What is the Difference Between Compostable and Biodegradable?

In the never-ending search for green products and solutions, two words come up often: Compostable and Biodegradable. But what do they mean? Is one better than the other? What do you need to know?

As always, PJP is here to help. We’ve been in the business of selling disposable products for 55 years, and we have made a commitment to protecting the environment. We’ll teach you the ins, outs, pros, and cons of both Compostable and Biodegradable products.

What is Biodegradable? 

What is the Difference Between Compostable and Biodegradable?

Simply put, something is “biodegradable” if it can be disintegrated by bacteria, fungi, or some other biological process. If you look at the word itself, the meaning is right there. “Bio” meaning “life,” “degrade” meaning to break down, and “able” of course meaning that it can happen. Biodegradation is basically just the process of nature taking its course and breaking down materials to their component parts. Plastic will break down into carbon dioxide, water, and a few other things. Pretty simple, right?

The truth is that lots of things are biodegradable, if given enough time. Plastics in particular are known to take decades or even centuries to break down naturally, but they will break down. So, technically speaking, they are biodegradable. Even diapers, notorious for lasting a long time in land fills, will break down eventually.

When a packaging company says that their product is biodegradable, all they really mean is that it will break down when placed in a land fill. This is a good thing! obviously we don’t want products that last forever sitting in our land fills. The key, however, is to take note of how long it takes for the product to biodegrade. Some products degrade in months, while others take years. When shopping for green products, the less time for biodegradation the better.

What is Compostable? 

What is the Difference Between Compostable and Biodegradable?

We’ve all heard of a compost heap, right? When you take organic materials and allow it to decompose which then creates fertilizer for your soil. Composting is the process of recycling organic waste so that it can eventually be reused.

In the packaging world, compostable means something a bit different. Typically, what a packaging company means when they call their product “compostable” is that it can be turned into compost… if entered into an industrial composting facility. This is an important distinction. Compostable products do not always biodegrade naturally in a landfill. They have to be placed in the right kind of conditions, conditions that are often only found in industrial compost facilities. Compostable products will take much longer to break down if in a landfill, especially an “air locked” landfill where there will be no oxygen.

Compostable products are great for the environment, but it is important to make sure that your business has the proper waste management processes in place. Make sure that your compostable waste is going to a compost facility.

What’s the Difference? 

The primary difference between compostable and biodegradable is that compostable products require a specific setting in order to break down, whereas biodegradable products break down naturally. Typically composting is a faster process, but only under the right conditions. Both of these kinds of products are better for the environment than plastic products that can take hundreds of years to disintegrate.

Curious about what kinds of green products and solutions PJP carries? Click here to find out more! 

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Drew Gobrecht

Drew Gobrecht

Community Relations Manager

As a marketing professional working for Penn Jersey Paper, I pride myself in my ability to create quality, fresh, and relevant digital content consistently. As we all know, in today's internet-based marketing world, quality content is king. I strive to always be enhancing the customer experience here at PJP by writing of relevant blog posts, posting informative social media updates, and composing detailed product descriptions. As someone who relishes the opportunity to be creative in my job, I find that I thoroughly enjoy this work. I am excited for the opportunity to continue to grow in my marketing career and am excited for what the future holds.