Interchangeably, biodegradable and compostable come up in a conversation when it is about green solutions or products. But there is a blur as to what exactly the difference is. To understand the difference, we need to break it down.
Compost brings us to a vision of a compost heap. The kind that takes organic matter and converts it into a fertiliser for the soil. Recycling organic waste to make it reusable is known as the process of composting.
Any product that can be broken down at an industrial composting facility into its natural material means it is compostable. Distinctively, it is imperative to know that compostable products do not biodegrade in a landfill naturally. In an industrial facility, there are certain kinds of conditions that are pertinent to the composting process.
Proper waste management procedures need to be followed and it takes up to 90 days normally. Compostables can be defined as a biological process that degrades the waste to achieve inorganic compounds, water, carbon dioxide, biomass etc. with some other compostable materials and there are no remnants of toxic, visible and identifiable debris.
Disintegration by bacteria, fungi, algae and other biological processes is “Biodegradable”, to put it simply. Most of us see this word or sign on a bar of soap or shampoo, but how much do we really know about it? The biodegradable products are mostly plant-based, animal-based or mineral-based, all-natural elements and hence can break down quickly into harmless substances.
Truthfully, everything is biodegradable but since the time-variant is enormous with some products, it is harming our ecosystem greatly. A well-known fact is that plastic takes centuries to decompose and is a major cause of concern the world over. While it can break down naturally by then, it will have wreaked havoc along its way. The notoriety that diapers have gained for lasting in the landfills for a very, very long time is also biodegradable eventually.
So, when it comes to biodegradable packaging, it can mean anything from one month to one hundred years. It will go in a landfill and stay there until the time; hence it is imperative that there should be a checker on the green products stating how long it will take to biodegrade, the lesser the time, the better.
The importance of knowing the difference
It is important to know and understand the difference as for most laymen, it gets lost in translation. Any material that can be broken down and decomposed by the environment is biodegradable while specific organic matter that has to be broken down in a procedural manner but the end product is fruitful with various uses such as improving soil health and acting as a fertiliser is compostable.
Due to their organic origins, compostable products have the virtue of not leaving any random toxic traces in the environment as opposed to its counterpart. Biodegradable products take many years to decompose as well as leave metals, chemical compounds and other toxic variants behind.
For a safer environment, plant plastics have come into being and are labeled as biodegradable often. As the name suggests, they are supposed to break down easier than regular plastics, and create a safer ecosystem; although if they don’t get the right environment to decompose at a faster rate, they will damage the environment exactly as regular plastic.
Coming down to the gist of it, both these are safer for the environment rather than regular plastic. There is a difference but because of the labeling and packaging, it is easy for the consumer to get confused. One major thing to remember here would be that while all things compostable are biodegradable, it is not vice-versa, all biodegradable products are not compostable. So, there is a choice right here to be made responsibly. Compostable makes an ingredient called humus after the composting process that is chock full of nutrients and is great for plants. Biodegradable, on the other hand, leaves all sorts of residual matter that is toxic behind and that too after years of decomposition. To summarise, compostable products have the added benefit of being biodegradable as well.
It is our collective and individual responsibility, to preserve and tend to the world in which we all live.