What Is The Difference Between Compostable and Biodegradable?

What Is The Difference Between Compostable and Biodegradable?

As far as confusion goes, there has been a lot when it comes to the use of these terms. For most people, biodegradable and compostable mean the same thing and can be used interchangeably. However, that is not the case. There are several differences when it comes to biodegradable and compostable paper.


One of the differences is in the composition of biodegradable and compostable papers. Biodegradable papers are made from plastic which is infused with microorganisms that help the plastic breakdown. On the other hand, compostable papers are made from natural plant starch and typically have no toxic materials in their composition.


The way that biodegradable and compostable papers disintegrate is different. Both require water, heat, and microorganisms to break down. The biodegradable material will be broken down but it takes incredibly long, sometimes decades, and they are never fully broken down. However, when compostable material disintegrates, it entirely breaks down as long as the right conditions are met.

The biodegradable paper breaks down into smaller pieces of plastic that may still harm plants or even get ingested by animals. A compostable paper is absorbed into the soil as an organic material would with zero negative environmental impact. Sieving compost residue of the materials ascertains biodegradability or compostability. The biodegradable material will leave residue while compostable material will be completely soluble.

Effect on Compost

The critical element in distinguishing between biodegradable and compostable paper is what happens to them once they are placed into compost and subjected to a compost cycle which is typically six months to a year. When a compostable paper is put through a compost cycle, it will experience complete metabolic conversion to carbon dioxide. On the contrary, a biodegradable paper will not reach 90% metabolic conversion.

The effect that biodegradable paper has on compost differs from that of compostable paper. A biodegradable paper will have a negative impact on the compost which can be verified by chemical analysis. There should be no difference between a control compost and compost with compostable paper after a compost cycle. The variables used to test this are pH, nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus levels among others.

As it is evidenced above, a biodegradable paper is different from compostable paper and knowing the difference should help you make the right decisions for your business.

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