Back to the Basics: Biodegradable vs. Compostable

Back to the Basics: Biodegradable vs. Compostable

Have you ever seen a time-lapse video that depicts food waste decomposing over a set period of time? We know that food has a limited window of time to remain fresh. We expect food, such as a tomato, to eventually decompose disintegrate. Asking, “What is the difference in the time it takes synthetic material to disintegrate compared to a tomato,” is one question to consider as knowledge needed for solving the global issue of excessive waste in landfills. By exploring biodegradable and compostable innovations, we may be able to solve some of the problem.

The terms biodegradable and compostable are used interchangeably on the consumer-level because having an environmentally friendly label can increase sales. To the majority of shoppers, the terms prompt consumers to equate a product to be better for the environment because these types of products have potential to decompose and not remain as a solid in landfills. It is important to note that all material will eventually break down, but the rate of degradation is dependent on the material’s composition, the time, the temperature, and the amount of agitation or turbulence experienced by the material. Decomposition is the root that correlates with both of these terms; it is defined as: “The material is indistinguishable in the compost, that it is not visible and needs to be screened out.” (World Centric). Let’s take a look at the differences between the terms biodegradable and compostable.


BPI defines “biodegradable” as material that is compostable in municipal and industrial composting facilities. This means that waste breaks down anaerobically (without oxygen) and produces carbon dioxide, water, biomass, and more as by-products. In a landfill, there are no added benefits to help break down material, such as increased oxygen, which slows the process of waste to decompose. Although a product is labeled as “biodegradable,” there is not a standard requirement for the time it needs to take to biodegrade (American Society for Testing & Materials). To set the stage for the degradation process, consider comparing the biodegradation process of a tomato to a plastic bottle.

A tomato contains ingredients that sound natural: ascorbic and organic acids, starch, amino acids, proteins and enzymes, among other matter. A plastic bottle has a man-made chemistry that is commonly made up of PET (polyethylene terephthalate). PET is a polymer (structure made from many molecules) that is produced from petroleum hydrocarbons. Just as there is a drastic contrast between the chemistry of a tomato and a plastic water bottle, the time it takes to biodegrade is just as drastic. It takes a tomato about two months to become unrecognizable, whereas a standard plastic bottle will biodegrade in about 800 years.


The process of composting is a way to break down organic waste through microbial activity and digestion, with the final product being the compost. Composting is possible in a residential or a commercial setting. This method is used to reduce the amount of waste that enters the landfill as well as for creating a product to fertilize the soil. Composting waste is extremely effective when the organic waste is placed at the right temperature, amount of light and oxygen, appropriate level of mixing and especially with the millions of tiny microbes that digest the waste and convert it to useful compost. In order for a compost plot to be successful, only organic material should be placed into the pile. The most important benefit of composting is to help reduce landfill waste.

When deciding which items to toss into the compost pile, consider the following:

Q: Will it decompose in a compost site and become visually indistinguishable?

If the material breaks down into carbon dioxide, water, inorganic compounds, or biomass, then it is safe to compost.

Q: Will it leave any toxic residue?

Be sure you know what the material is made of. If you’re tossing out a compostable plastic material, there is no guarantee that there is no trace of toxic residue. If you’re tossing a tomato into a compost pile, you’re safe.

Read here for more information on biodegradable and compostable plastic.

A Biodegradable and Compostable Bottle

Breaking down the water bottle with new technology benefits all of us. Imagine a world with less plastic in the landfills, oceans, and lakes. At Paper Water Bottle®, we are working to bring you A Refreshing Alternative™ to plastic water bottles. Paper Water Bottle technology is a molded fiber that is Backyard Compostable™ because consumers should have the option to dispose of bottles in the trashcan or a compost site without worry.


By |2017-07-12T00:11:03+00:00June 9th, 2015|