Biodegradable Vs Compostable 101: Differences and Advantages

Many people use the terms biodegradable vs compostable wrong. Biodegradable materials are materials which are degradable, and that can break down due to the metabolism of microorganisms. In this way, the material degrades and the carbon atoms in the chains of the polymer break apart, being able to participate in the creation of other organic molecules. After they are processed, they become part of organic living things.

Hence, the biodegradable materials return to nature, being part of the carbon cycle of the ecology of our planet. However, petroleum-based plastic which breaks down into fine sand cannot be digested by microorganisms.

On the other hand, compostable plastic is plastic that it can biodegrade. Generally, compostable materials degrade within a specific amount of time and only under specific conditions. Several types of bioplastic can degrade eventually. However, if you seal the plastic in an air-tight room, it might take ages for it to disintegrate. Numerous organizations have come up with a series of benchmarks and tests indicating that if biodegradable plastic biodegrades fast enough, then it can be considered compostable.

Hence, we understand that biodegradable vs compostable do not represent different classes of plastic or separate sets. They represent subsets of one another. Specialists explain that all compostable plastics are in fact biodegradable while all biodegradable plastics are degradable.

The differences: biodegradable vs compostable

Biodegradation represents a natural process which helps to convert organic matter into methane or carbon dioxide, water vapor, and biomass. Every life form on this planet depends on biodegradation to remove waste or sustain life. However, biodegradation only occurs when the right conditions are present, namely enough heat and enough moisture. In case the environment is not warm enough, then the organic matter will not decompose.

Composting represents a managed and accelerated type of biodegradation. Specialists place anaerobic microbes into a controlled environment which is meant to maximize the speed at which they decompose organic matter, nurturing the process. For instance, professional operators create the optimal balance or carbonaceous materials and nitrogen-rich materials to compost leaf and grass clippings.

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After composting, the material obtained is humus, a rich soil supplement. Gardeners use them as mulch in their gardens. Furthermore, they also use it in poor soil to boost plant nutrition and stop soil erosion. Furthermore, a properly managed compost facility can turn organic trash into humus without releasing the odor.

When organic waste is not composted, it reaches landfills, and this does not paint a pleasurable picture. In case the landfill is not dry, and water gets into a landfill, then the amount of air diminishes, making room for anaerobic bacteria to produce toxic water runoff and methane gas. Hence, this pollutes the atmosphere and also the water table.

Composting is a great way through which you can recycle organic trash, transforming it into useful products. Furthermore, you prevent organic materials from reaching landfills.

The advantages of composting

Organic garbage like egg shells and food leftovers

Reduces greenhouse gases

When organic materials reach landfills, it does not efficiently decay, producing methane. In turn, this dangerous gas contributes to air pollution. However, if you choose to compost organic trash, you will be able to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions in the environment. The massive amount of methane gas and carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere contributes to global warming.

Improves the quality of soil

Composting can regenerate poor soil, boosting the development of useful microorganisms, like fungi and bacteria. Then, they break down organic matter and develop humus. Humus can retain moisture and increase the soil’s nutrient content. Therefore, if you grow food in composted soil, you will see that the vegetables you grow will contain more nutrients.

Cleans contaminated soil

The EPA indicates that the composting process can absorb odors while treating volatile organic compounds, like explosives and heating fuels. Furthermore, in certain cases, compost can eradicate pesticides, wood preservatives, nonchlorinated and chlorinated hydrocarbons.

Control erosion

The process of composting can also help prevent soil erosion on embankments positioned parallel to rivers, lakes, and creeks. Furthermore, this process can also diminish turf loss on hillsides, playing fields, golf courses, and roadsides.

It saves money

Composted soil diminishes the amount of water that plants consume since it contains the necessary nutrients to grow healthy. The process of composting also reduces plant pests and diseases, diminishing the need for expensive fertilizers and chemicals. Agricultural crops which grow in the composted soil will develop more products which farmers can sell.

The EPA indicates that composting represents a less expensive alternative when it comes to conventional methods to remediate contaminated soil. This process maintains the balance of the ecosystem while waste decays back into the soil, increasing soil quality and reducing pollution.

The advantages of biodegradation

Fuel efficiency

The Food Service Warehouse indicates that the production process of biodegradable plastic can consume 65% less energy compared to the energy needed to produce petroleum-based plastics. Therefore, biodegradable plastic is one of the top energy-efficient choices. Biodegradable products contain renewable resources like potato starch, sugar cane and corn instead of oil.

In the manufacturing of plastic packaging, specialists use about 200,000 barrels of oil every day in the United States. If biodegradable products had been introduced, then the amount of oil used would be reduced.

Less pollution

When manufacturing biodegradable products, this process emits far less pollution. The products are able to break back down into nontoxic components. Hence, they do not trigger dangerous chemical leachate which can contaminate the water table. The Food Service Warehouse indicates that the biodegradable plastic consumer products generate 68% fewer greenhouse gases compared to petroleum-based plastic products.


The process of composting biodegradable plastics together with traditional biodegradable paper products can transform trash into a rich humic material. This can improve nutrient and water retention while it can also help grow healthier plants without the need for pesticides and fertilizers.

Summing up

The comparison between biodegradable vs compostable materials indicates, at the same time, that compostable materials represent a sub-class of biodegradable products. Hence, the process of biodegradation and composting can transform trash into organic materials which re-enter the ecosystem. What we obtain after composting and biodegradation can be used to fertilize the soil. Furthermore, these two processes emit fewer greenhouse gases than depositing trash into landfills.

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William E. Eubanks

I'm one of the main writers on the site; mostly dealing with environmental news and ways to live green. My goal is to educate others about this great planet, and the ways we can help to protect it.

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