Compostable and biodegradable plastic – what’s the difference and are they better?

Compostable and biodegradable plastic – what’s the difference and are they better?

It’s easy to assume that plastic labelled ‘biodegradable’ or ‘compostable’ will be better for the environment, but that isn’t necessarily so.

November 12, 2020
Biodegradable plastic bag

Biodegradable plastics

Biodegradable means an ability to break down completely into natural substances. Some biodegradable plastics are made from corn or sugar cane and some from petrochemicals.

When a packaging company says that their product is biodegradable, all they really mean is that it will break down when placed in a landfill. Some products break down in months, while others take years.

However, to do this, these items need light, oxygen and a high heat, which they may not get in landfill. Then they produce methane, which is not good for the environment.

Compostable plastic  

We’ve all heard of the good old compost heap, but in the packaging world, compostable means something quite different.

When a company calls their product ‘compostable’ it means that it can be turned into compost, but only in the right kind of conditions, which are usually found only at an industrial composting facility.

Items will not fully break down in your own home compost.

Also, both biodegradable and compostable plastic can’t be placed in your yellow top recycling bin as they contaminate the waste stream.

As with any other single use plastic, it’s best to avoid using them in the first place and find more sustainable alternatives.

What can I do?

The solution, according to plastic pollution experts, is to avoid single-use products altogether, regardless of what they are made of.

Here are 5 simple substitutions

  1. Reusable shopping bags
  2. Travel mugs
  3. Refillable water bottles
  4. Glass or stainless-steel food containers
  5. Paper bags

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