Biodegradable vs. Compostable: What's The Difference?

Biodegradable vs. Compostable: What's The Difference?

There are a variety of ways we can work both together and individually to help our  planet. Instead of seeming not overwhelming, hopefully, this truth seems rightfully liberating. Whether we are making big changes or ones that are small, they all have the power to add up and help our planet long term.

Many of these sustainability measures revolve around the mantra “reduce, reuse, recycle.” For this article, we will be focusing on the last item: “recycle.” In this case, this  term means disposing of something in a way that is both environmentally conscious and does not negatively impact our surroundings. 

Two of the least harmful methods to go about this are by utilizing biodegradable or compostable items. Both of these methods are somewhat at the forefront of the  public eye, but there can be some confusion about what the differences are. If you have ever wondered about what biodegradable or composting actually means, you have come to the right place! 

What Does Biodegradable Mean?

Biodegradable materials are those that are capable of naturally breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces. Eventually, these biodegradables will become simple compounds such as water, oxygen, and carbon dioxide

Biodegradable compounds break down in about three to six months, unlike many inorganic compounds.

Biodegradable material can break down on their own in a landfill with the help of bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms. This is distinctly unlike the conventional plastics and microplastics that litter the earth. That said, there are also biodegradable plastics available. This means that they were produced with natural and plant materials rather than fossil fuels. 

Not all of these plastics actually break down as well as other biodegradable materials . Currently, scientists are working to create an option that is not only successfully biodegradable but also compostable. What is composting? We are so glad you asked.

What Does Compostable Mean?

Composting is similar to biodegrading because they both rely on natural organisms to break down their components. A biodegradable item can break down in any landfill given enough time.

These compostable materials must be added to compost piles to monitor the correct balance of scraps, to assure smooth sailing for the composting process. You can create a home compost pile in your backyard, contribute to a community bin, or use an industrial composting facility, all of these do a great service to the planet. 

Not only are you taking steps to significantly limit the amount of waste we contribute to the planet, the many benefits of composting go so much further than that.

Composting’s big leg up on biodegradable materials is that, in the end, you are  rewarded with a substance rich in nutrients. Farmers covet this compost material due to its fantastic properties for fertilizing crops. Whether you move your backyard compost into your garden beds or donate it to the community, this is a great way to give back to both society and the planet.

Like biodegradable plastics, there are also compostable plastics. Similarly, they are not as effective or efficient in composting as other materials. They often result in a product that cannot be used for compost. 

Is Biodegradable Better Than Compostable?

It can be easy to think that being biodegradable is better than being compostable. After all, it is significantly easier for a product to be biodegradable. Composting requires very specific circumstances and environment to thrive, whereas natural degradation can occur in any landfill. Both of them return resources to the earth, so does that mean the easier one is best? 

While it is true that biodegrading is easier than composting, it does not give back in the same way. Once the materials are done composting, you have a useful and profoundly effective fertilizer that can be used to grow crops or enhance your garden. This is not the case with biodegradable materials.

How Do Biodegradable Materials Impact the Environment?

Not only are compostable materials helpful to the environment, but it is possible that biodegradable ones can do more harm than good. In their process of  breaking down, they release greenhouse gases and chemicals that hurt the planet. Because of this, it’s always better to opt for composting whenever possible. 

What Kind of Materials Are Compostable?

Luckily, there are a whole variety of compostable materials. Many of the things we use and throw out daily can be used to help new crops grow. If we are just a bit more mindful of how we use, what we use, and how we dispose of it, we would all be much better off.

Here are just a few items and organic waste categories that you can confidently compost. Either at home or in a commercial composting facility. 

Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables come from the earth and therefore can return directly to it. Food scraps of produce are the perfect thing to put into compost, as it is natural and will break down quickly.

Eggshells and Nutshells

Here we have more natural food materials that can be composted. Both eggshells and nutshells provide great compost-fodder.

Coffee Grounds and Filters

Coffee grounds come from natural coffee beans, and the filters often used to create your morning coffee can be composted right along with them.

Shredded Newspaper, Cardboard, and Paper

These can all be composted and represent great examples of how creating sustainable packaging is possible and should be something all companies and manufacturers strive for.


It is crucial to the longevity of us as a species and the ongoing health of our planet that we band together to create positive change. Through targeted efforts to switch over to products that can be disposed of ethically and sustainable living, we absolutely have what it takes to help the planet. 


Biodegradability | Science Learning Hub

New Process Makes ‘Biodegradable’ Plastics Truly Compostable | Berkley

Study: Biodegradable Products May Be Bad for the Environment | NC State University

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