Biodegradable vs. Compostable

What's the Difference?

Biodegradable and compostable are two terms often used interchangeably, but they have distinct differences. Biodegradable refers to materials that can break down naturally over time, usually through the action of microorganisms, into simpler substances. However, the time it takes for biodegradation can vary significantly, ranging from a few months to several years. On the other hand, compostable materials are specifically designed to break down in a composting environment within a specific timeframe, usually around 90 days. Composting involves a controlled process that requires specific conditions, such as temperature, moisture, and oxygen levels, to facilitate the breakdown of organic matter into nutrient-rich compost. Therefore, while all compostable materials are biodegradable, not all biodegradable materials are compostable.


DefinitionCapable of being broken down by natural processes into simpler substancesCapable of undergoing biological decomposition in a composting environment
Time to DecomposeVaries depending on the material and conditions, can range from months to yearsGenerally decomposes within a specific timeframe, usually around 90 days
Environmental ImpactCan still leave behind residue or microplastics that may harm the environmentLeaves minimal to no harmful residue, enriches the soil when fully decomposed
Composting ProcessMay require specific conditions or facilities to break down effectivelyRequires specific composting conditions, such as temperature, moisture, and oxygen levels
End ProductsCan break down into smaller organic compounds, but may not fully convert to nutrient-rich soilBreaks down into nutrient-rich soil, providing valuable organic matter for plants
CertificationNo specific certification required, but certain standards exist for biodegradable claimsMay require certification to ensure compliance with composting standards (e.g., ASTM D6400)

Further Detail


As the world becomes more environmentally conscious, the demand for sustainable and eco-friendly products is on the rise. Two terms that often come up in discussions about sustainability are "biodegradable" and "compostable." While these terms are often used interchangeably, they have distinct differences in their attributes and environmental impact. In this article, we will explore the characteristics of biodegradable and compostable materials, their benefits, and their limitations.


Biodegradable materials are those that can break down naturally over time through the action of microorganisms, such as bacteria or fungi. These materials can decompose into natural elements, such as carbon dioxide, water, and biomass, without leaving any harmful residues behind. Biodegradability is influenced by various factors, including temperature, moisture, and the presence of microorganisms.

One of the key advantages of biodegradable materials is their ability to reduce waste accumulation in landfills. When biodegradable products are disposed of properly, they can break down relatively quickly, minimizing the environmental impact. Additionally, the decomposition process of biodegradable materials can release valuable nutrients back into the soil, contributing to the growth of plants and organisms.

However, it is important to note that not all biodegradable materials are created equal. Some materials may take a significantly longer time to decompose, depending on the specific conditions they are exposed to. Additionally, certain biodegradable materials may require specific disposal methods, such as industrial composting facilities, to ensure proper decomposition.


Compostable materials, on the other hand, are a subset of biodegradable materials that undergo a specific process called composting. Composting is a controlled decomposition process that creates nutrient-rich soil called compost. Compostable materials are designed to break down completely in a composting environment, leaving behind no visible or toxic residues.

Compostable materials offer several advantages over traditional biodegradable materials. Firstly, they provide a valuable source of organic matter for composting facilities, which can be used to enrich soil and support sustainable agriculture. Secondly, compostable materials can help divert organic waste from landfills, reducing methane emissions and promoting a circular economy.

However, it is important to note that not all compostable materials are suitable for home composting. Some materials require specific conditions, such as higher temperatures or longer composting periods, which may not be achievable in a typical backyard compost pile. Therefore, it is crucial to follow the guidelines provided by the manufacturer or consult local composting facilities to ensure proper disposal.

Key Differences

While both biodegradable and compostable materials contribute to reducing waste and environmental impact, there are some key differences between the two:

  • Biodegradable materials can break down naturally over time, while compostable materials require a specific composting process.
  • Compostable materials leave behind nutrient-rich compost, while biodegradable materials may not necessarily contribute to soil enrichment.
  • Composting facilities may have specific requirements for compostable materials, while biodegradable materials can decompose under various conditions.
  • Compostable materials are often designed to break down within a specific timeframe, while biodegradable materials may have a more variable decomposition period.


Biodegradable and compostable materials both play important roles in reducing waste and promoting sustainability. Biodegradable materials offer the advantage of breaking down naturally over time, reducing waste accumulation in landfills. Compostable materials, on the other hand, provide a valuable source of organic matter for composting facilities and contribute to the production of nutrient-rich compost. However, it is crucial to understand the specific requirements and limitations of each material to ensure proper disposal and maximize their environmental benefits. By choosing products made from biodegradable or compostable materials, we can all contribute to a greener and more sustainable future.

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