Biodegradable, Compostable, and Recycled Materials
Biodegradable, Compostable, and Recycled materials … no doubt you’ve heard of these different labels. But what do they actually mean? And what’s the difference between them?
There are a lot of ‘buzzwords’ getting thrown around when it comes to eco and environmentally friendly products and packaging. However they are often used interchangeably, and with unclear definitions. Even for the savviest business, it’s not always 100% clear what these terms actually mean, their impact on the environment, and what you should do with them.
The problems with the lack of guidance and clarity around these terms is that packaging is not being disposed of in the correct way. This is why knowing the difference between recycled, compostable and biodegradable is so important.
Recycling is the process of converting waste materials into new materials and objects. Although energy is used to recycle, it has less of an environmental impact than creating new and reduces waste, keeping materials in circulation for longer.
For many of our products, you will see that they use recycled materials; and therefore reduce the amount of further degradation to our planet and continuing the cycle of reuse.
There are two key terms to look for in our products: Recycled content versus post-consumer waste. Post-consumer waste is one type of recycled content; the term refers specifically to waste that has come from a discarded end product that has already been used, rather than from industrial scrap or manufacturing waste.
Remember: Biodegradable and compostable products cannot be recycled. This includes vegetable-based ‘plastic’ wraps and cups and other similar products.
Biodegradable refers to a product that can be easily decomposed by microorganisms without adding any chemicals. Instead, it is the breakdown of materials naturally, back to the earth, often with the assistance of microorganisms like bacteria or fungi. Products that are biodegradable are usually made from natural-occurring, plant or animal products and in order to be biodegradable have to break down into water, carbon dioxide and biomass.
For a material to be classified as biodegradable it has to completely break down in a comparatively short amount of time. It doesn’t need special conditions like composting, but the waste left at the end doesn’t necessarily benefit the soil around it.
Many biodegradable packaging and products do not pollute as much as traditional products. Some new developments are creating 'plastic-esque’ materials using corn, sugar cane and potato starch instead of oil. Biodegradable plastic consumer products produce 68 percent less greenhouse gasses than petroleum-based plastic products [footnote: Food Service Warehouse].
Composting is a controlled, accelerated form of biodegradation. Compostable materials are made from organic matter which micro-organism decomposers are able to break down completely to form a highly nutrient-rich soil or “compost. They include leaves, grass clippings and non-animals food scraps.
Compostable materials are great because if they are disposed of in the correct way they not only disappear back to the earth, they also improve water and nutrient retention and help grow healthier plants with less need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
Unfortunately, one problem with compostable packaging and products is that not everyone has their own compost bin or access to one. They need certain conditions in order to break down as they are organic materials. We are here to help with this as well and clearly mark any compostable products. Please feel free to reach out to start your own composting program!