Heard of these terms, but not sure exactly what the distinction is? You’re not alone!

You’d be forgiven for assuming these two eco-friendly words mean the same thing. The terms biodegradable and compostable are frequently used when referencing the abundance of green products and packaging currently on the market; it may sometimes even seem that the two are used interchangeably.

While they share a lot of similarities, there’s a key difference that you, as an everyday environmentalist, should be aware of.

Compostable leaves nothing behind

A biodegradable product is anything that breaks down and decomposes in the environment. This can often happen over a longer period of time and while some materials disappear completely, others can leave a toxic residue behind. On the other hand, something that’s compostable is made entirely from organic matter and breaks down quickly into nutrient-rich soil. The bonus of compostable products is they’re actually very good for the earth!

The compost heap, not the garbage bin

It’s important to note that both biodegradable and compostable products will not be able to decompose as designed if thrown away with the garbage. They need to be disposed of in a proper home or industrial composting facility. If they end up in landfills, their eco-friendly properties are rendered almost useless. In fact, if disposed of with general waste, it may take the same amount of time for them to decompose as it would for a standard piece of non-biodegradable plastic.

Compostable is biodegradable (with added benefit) 

To confuse matters even more, all products that are compostable are also biodegradable, but the same is not always true in reverse. This is due to the residue that is sometimes left behind by biodegradable products. This doesn’t happen if the product is made from organic matter. To put it simply, compostable products are biodegradable, but with an added benefit. When they’re decomposed by microorganisms, they create something called humus, which is full of valuable nutrients for the soil. This nourishing component is a fantastic food for the garden and aides the growth of trees and plants.

Find out more about how to treat both biodegradable and compostable products after use!