Biodegradable vs Compostable

    When deciding which Zero Waste products are best for you and your family, it is important to understand the language used to describe these items


    Not all biodegradable items can be treated equally. Some companies are more ethical than others. Just because it is labeled “Biodegradable” does not mean that it is good for the environment.

    Almost everything, given the right conditions, and enough time, will break down.

    But in order to be considered Biodegradable. It must have the ability to be broken down, or be decomposed by bacteria or other microorganisms. 

    To be good for the environment, it has to break down into something that is not harmful to the earth or any creature on it.

    There is no limit on the amount of time that it can take, and still be categorized as biodegradable.

    Items like plastic bags and diapers can take over 500 years to decompose.

    Leather shoes will take over 25 years to completely break down.

    Cotton fabrics only take 6 months

    Food wastes, such as banana or orange peels can take six months to a year.

    Other food wastes may break down in a matter of days.

    So, when you see an item listed as biodegradable, you need to have a clear understanding about how long that item will be in trash before it completely breaks down. 

    When an item that claims to be biodegradable is put in the trash, it is no longer in your control. If that biodegradable item does not have the correct requirements to biodegrade at the dump, then it will not biodegrade. Some items, in order to break down, nead proper airflow, or moisture, or sunlight. When these needs are not met in the landfills, these items remain as they are and contribute to our trash problems as if they were not biodegradable at all.


    Everything Compostable can also be considered Biodegradable. But it does not work the other way around. Everything that is Biodegradable is NOT Compostable. 

    In order for something to be compostable it must be composed of organic material. 

    The output of the Compostable items is also an important factor. In order for something to be considered Compostable it must result in the production of a rich organic material. 

    The point of compost is to reuse the resultant organic matter in a garden. So, you do not want any toxins or harmful bacteria in your compost. 

    You also want the compost to break down in less than one years time. This way, each season, you will have some fresh organic matter for your garden.

    Double Check

    Any time you are considering an item that is labeled “Biodegradable” or “Compostable”, always do a little more research to see what that item is made of, how long it will take to break down, and what it breaks down into. 

    It also helps to know what the waste collection guidelines are for your area. Some areas have different drop offs or collections for certain biodegradable or compostable items. There are even some areas where they collect food waste as livestock feed, if you are not set up for composting at home.

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