Do you know the difference between compostable and biodegradable waste? Not sure? Don't worry, you're not alone. Furthermore, by the end of this article, you will have a clear understanding of what biodegradable waste is and in what way it is different from compostable waste.
Luckily, more and more people every year are aware of the negative impacts that humans have had on the environment, particularly since the beginning of the industrial revolution. As such, more and more responsible individuals and companies want to make a positive change. However, as the shift from not being conscious of the environmental's negative impacts to creating a completely sustainable society is underway, there is some confusion around various terms. When we focus on organic waste, also known as biodegradable waste, there are "compostable" and "biodegradable" terms that require some clarification.
Since biodegradable waste represents more than 30% of all municipal waste, it is important to ensure that there is as little confusion around it as possible. Moreover, while there are companies that try to make a positive impact, there are others looking for loopholes. The latter label their products as compostable or biodegradable just for the sake of marketing. Luckily there are some EU and USA standards set in place to lay down some rules. As such, we must all stay informed and take proper action to eventually implement proper biodegradable waste managing systems.
What is biodegradable waste?
As mentioned above, "biodegradable waste" is considered to be a synonym for organic waste. However, even this may not be completely on point. This is especially true if we consider that biodegradable waste must obviously consist of biodegradable products. And, when it comes to the latter, the term "biodegradable" has a very broad definition. This is particularly true if we consider the ATMS' (American Society for Testing and Materials) definition: "Biodegradables are anything that undergoes degradation resulting from the action of naturally occurring microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, and algae."
As you can see, basically any material that will break down in nature can fall under this definition. Since there is no mention of time frames, even most plastic will degrade in nature. However, it will take more than 100 years to do so. As such, you can see that the "biodegradable" term can be misleading and thus easily twisted by loophole-seeking companies. Though, when tricks are put aside and reason put forth, biodegradable waste represents a mix of materials that will be broken down in a much shorter time than plastic. Moreover, here's a list of typical objects and materials one would find in biodegradable waste:
- Plants (veggies, fruits, and other parts of plants such as leaves, branches, and roots)
- Cardboard boxes
- Paper bags
- Biodegradable bags
- Food leftovers (basically most of the kitchen waste
What is compostable waste?
Unlike with the "biodegradable", there's usually less wiggling room around the "compostable" term. In many instances, there's talk of a particular time frame since the breakdown process tends to take up to 90 days or so. Moreover, "compostable'' in the compostable waste, clearly indicates that this type of waste must be able to turn into compost. The latter is a purposefully created soil-like mixture of organic material with very high nutritional value. As such, it has the intent of reusing organic waste as a soil builder. Moreover, you need to be aware that there are different ways of composting and not all are equally efficient. Some methods are able to handle a broader spectrum of organic material than others. In addition, there are various factors affecting the composting process. As such, what exactly counts as compostable waste also depends on the type of composting. Nonetheless, it also helps to know why compost.
However, if we now look at the ATMS' definition of "compostable": "Anything that undergoes degradation by biological processes during composting to yield CO2, water, inorganic compounds, and biomass at a rate consistent with other compostable materials and leaves no visible, distinguishable or toxic residue." The latter again leaves quite some room for different interpretations. As such, many companies that label their products as "compostable", they mean that their products can be turned into compost. However, this can often come with a hidden message: "... if entered into a proper industrial composting facility." As such, products must be treated with caution and some extra attention. This is the responsibility you bear as a consumer. At least until society is organized in a way that everyone is focused on sustainability.
Compostable vs. biodegradable waste
Now that you have a proper understanding of both compostable and biodegradable waste, it is time to quickly compare the two. The key thing to note is that all compostable waste is also biodegradable. However, not all biodegradable waste is also compostable. Moreover, when it comes to products labeled as "compostable" or "biodegradable" you need to read more details about the product. As covered above, despite these labels, in many cases, you shouldn't mix those products with your organic waste. Hence, things are still somewhat tricky. However, luckily, there is a lot you can do as a consumer. If you choose the right methods, you can make things easier on yourself and also responsibly manage your organic waste.
Compostable and biodegradable waste explained - Parting Thoughts
For one, you should always prioritize reducing and reusing. As such, you minimize the amount of waste in the first place. Secondly, you need to properly recycle your waste, including your compostable and biodegradable waste. And, it all starts by properly collecting your waste. Moreover, instead of just having a separate can for your biodegradable waste, you can opt-in for a quality indoor composter. In addition, it has been scientifically proven that the bokashi method is the most environmentally and user-friendly method.
As such, when using Bokashi Organko, a major portion of biodegradable waste also becomes compostable. Hence, the most common answer to "can I compost this food?" is yes. With Bokashi Organko Essential, Bokashi Organko 1, Bokashi Organko 2, or Bokashi Organko 2 Ocean, you can manage even animal hair, banana peels, citrus peels, cooked food, cypress twigs, eggshells, meat, wool, and even dairy products. To learn more about proper biodegradable waste management with bokashi composting, enroll in the free Bokashi academy.