Biodegradable vs. Compostable: What's the Difference?

I thought I knew what the difference was between biodegradable versus compostable, but I was wrong. Many times these words are used interchangeably to market so many types of products. I did some research and finally found a sense of what the difference was between the two words. They are not the same.

Biodegradable refers to the ability of a substance to break down into small enough parts so that microorganisms can consume it. Given enough time, all products eventually biodegrade, but plastics for example take much longer. Since the production of plastic, there has been no evidence that plastic completely disappears back into our soil or waters which is why you will see many animals ingesting small plastic pieces.

Compostable refers to the ability of a microbes to break down materials. A compost requires the right level of heat, water and oxygen to support microbes and support the breakdown. Products that compost leaves no visible, distinguishable or toxic residue and generally help improve the soil.

When you look at items for purchase, do your research. A lot of companies are green washing their products meaning they advertise that it is eco-friendly when in fact, it is not. A product that is compostable should be able to break down completely without harming the environment. Ask the questions. Look to see if products are certified for compostability by the the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI). They have strict testing that must be completed for the product to be certified as compostable. On their site is where you can also look for compostable approved products.


A biodegradable material is not necessarily compostable. A compostable material is always biodegradable. (


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