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  • Writer's pictureOlivia Wilmink

Biodegradable vs. Compostable

Biodegradable is a greenwashing term that can be confusing to conscious consumers, and it does not mean something is compostable.

Biodegradable is a buzzword companies use to make a product seem better for the environment and is commonly misinterpreted to mean something is also compostable.

However, the word is not held to any standard, and technically just means that “at any point in the future, this object will break down,” even if that’s 500 years from now.

What terms should you look for instead of biodegradable?

When you’re looking for compostable products, specifically compostable plastics, look for items labeled BPI Certified, ASTM D6400, or ASTM D6868. Those labels are important because they mean the products are held to third party standards and testing that ensure they break down properly in industrial compost operations.

For a product to be labeled compostable, it must meet these three requirements:

  • Within 90 days, 90% of the material must disintegrate into pieces two square millimeters or less in size

  • Within 180 days, 60-90% of the material will biodegrade (i.e., be broken down by microorganisms into carbon dioxide, water, biomass, and inorganic compounds)

  • Leave behind no more toxic residue or heavy metals than a control (e.g., paper).

Wood, paper, and bamboo products are also compostable alternatives to single-use plastic, but the ultimate goal should be to reduce or eliminate single-use items from our lifestyles.

Think twice before purchasing industrially compostable items.

It’s important to note that all compost facilities have different rules on what type of materials they accept. Before you put compostable plastics in your organic recycling bin, it’s best to check with your local facility.

If you do not have a local compost facility, purchasing compostable single-use items is not a recommended alternative, because landfills do not allow these items to properly decompose.

Certified compostable products are only beneficial when there is a facility that can properly handle the material, and many cities in the US do not have access to this type of organic recycling infrastructure, yet – which is why we are working hard to change that!


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