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Compostable vs biodegradable: what's the difference?

By Carl Board • Wednesday 22nd September 2021

As customers become increasingly aware of the environmental impact of their purchases, words such as ‘compostable’ and ‘biodegradable’ have become more commonplace. However, they are sometimes incorrectly perceived as interchangeable. In order to truly be a conscious shopper when it comes to sourcing packaging for your business, it is important to understand exactly what these terms mean and what standards a product must achieve in order to be labelled as such.

Products that are biodegradable are defined as quickly breaking down into mostly harmless compounds. This process is undergone naturally by microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi and algae. Just how ‘quickly’ these substances break down is technically unspecified and differs depending on the specific original material and the level of processing it has been subject to. Any plant-based, animal-based or natural mineral-based product will typically be biodegradable although papers, boxes, bags and a selection of other items can also break down into microscopic particles able to be consumed organically. Be mindful, however, that any plastics labelled as biodegradable can inadvertently cause damage to the environment by breaking down into microplastics which are even harder to then remove and destroy.

Biodegradable paper based products, however, are eco-friendly as they do not pollute our environment or clog up landfill sites, instead breaking down naturally into non-toxic compounds. This reduces the huge strain our current consumption habits have put on disposal facilities in addition to curtailing the emission of excess CO2 associated with other products, particularly plastics, for example.

Compostable products are distinguished from biodegradable counterparts primarily due to their unique ability to release valuable nutrients into the soil, creating an additional positive environmental product. In other words, while biodegradable materials break down into largely non-toxic compounds, compostable items break down into organic matter that actively benefits our surroundings. The end product could fertilise or improve soil health. By breaking down in a compost environment, the process usually takes 90 days which is faster than the average biodegradable product. An item marked as compostable will leave no visible, distinguishable or toxic residue at all whereas there is the chance of tiny amounts of harmful matter being left behind by processed biodegradable objects.

Therefore, both labels are good indicators of eco-friendliness, although to be compostable is the ultimate green standard to strive for. While both varieties of sustainable material break down naturally at paces considerably faster than non-biodegradable resources such as plastic, the compostable product is enhanced further due to its beneficial end product. This actively supports our eco-system compared to simply avoiding further harm.

The majority of Kite Packaging’s paper products are biodegradable, particularly those created using the kraft method that is less processed than other varieties. For example, our bestselling hivewrap is 100% recyclable and biodegradable. This dual quality enables consumers to recycle the material at home or, should they fail to do this, your business can rest assured that the product will break down naturally with minimal harm to the environment.

To contrast, we supply EcoFlo loose fill packing chips that is an excellent example of a compostable packaging product. This void fill is an in-the-box solution manufactured from starch that is fully soluble when saturated with water. This means that no solid matter remains and the liquid can be poured onto the ground to nurture the soil under the EN13432 Standards for Compostability.

Check the specifications on each of our product pages to see the sustainable qualities of the solution your business requires. Almost every category of our website includes at least one eco-friendly product line that can either be recycled, reused, biodegraded or broken down in a compost environment. The latter isn’t always possible, hence the wealth of alternative ends we offer.

Whatever the requirements or aspirations of your company, our expert product team can help you to identify the best solution both in terms of practicality and sustainability via our Live Chat feature on our website or through the email address.

Carl Board

Carl Board

22nd September • 2021