Biodegradable or Compostable: What’s the Difference?

Jan 15, 2023

Biodegradable and compostable plastic is becoming a more frequent option on store shelves as the demand for “green” products grows. Given the fact that a dump truck’s worth of plastic waste enters our oceans each minute, it’s not surprising that people are looking to use their purchasing power in ways that will presumably leave a smaller footprint.

Compostable and biodegradable are two terms that are commonly used in the world of sustainable living. They are both great ways to reduce waste, but it's important to understand the difference between the two.

When it comes to choosing sustainable products, it's important to consider the environmental impact of the product's entire life cycle. From production to disposal, each step of a product's life cycle can have an impact on the environment, so choose products that are designed to minimize that impact as much as possible.


We often see the word ‘biodegradable’ on some products that we buy, such as biodegradable waste bags, But what does it actually mean?

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 products 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.

According to the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), biodegradables are anything that undergoes degradation resulting from the action of naturally occurring microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, and algae, refers to a material or substance that can be broken down and decomposed by living organisms into natural elements, such as water, carbon dioxide, and other natural substances. In short, it is nature's way of recycling waste into valuable nutrients.

Although quickly is not defined biodegradable products are broken in way less time than non-biodegradable products like plastic for instance.

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 concept of biodegradability has become increasingly important in recent years as the world struggles with waste management and pollution. By using biodegradable products, we can help reduce our carbon footprint and contribute to a more sustainable future for generations to come.

Biodegradable materials come in various forms, including plastics, paper products, and food waste. Some examples of biodegradable items include cornbased plasticbags, bamboo toothbrushes, and organic food scraps.

In conclusion, biodegradability is an essential factor in creating a healthier environment for ourselves and the planet. By being conscious of our products and their environmental impact, we can take steps towards a more sustainable and cleaner future. Let's make the change, and let's make it happen.


Compostable means that a product is capable of breaking down into natural elements in a compost environment. Because it’s broken down into its natural elements it causes no harm to the environment. The defines compostables as anything that undergoes degradation by biological processes during composting to yield CO2, water, inorganic compounds and biomass at a rate consistent with other compostable materials and leaves no visible, distinguishable or toxic residue.

The term "compostable" refers to a product or material that biodegrades under specific, human-driven circumstances. Unlike a completely natural biodegradation process, organic composting requires human intervention.


Compostable degradation is a process that occurs when certain materials break down and return to their natural state through the actions of microorganisms. These materials can include food waste, yard waste, paper products, and other organic matter. Compostable materials are able to biodegrade in a controlled environment, where they can be exposed to heat, moisture, and oxygen, which stimulates the growth of microorganisms that break down the materials.

This process of compostable degradation is essential for maintaining healthy soil, as it helps to replenish nutrients and improve soil structure. Composting can be done at home, in backyard gardens, or at commercial composting facilities, and it provides a sustainable solution for reducing waste and enhancing #soil quality.

During the #composting process, microbes break down organic matter with the help of humans, who provide the water, oxygen and organic matter needed to optimize conditions. The composting process usually takes a few months or 1-3 years. Timing is affected by variables such as oxygen, water, light, and the type of composting environment.

There are two main types of compost:

Residential composting: Residential composting involves collecting food scraps into bins or piles, mixing them with yard waste, and periodically breaking it down into more basic organic matter. For this reason, you can't break down things like meat, cheese, and fish in a residential trash can because there simply won't be enough heat generated.

Commercial composting: Commercial composting involves sifting and sorting organic and inorganic matter, breaking them down with chippers and grinders, and creating optimal conditions of humidity, temperature, and oxygen. As a result, commercial composters are capable of breaking down more complex products than home composters.


Concern raised by the compost industry, which was faced with materials that claimed to be biodegradable or compostable, led to the development of the European Standard EN 13432 which lays down criteria for what can or cannot be described as compostable and what can be called biodegradable.


The US Standard ASTM D6400-99 also sets out similar standards. Many items that are labeled as “biodegradable” are not accepted by composting facilities because they take too long to break down and/or will not decompose entirely, disrupting the composting cycle. However, materials that meet either the European or US Standards will break down effectively in virtually all composting systems.


If you want to know more about biodegradable and compostable products, contact #UPPBIO at