Biodegradable and compostable are two buzzwords that float around in the sustainability sphere. Companies often use them as marketing techniques to make their products appear more eco-friendly and many consumers can fall into the trap of greenwashing due to this. A lot of this stems from consumers not understanding the difference between biodegradable and compostable, which is super important. In today’s post I will share with you exactly what the difference is between biodegradable and compostable materials, answer some common questions and show you some of my favorite compostable products too.
FYI, this is a guest post written by Little By Lottie, a zero waste advocate and blogger. This post contains affiliate links. This means if you choose to purchase one of these items I will make a very small commission at no extra charge to you. Please see my disclosure policy for more information.
The Difference Between Biodegradable and Compostable
Is biodegradable better than compostable?
Nope! Compostable is actually better. Provided things are home compostable, it is much better for the environment. Compostable materials break down into smaller particles which will eventually nourish the earth and bring about new life.
In contrast, biodegradable simply means that an item will eventually breakdown. In some cases, a biodegradable material can actually be toxic to the earth. Compostable materials are a type of biodegradable materials but not all biodegradable materials are compostable.
Examples of compostable items include:
- Coffee grounds
- Dried leaves
- Uncoated papers/cardboards
- Vegetables + fruits
These can all break down into nutrient dense compost under the right conditions in a matter of weeks. However, it’s worth noting compostable items do not compost in a landfill due to lack of oxygen and sunlight.
Here’s a full list of compostable items around the home. FYI, compost can be used in your garden to boost the health of your soil and grow a flourishing garden. It’s a great way to recycle your food scraps too!
Can biodegradable be put in compost?
No. You should only put items that are compostable into the compost bin. Biodegradable items aren’t always compostable. It is also wise to check if a product is home compostable and not just compostable in an industrial facility, before putting compostable items in your compost bin.
Is compostable plastic and biodegradable plastic the same thing?
No they aren’t. It is important to remember that while all compostable plastics are also biodegradable, not all biodegradable plastics are compostable. This means all will eventually break down into smaller pieces over time, however, only plastics labeled as compostable should go into the compost bin.
What is the difference between biodegradable compostable and recyclable?
Biodegradable simply means that eventually a material will break down – with the help of some microorganisms – into smaller and smaller parts. This isn’t always good though. For example, some plastic can be technically classed as biodegradable as it will break down into microplastics, which can actually be toxic. There is no time frame in which something has to break down, so biodegradable items could still be there 1000 years later.
Compostable materials are those which will break down into organic matter that is non-toxic, and will not have a negative impact on the environment (provided the conditions are right). Once compostable materials have decayed, the matter left behind can be returned to the earth and will nourish plants. Compostable materials tend to break down much faster than biodegradable items.
Recycling is completely different, it is defined as processing a material in such a way that it can be turned into something new. Be careful with recycling too, especially with plastics. Many plastics aren’t actually recycled, and can only be recycled a finite number of times. It is definitely not a get out of jail free card.
Are biodegradable containers compostable?
As I have said before, some are and some aren’t. Similarly, some containers are industrially compostable but not home compostable. Companies like Vegware, are notorious for having industrial compostable products, which will not break down at home. When products aren’t labeled clearly, this can make things quite confusing and even be a form of greenwashing. Make sure to keep your eyes out.
What are some compostable products?
Now you know difference between biodegradable and compostable. Great! But what sustainable products are considered compostable? And which of them are worth investing in?
I’ve rounded up a few of my favorite compostable products for you. To make your life easier, I’ve gone ahead and highlighted their eco-friendly features in bullet points. Then give a little more detail underneath.
Here are some of the best compostable products on the market right now!
- Plastic-free bandages
- Made from 100% organic + natural bamboo fiber with a mineral-based pressure sensitive adhesive (PSA)
- Individual wrappers made from compostable, uncoated rice paper
- Canister made from recyclable cardboard
- Multiple varieties + sizes available (including compostable body tape)
- Sensitive and Children’s Options
- Home Compostable
- Vegan, cruelty-free and latex free
Many conventional bandages have plastic in them, from the container, internal wrapping or the bandage itself. Patch Bandages comes in a canister made from recycled cardboard and the bandages + wrapping are completely compostable. They come in various sizes, types and even have specific designs for burns, grazes, cuts and blisters. They are totally plastic free and are safe to use on sensitive skin too. And I love the fact they started selling compostable body tape as well!
