The Difference Between Biodegradable and Compostable

Friday, 9 November 2018  |  HOTBIN Composting

Biodegradable Vs Compostable - The Difference

Compostable Food WasteDo you know the difference between something that is biodegradable and something that is compostable? If not, you aren’t alone, even the most environmentally savvy people amongst us get tripped up by some of the environmental terms being bounced about. Here is a brief overview and what it means for the HOTBIN.

Compostable vs Biodegradable

The terms “compostable” and “biodegradable” are often used interchangeably but how do they actually differ? In truth they share one thing in common; the terms represent materials that will decompose and breakdown back into natural elements.

When is Something Biodegradable?

To “biodegrade” describes a material which will decompose back into natural elements. Arguably however most things do biodegrade over some form of time period – take wood for example, a strong natural material which is actually capable of lasting a long time when developed into a product such as a table or even a house. Time is the key differentiator here, when “biodegradable” terminology is used it gives a material an unlimited time span in which to biodegrade; anything from a few weeks to a few decades or more.

When is Something Compostable?

For a material to be “compostable” it must also be capable of decomposing/breaking back down into natural elements but crucially under composting conditions for example in a compost bin or a heap within 12 weeks.  This time frame is typically achieved using industrial composting methods where heat, water and air provide the right environment for microbes to work effectively. Methods which are commonly used alongside council food waste collections.

EN13432 – Making Things More Simple

As a result of the confusion between the terminology “biodegradable” and “compostable” the European Standard EN 13432 was developed to provide a standard for the compostable nature of packaging.

EN13432 provides several detailed criteria to help clarify what materials can and cannot be classed as compostable;  biodegradation (microbial action rate), disintegration (end fragment size), ecotoxicity (usefulness for growing in) and chemical analysis (low in chemicals and safe to use).

More information on EN 13432 can be viewed here.

Biodegradable and the HOTBIN

So how does this affect what can be composted in the HOTBIN?

HOTBIN is capable of producing the right composting conditions of water, air and warmth to keep bacteria happily composting items which are plant based such as food, drinks cup packaging (see the HOTBIN and Vegware trial) and caddy bags (as long as they are shredded).

Therefore before adding you will need to look at what the product is made of;

Products made from natural materials which are food or plant based would generally be compostable however most synthetic/chemical based materials will take an extremely long time or not break down at all and are therefore not considered compostable and shouldn’t be added into the HOTBIN.

Some items which are compostable could cause issues in the HOTBIN. Food caddy bags are a good example of this. Although caddy bags can be added to your HOTBIN composting system they should be shredded because if they are added whole they may cause aeration issues during the operation of the unit.

Guidelines for Composting Compostable Items in the HOTBIN

  1. Some compostable items such as Vegware do not offer bacteria much a food source so it is always important when adding these materials to chop them up and add in some fresh food and/or garden waste to help with the decomposition process.
  2. Always ensure you are following advice on the correct quantities of waste, shredded paper and bulking agent (woodchip).
  3. Check your items can go in! Our website is a huge resource so search for the item you are thinking of adding into your HOTBIN for some guidance.