Compostable and Biodegradable - What's the difference?

Feb 19, 2019 1:21:33 PM | Written by Tracy Ahern

For those of us who are mindful of the impact our product packaging has on the environment, seeing disposable items labelled as compostable or biodegradable can be extremely reassuring, and can even help inform our decisions about which products we actually buy. It’s worth taking a closer look, however, about what these two terms actually mean, and their real-world impact on the environment, as there can often be more to these claims than meets the eye.


If we look at the word itself, saying a product or form of packaging is biodegradable simply means that it will break down over time. While this can seem very encouraging, the term itself is actually fairly redundant, as it doesn’t provide any time frame for the material to decompose, meaning that a product which takes decades or even hundreds of years to break down could technically be referred to as biodegradable. What’s more, the term also doesn’t take into account any potentially harmful chemical compounds or residues that could be left behind in the soil, air, or waterways when it does finally decompose.


By contrast, the term compostable is a lot more specific in its definition. Compostable items and materials are capable of decomposing down into natural elements, and are generally able to do this within the course of a year. That’s why you notice compostable packaging options like egg cartons and mushroom bags used so frequently in compost heaps, as their natural paper material can easily break down back to its natural elements, enriching your soil with nitrates and minerals as it does so.

Au Natural Skinfood’s delivery bags are proudly home compostable, allowing you return them to the environment that created them.


Ultimately, while materials that are either biodegradable or compostable are more beneficial to the environment than those that do not break down naturally at all, one of these terms allows for a lot more accountability and transparency than the other. Because they’re so often used almost interchangeably, it’s worth being aware of what these terms really mean so you can more informed choices when shopping.