First up in the biodegradable vs compostable fight is: Biodegradable. A product described as biodegradable means it can be broken down by natural processes and organisms like fungi or bacteria. But there is no universal definition for biodegradation beyond that. Usually, given the right conditions of light, biodegradable products do break down relatively quickly and certainly faster than plastic-based products. Sounds pretty easy, doesn’t it?
However, the problem with products labelled as biodegradable is that, technically, everything is biodegradable given enough time. Whether it takes one year or one thousand years. In fact, The Guardian reported back in 2016 that plastic bottles and bags said to be biodegradable were a “false solution” to the world’s plastic problem. The other challenge is that biodegradable products sometimes leave behind toxins like microplastics and metal residues with which they’ve been made. So biodegradable products are better than traditional plastic but they are not a bullet-proof choice.
Just like there is no universal definition for biodegradation, there are multiple definitions for composting. No wonder there is so much biodegradable vs compostable confusion!
Although compostable sounds pretty self-explanatory, there’s a whole heap (get it?) of information out there that can make composting more confusing than it has to be. Our favourite (and easiest to digest) definition is from the Ellen McArthur Foundation. They describe composting as the “breakdown of organic matter to product soil with high organic content”. Materials labelled as compostable are certified to break down completely and quickly (leaving behind no harmful residues) and they pose no harm to the environment if disposed of properly. In fact, they have a positive impact on the environment by breaking down into important nutrients the soil needs to thrive.
The only tricky part with composting is how you compost. If you’re lucky enough to have a garden, you can compost at home. Items like our Seep sponges and cloths, garden cuttings and foodstuffs can be tossed into your (hopefully well-managed!) compost bin where they will turn into nutrients for your soil instead of taking up space in a landfill. Alternatively, lots of local councils now collect food waste and process it in an industrial composting facility which breaks things down faster than at home. Check out if your council does here. If they don’t, you need to lobby them!
Make sure you check those labels! Some packaging products that claim to be compostable will only degrade if entered into an industrial composting facility.
Biodegradable vs Compostable: Which is better?
Hopefully, we’ve helped to shed a bit more light on the differences.
Although both are better than nothing, the key takeaway here is that compostable is better than biodegradable. Compostable products do require a compost bin (or your local council will pick it up for free) but are typically much faster at breaking down compared to biodegradable materials and the main benefit is that they have a positive effect on the soil. Here at Seep, we definitely prefer compostable and our aim is that all of our products can seep back into the earth as quickly as possible and leave no trace on our planet.