The Difference between Biodegradable and Compostable Packaging Materials

Many packaging products boast environmentally-friendly benefits such as “biodegradable” and “compostable” materials. But what exactly do these terms mean, and what is the difference between them?

 

What Does Biodegradable Mean?

Biodegradable refers to the ability of materials to break down and return to nature. In order for packaging products or materials to qualify as biodegradable, they must completely break down and decompose into natural elements within a short time after disposal – typically a year or less. The ability to biodegrade within landfills helps to reduce the buildup of waste, contributing to a safer, cleaner and healthier environment. Materials that are biodegradable include corrugated cardboard and even some plastics.

 

What Does Compostable Mean?

Compostable materials are similar to biodegradable materials, as they are both intended to return to the earth safely. However, compostable materials go one step further by providing the earth with nutrients once the material has completely broken down. These materials are added to compost piles, which are designated sites with specific conditions dependent on wind, sunlight, drainage and other factors. While biodegradable materials are designed to break down within landfills, compostable materials require special composting conditions.