What is the difference between biodegradable and compostable?

With the disclosure of recycling, there are more and more products to which these categories are attributed. But not all biodegradables work for composting.

Last update: June 16, 2022

Over the last few years, awareness of more environmentally friendly everyday practices has grown considerably. This led to several words related to recycling coming into common use. However, certain terms are often confused and the difference between biodegradable and compostable is not taken into account.

Both definitions refer to the way in which a product breaks down and in what way this decomposition takes place. In addition, environmental conditions are taken into account.

But not all processes are the same, nor is any product suitable for both.. Therefore, it is convenient to know the difference between biodegradable and compostable, in order to achieve adequate actions that contribute to ecological protection.

What does it mean for a product to be biodegradable?

Among the individual actions we carry out to care for the environment is the consumption of biodegradable products. Either in the packaging of certain foods or in their composition. But when this word appears, it refers us to an element that takes into account the planet and to reduce waste that takes years to degrade.

That is what the term refers to. to the degradation of the elements, that is, to its decomposition. The prefix organic It is related to life, to organisms. The result is a product whose decomposition occurs in contact with the environment, based on the chemical elements that compose it.

This occurs thanks to the action of some biological agents.such as fungi, plants, bacteria and animals. Biodegradable products break down under natural environmental conditions without human intervention. It is important to avoid those that take years, and even decades to disappear. Just like with plastic.

And the compostables?

On the other hand, compostable products also degrade in natural environments, but under other conditions and in shorter times. In addition, they are related to the formation of compost, that is, organic matter that nourishes and prevents soil contamination.

Compost, in its biological degradation process, produces water, carbon dioxide and biomass without the presence of toxic residues. However, it is a transformation accelerated and controlled by the human being. Through composting plants, the necessary conditions are generated so that biodegradation happens faster.

For this reason, there are strict regulatory conditions that determine whether a product is compostable or not. In the European Union, they must guarantee 90% degradation, that is, a conversion into carbon dioxide within a maximum period of 6 months.

Also, should not contain more than 1% additives, among which toxic elements that affect plant growth are discarded. This is because industrial composting is intended for composting, production, and soil care for agriculture.

In composting some parameters are controlled to accelerate the conversion of substances.

Difference Between Biodegradable and Compostable

With these concepts, the difference between biodegradable and compostable can be established in the possible generation of organic matter. Also, at decomposition time, since compostable products usually take much less.

In this way, it follows that all compostable products are also biodegradable, but not the other way around. This is due to the fact that certain elements that can be categorized as biodegradable do not favor the generation of compost or fertilizer.

Therefore, they are aspects that must be taken into account when buying, consuming and, above all, discarding. Biodegradability occurs in different environmental conditions and with diverse processes. When they are aerobic, it means that they degrade in contact with oxygen, while anaerobic degradation occurs in the absence of it.

On the other hand, there is biodegradability in different media, such as soil, compost or aqueous media. Degradation occurs in different ways according to each of these environments.

The times and temperatures in which the process occurs are modified. A product is considered biodegradable when it exceeds certain established standards by the regulations of each country.

Consider the difference between biodegradable and compostable to curb the climate crisis

It is clear that the environmental conditions of the planet are undergoing serious changes that are generating an increase in global temperature with devastating effects. At COP26, the last summit against climate change of the United Nations, goals focused on the Paris Agreement were reaffirmed.

They aim to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial values. This is an estimated figure to avoid the point of no return, when environmental damage to the planet would be irreversible.

However, beyond political decisions and large corporations, there is a set of individual actions that can contribute to the environmental cause. Among them, recycling. Of course, home compost does not have the same times, processes or conditions that industrial composting does.

At home you can use leftover vegetables, some foods and also garden clippings to generate fertilizer, useful in plant nutrition. Also, household waste production is reduced; a fundamental action in the daily contribution to the environment.

In homes, the production of garbage can be reduced by separating the waste.

Which product belongs to each category?

Conscious consumption and daily actions that can be taken to reduce waste must take into account the degradation times of each element. Some, depending on their composition materials, can take decades to do, while others work as fertilizer to nourish the earth.

  • Batteries and batteries. In recent years, attempts have been made to leave battery-based devices behind, since they have minimal degradation capacity and generate a lot of pollution.
  • Aerosol sprays. Aerosol tubes take up to 3 decades to disappear.
  • Plastic bags. An element of daily use and widely disclosed, but it takes 150 years to degrade. It is important to eliminate its use.
  • cigarette filters. Industrial cigarette butts can take up to 2 years to disappear.
  • Chewing gums. Despite being a common candy and with no apparent environmental impact, it takes up to 5 years to degrade.
  • Wood. A biodegradable material. The process time depends on its composition.
  • Wool. Of animal origin, its condition is biodegradable.
  • Paper. It is an element that usually decomposes in a period between 2 and 5 months, depending on environmental conditions.
  • Fruits and vegetables. The elements most adjusted to rapid degradation and composting.
  • meats. They can be useful for compost, albeit under the right conditions. Otherwise, they may attract odors and bacteria.

Carry out recycling with the difference between biodegradable and compostable

It is important not to confuse biodegradable products with the generation of waste that can be disposed of on the ground or anywhere. The same does not happen with compostable elements. Degradation processes do not occur under any conditions, so nothing should be thrown on the ground of the city, to any field or to rivers, lagoons and seas.

To ensure biodegradation in compost, the necessary and controlled conditions must be generated, because outside of them, the natural chemical processes are lost. The official classifications of national organizations must be taken into account when consuming products suitable for both biodegradation and composting.

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