We often hear about or read the terms “biodegradable” and “compostable” — including here at the Native Leaf website. Is there a difference or do the terms mean the same?
Biodegradable refers to natural materials like food, leaves and plant material that are decomposed by living organisms and bacteria. When exposed to air, moisture, bacteria and other organisms, biodegradable items breaks back down to elements found in nature.
Compostable generally means that a product can be composted right in one’s compost pile (garden or backyard) or sent to a local composting facility.
From the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Resource Conservation web page:
Compost is organic material that can be used as a soil amendment or as a medium to grow plants. Mature compost is a stable material with a content called humus that is dark brown or black and has a soil-like, earthy smell. It is created by: combining organic wastes (e.g., yard trimmings, food wastes, manures) in proper ratios into piles, rows, or vessels; adding bulking agents (e.g., wood chips) as necessary to accelerate the breakdown of organic materials; and allowing the finished material to fully stabilize and mature through a curing process.
Natural composting, or biological decomposition, began with the first plants on earth and has been going on ever since. As vegetation falls to the ground, it slowly decays, providing minerals and nutrients needed for plants, animals, and microorganisms. Mature compost, however, includes the production of high temperatures to destroy pathogens and weed seeds that natural decomposition does not destroy.
Our natural, artisan crafted gift packaging products are really simple. All are made from leaves, plant material or 100% pure plant fiber from abaca (musa textilis), and are biodegradable, and compostable.
In terms of conservation and doing what we can for our environment, it’s a good idea to remember the “4-Rs” - to reduce, reuse, recycle to rethink…and to compost whenever possible.
We, as consumers can be mindful of what products are truly biodegradable. But even with our good intentions to buy biodegradable products, if we don’t compost in our backyard or send these items to a composting facility via our waste collection system, it could still end up at a landfill, where it takes up space and take decades to decompose (since landfills are constructed to keep air, sun, and water away).
And most all….definitely keep trash — all trash — out of our oceans, where some items like fishing lines can take up to 600 years to biodegrade or end up as part of the trash gyre polluting our oceans.
And speaking of the world-wide environmental problem of ocean trash and how long common items take to biodegrade, here is an informative chart from the Hawaii-based C-More (Center for Microbial Oceanography Research and Education) website:
Marine Debris Biodegradation Time Line
Time to degrade
|Paper towel||2-4 weeks|
|Cardboard box||2 months|
|Waxed milk carton||3 months|
|Apple core||2 months|
|Cotton gloves||1-5 months|
|Wool gloves||1 year|
|Painted wooden sticks||13 years|
|Photo-degradable beverage holder||6 months|
|Plastic beverage holder||400 years|
|Plastic bags||10-20 years|
|Plastic bottle||100 years|
|Glass bottle and jars||undetermined|
|Disposable diapers||50-100 years|
|Tin can||50 years|
|Aluminium can||200 years|
|Monofilament fishing line||600 years|