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What’s the difference between Compostable and Biodegradable Products?

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again – trying to start living a more eco-friendly lifestyle is far from easy! There’s so much information out there, and so many buzz words around choosing more sustainable options, it can feel more than a little overwhelming to start living changing your habits! That’s why, on the RAINE Clothing blog, we’re trying to demystify the process of making eco-friendly choices. 

Today, we’re discussing one of the most confusing aspects of trying to responsibly dispose of your waste and leftovers; the difference between biodegradable and compostable products, and how to appropriately get rid of both when you need to! 

What are biodegradable products? 

When a product or material is biodegradable, it means that it’s able to be disintegrated and broken down by micro-organisms in the natural environment like fungi, bacteria, and algae, and can disintegrate into mostly harmless compounds. Most plant-based, animal-based, or natural products tend to be biodegradable, but due to the increasing popularity, over recent years, of more eco-friendly and sustainable materials, there are now various types of biodegradable plastics and fabrics which are available, too. 

However, it’s worth noting that biodegradable materials can take between 6 to 1,000 years to fully disintegrate into the surrounding environment, so it’s still worth thinking about the materials in the products you’re purchasing; just because an item is biodegradable, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s good for the environment. 

What are compostable products?

Like biodegradable materials, compostable products also break down when returned to a natural environment; however, for something to be called compostable, it has to be certified to break down into completely non-toxic raw components, like water, CO2, and biomass. It leaves no discernable or harmful residue, breaking down into entirely natural elements and causing no harm to the surrounding environment. This usually happens within 3 to 6 months, and can also be done in your own home or garden! 

…So, what’s the difference? 

The main difference between biodegradable and compostable products can actually be summarised pretty easily: not all biodegradable products or materials are compostable, but, all compostable products are biodegradable. This basically means that whilst biodegradable products and materials do break down, they can only break down to the basic components used to manufacture them, and often leave a residue behind. When it comes to compostable materials, however, they actually break down much further than biodegradable ones do, leaving behind only valuable nutrients that can be consumed by plants and flora to help enrich the surrounding area. 

It’s also worth noting that whilst compostable items tend to return to natural materials regardless of environment, meaning you can compost items from your own home or garden, biodegradable materials tend to need very specific moisture and temperature conditions in their surrounding environment in order to successfully be broken down. It also takes far longer for biodegradable materials to degrade, so there isn’t as much of an immediate benefit to disposing of biodegradable materials. 

Having said this, it’s of course preferable to opt for biodegradable materials where a compostable alternative isn’t readily available! 

We hope you’ve found this insight into the differences between biodegradable and compostable products helpful, and that it helps to make making the sustainable switch to opting for more compostable and biodegradable products a little easier! Whether you’re just looking to shop more sustainably, or you’re intending to start your own compost heap, there are plenty of ways to incorporate these products into your eco-friendly lifestyle. 

As always, if you have any particular questions about an aspect of eco-friendly living, or there’s an aspect of sustainability you’d like to learn more about, feel free to leave us a comment, below and we’ll get to writing!

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