Biodegradable Or Compostable: What’s the difference?

By 11th February 2020biodegradability testing
Biodegradable or compostable

What’s the difference between a material being biodegradable or compostable?

A material being biodegradable or compostable are very similar and it’s why the terms are so often confused, though they are not the same. To look at the differences, let’s first look at what each term means.

Biodegradable is the term for the chemical process of a material that is designed with the intention for it to breakdown and go back to nature within a time confinement. Materials will generally only breakdown fully in certain environments and where a product will biodegrade depends on the manufacturing.  Because the biodegradable material only breaks down in certain environments, it is important that the end of life solution places the material into those exact circumstances.  This can lead to issues when biodegradable materials are introduced into processes using different conditions, leading to the material not biodegrading as intended.

You can learn more about the process of manufacturing a product to biodegrade and testing it to standards in our articles here:

Manufactured to Biodegrade

Biodegradation of Products in Compost – BS EN 14855

Biodegradation of Products in Marine Conditions – BS EN 14852

While compostable and biodegradable have similar processes and end goals (they must not harm the earth in breaking down, hence contaminating it), where a material being compostable differs is that it is a characteristic of the material and must deliver nutrients to the nature it breaks down in, going a step further than typical biodegradation. It is important that non-compostable products are not sent to composting facilities, as this can result in contamination of the compost and mean the compost it has contaminated must be thrown out. The non-toxic constituents that are released when a compostable product breaks down are typically biomass, water and carbon dioxide.

Another difference is in where they are intended to breakdown. Biodegradables are more often designed to breakdown in landfill, marine conditions, soil, etc. but compostable products have to breakdown in stricter conditions, either in industrial composting facilities or home composting bins. Composting also has to meet the standards to BS EN 13432, whereas biodegradable products can meet a variety of standards, such as the ones stated above.

To find out more about how Impact can help you with your biodegradable or compostable materials phone us on 01324 489182 or email for more information.  Impact can run a full range of tests on biodegradable and compostable materials for all your development needs.