What is Compostable vs Biodegradable?
As a business that takes our impact on the environment very seriously, we spend a lot of time finding gentle planet-loving ingredients for our eco friendly cleaning products, so we’d be a little out of touch if we didn’t pay the same attention to the packaging we use.
Lots of businesses offer packaging that is biodegradable and compostable, but what do these terms actually mean?
What does Biodegradable mean?
Generally when we talk about the word biodegradable, it means it’ll eventually break down into their natural molecular components, like banana skins for example, they'll go mushy and feed back into the earth. This process can take a couple of months or a few years (eep). It's part of the circle of life (Cue the music, Elton)
Biodegradable doesn't just apply to packaging, take our eco-friendly formulas for example, they're all designed to be biodegradable, which means, when they go down the drain, they don't cause any damage to our waterways, and won't contribute to things like algae blooms. Under the right conditions, algae may grow out of control — and a few of these “blooms” produce really nasty toxins that can kill fish, mammals and birds, and may cause human illness or even death in extreme cases. But you don't have to worry about that with our biodegradable formulas 😉
But what is Biodegradable plastic?
This is where it gets confusing. Most plastics labelled as 'Biodegradable' aren't too dissimilar to regular plastics. Some may be called 'oxi' degradable. Essentially they have additive which attract bacteria helping to break them up. They require oxygen and light in order to decompose, if starved of these things, like under a big messy landfill, or at the bottom of the ocean, they won't decompose, not good. To decompose, they need to be sent to a specialist plant where they are exposed the the right conditions. Problem is, as a consumer, it's very hard for you to have these plastics sent to the right place.
There's also a concern that this kind of plastic does not truly degrade. It is merely broken up into tiny micro-plastics.
And the biggest problem (in our humble opinion) is that if they are not recyclable and if they enter the regular plastic recycling stream, they will actually contaminate this making the recyclable plastic much poorer quality. And iff enough enters the same stream, they will ruin the good recyclable plastic.
For this reason, we don't use this kind of plastic, and as a company we feel it not helping to reduce plastic waste, it's actually making things worse.
What is compostable plastic?
There are two official types of compostable plastic; 'Home' Compostable and 'Commercially' Compostable. It's important to understand the difference.
Commercially Compostable Plastic
Commercially Compostable Plastic is similar to 'biodegradable plastic'. It needs very particular conditions to degrade and will need to be sent to a commercial processing plant to degrade properly. But the big difference is, if treated correctly, it will degrade properly. We chose not to use this in any of our packaging because this will not degrade in your garden and it's almost impossible to get them to the right processing facilities.
Home Compostable Plastic
Home Compostable is very different. This kind of material will do the earth a solid and give back nutrients as it degrades. And the big difference is that this type of plastic will degrade in your garden compost heap.
We're big fans of this material, but it's hard for us to use at the moment because it's not possible to be used with liquids. But we're always talking to lots of interesting suppliers who are trying to make it work.
But where we can use compostable materials, we do, for example, our compostable plastic free sponges will degrade in your composts heap, so will our cardboard boxes we use to ship your orders in.
Why is knowing the difference so important anyway?
It's really important because there are a lot of products on the market claiming to use 'biodegradable' packaging. While many aren't lying, they're also not telling the whole truth. It's good for you to know the difference so you can make an informed decision and challenge brands to make genuine changes.
As a B Corp business, it's important to us to make sure that we're looking at our environmental impact from every angle.