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biodegradable vs compostable

The terms compostable and biodegradable are often incorrectly used as synonyms.



Biodegradable refers to any material that will naturally brake down, with the help of microorganisms, until it is completely decomposed, leaving only its original building blocks.


Countless products are marketed and advertised as biodegradable, therefore showcasing their environmental credential. However this may be misleading. There is in fact no legal requirement for something labelled "biodegradable" to break down within a certain amount of time, so strictly speaking, it could take 1000 years to brake down and still be biodegradable.


Compostable on the other hand, is any organic material that can be turned into compost. The main difference here is that composting does not occur naturally. It is an artificial process and as such, it is regulated. The EU Standard EN 13432 specifies that a product can be labelled as compostable if it achieves at least 90% degradation into carbon dioxide within 6 months, without leaving behind any toxic substances. Similar regulations exist for other countries, such as ASTM 6400 in the United States.


From a consumer standpoint, it is crucial to be aware of the difference and opt for certified compostable products or packaging, whenever possible. Products labelled as biodegradable should be approached with a degree of care, trying to dig a bit deeper into their eco-friendly credentials and watching out for greenwashing.


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