Eco-friendly labels are everywhere… But what is exactly the difference between degradable, biodegradable and compostable materials?
At times, it feels like that for some marketers any eco-friendly label is good enough to green wash products, without questioning its real impact on the environment. This is why we decided to break down some misleading words with this quick guide:
Degradable materials have the ability to break down into smaller pieces. This means that micro-organisms can consume some parts of the substance only. Given enough time, any material eventually decompose. In the case of plastics it takes much longer - about 2000 years. As a matter of fact, traditional plastics never completely disappears back into our soil or waters. This is how thousands of mammals end up on beaches year after ingesting small plastic pieces.
Biodegradable materials are made from plant-based materials like corn and wheat starch and at times plastics, if any. The prefix "Bio" means that the substance contains micro-organisms. Biodegradable material decompose in a matter of months with the help micro-organisms (like fungi or bacteria), heat and water, leaving only smaller non-degradable parts if any (like micro-plastics).
Compostable are also made from plant-based materials but breakdown into non-toxic components without leaving microplastics. This means this material can be returned to the ground to grow more plants. Compost is used as a soil improver and can in part also replace mineral fertilisers.
In short, a compostable material is always biodegradable but not necessarily the contrary. Importantly, compostable material leave non-toxic components or micro-plastics.
So, to make sure you're buying the right product, just opt for certified compostable products proven to decompose into valuable soil without leaving harmful residue.
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