- Compostable cling wrap perfect for lunch and snacks
- BPI Certified compostable bioplastic
- Home and industrially compostable
- Plant based resin
- Woman owned business
Americans use 100 billion plastic bags a year, which requires 12 million barrels of oil to manufacture! A simple swap you can make is to use this compostable cling wrap. It has been tested to be both home and industrially compostable, and is perfect for switching out conventional plastic cling wrap or plastic baggies. I also love it comes pre-perforated, making the slog of packing a lunch that much easier.
- Compostable liners for compost pails + bins
- Made from Compostable Plant Plastic
- Can Use in Curbside Composting
- B Corp Certified
- Plastic Bank Partner
If you would rather line your compost caddy, these home waste bags are perfect. These bags have been certified as compostable plant plastic, so you can be sure they are safe to use. They have a 2.5 gallon capacity, so will be plenty for most households and will fit standard size countertop compost caddies. They are safe to put directly into your curbside composting, or if you fancied something a little different, you could also add them to your local pet waste compost bin.
Also this company is partnered with Plastic Bank to measure, reduce and offset their plastic use. This means they’re funding cleanups and recycling infrastructure in developing nations. Though this particular product of theirs isn’t plastic, it’s good to know Full Circle Home is being proactive about the plastic waste problem.
Note from Ariana: I use these all the time in my compost pail and can vouch for their sturdiness. Not all compostable bags are made the same. I’ve tried other brands out and they ALWAYS rip. But not these! I can fill them up a ton and they hold up to the test.
Pelacase are the first compostable phone cases in the world. They are made from an innovative, slightly flexible shock absorbing bioplastic and flax straw. They come in a variety of different designs to suit everyone, with fits for the majority of phones. The company are dedicated to creating, not just these vegan products but also a better world to live in. They do this by ensuring 1% of all of their profits go back to environmental organizations.
Note from Ariana: I have the Seashell Monarch Butterfly case, along with the compostable phone grip and a zero waste screen protector. And I absolutely love it! Not only is the design beautiful, but everything is so functional and keeps my phone safe at all times. Cannot recommend enough, I’m kind of obsessed!
Before you jump in headfirst to help reduce the huge number of single use plastic dog poop bags everyday, make sure you educate yourself. Pet poop can be toxic if not composted safely so either look into commercial composting facilities, such as a local pet poop bin or learn to neutralize harmful bacteria yourself using sawdust. Having said that, these poop bags are a great way to reduce your plastic waste and are suitable to compost at home and industrially.
Flossing is an important part of our oral hygiene routines, but many conventional flosses are made of plastic. This compostable floss comes in a glass and metal dispenser, with refills available. The floss itself is certified compostable and made of corn based PLA and vegetable waxes. Not only good for removing plaque but it also leaves your breath smelling fresh from added essential oils.
- Loofah shower scrubber
- Comes from the luffah plant
- Made of Sustainably Harvested Gourd
- Composts at Home in 30 days
- Gently Exfoliates
This is going to sound a bit out there, but have you ever considered washing yourself with a plant? Conventional loofahs are not only made of plastic, but also are breeding grounds for bacteria. These natural loofahs are great, and I use one myself. They are made from a gourd closely related to the cucumber family, and are perfect for washing yourself, while gently exfoliating your skin. When it has come to the end of it’s life, it is super easy to compost at home, and will have disappeared in just 30 days.
- Pot scrubber that helps get stuck-on grime off dishes, pans + pots
- Made with an ergonomic bamboo handle and tough palm fiber bristles
- 100% compostable materials
- 1% for the planet member
- Plastic Free
Say goodbye to those horrible plastic dish brushes and make way for this 100% compostable pot scrubber. Whether you want the soft brush for everyday use, or the abrasive bristles for the more tricky food residue, you can be sure that you are getting a totally plastic free and compostable product. A top tip, to make your product last longer, is to make sure you store the scrubber with the bristles facing downwards, to help it dry quicker. Not only is the product great but the company is willing to go the extra mile and donate 1% of their profits to environmental organizations too.
Do you feel more confident now that you know the difference between biodegradable and compostable? What are some of your favorite compostable products? Let me know in the comments!
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Guest post: Hi, my name is Lottie and I have my own zero waste blog too (it’s littlebylottie.co.uk if you want to check it out or @littlebylottie on Instagram). I live across the pond in England and am super passionate about sharing easy changes you can make in your life to have a huge impact on the planet. I’ve been lucky enough to have a chat with Ariana on a few occasions. I’m so pleased to have this opportunity to write for her page.