradable, all we really mean is that it will break down when placed in a landfill. This is a good thing! Obviously, we don’t want products that last forever sitting in our landfills. The key, however, is to take note of how long it takes for the product to biodegrade. Some products degrade in months, while others take years. When shopping for green products, the less time for biodegradation the better.



So which bin? Biodegradable bags should only be used for and placed into your residual waste bin.

Compostable

Composting is the process of recycling organic waste so that it can eventually be reused. The term “compostable” means products that undergo degradation by biological processes and complete break down into natural elements in a compost environment (a home compost heap or an industrial composting facility), such as CO2, water, inorganic compounds and biomass at a rate consistent with other compostable materials and leaves no visible, distinguishable or toxic residue.


Compostable products are made of natural plant starch, cause no harm to the environment. It must meet specific standards for breakdown to receive a compostability certification through microbial activity to form compost. The breakdown process usually takes weeks, months or years, depending on the conditions. Optimal heat, moisture and oxygen levels are all regulated.


Compostable products are great for the environment, but it is important to make sure that you place them in the right condition. Composting at home is one of the most effective and environmentally-responsible methods of getting rid of waste. Home composting is low maintenance; all you need is a compost bin and a little bit of garden space.


Vegetable scraps, fruit peels, grass cuttings, cardboard, eggshells, ground coffee and loose tea. They can all be put into your compost bin, along with compostable packaging. You can add your pet’s waste too.



Home composting is usually slower than commercial, or industrial composting. At home, it can take a few months to two years depending on the contents of the pile and composting conditions. Once fully composted, you can use it in your garden to enrich the soil.


If you don’t have a compost heap at home, which bin should you place it in? Much of the compostable packaging we put into our residual waste bins are still incinerated or sent to landfill. Compostable materials will still break down in landfill. It just takes substantially longer than it would in a specialised compost facility. Plus, they won’t then be separated and used as fertiliser.


What’s the difference?

Looking at the definitions of both terms it’s pretty understandable why they are so easily confused but there’s a difference.


While all compostable material is biodegradable, not all biodegradable material is compostable. Although biodegradable materials return to nature and decompose in the environment, certain biodegradable products can take several years to break down and in some cases even leave toxic waste behind, on the other hand, compostable materials create something called humus that is full of nutrients and great for plants. Compostable materials leave no toxic substances or pollutants in the soil when they break down. In fact, the compost produced can be used in the same way as soil or plant fertiliser.



In summary, compostable products are biodegradable, but with many added benefits include fertilising and improving soil health. That is, when they break down, they release valuable nutrients into the soil, aiding the growth of trees and plants.



Besides, the primary difference between compostable and biodegradable is that compostable products require a specific setting to break down, whereas biodegradable products break down naturally. Typically composting is a faster process, but only under the right conditions. Both of these kinds of products are better for the environment than plastic products that can take hundreds of years to disintegrate.


What can you do?

Compostable materials are usually more expensive to produce than mass-produced non-degradable plastics. But as an environmentally conscious brand, YUYUN believes that it is worthy to use such an innovative new material to protect our mother earth. Here we advocate our customers to step a little bit further to support us.


Start by checking out the green waste collection services offered by your local council. If your council provides a food waste collection service, small amounts of compostable packaging can be added to your food waste bin. Or organise a communal compost heap with your neighbours? You can also find your nearest zero waste store and avoid packaging altogether!



Stand with us, let’s make our life greener!

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