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Biodegradable vs. Compostable

Biodegradable vs. Compostable

There are two natural ways that a material can be decomposed – biodegrading and composting. While they are similar there are differences between the two processes.

How does the material break down?

Biodegradable material naturally breaks down into tiny pieces within one year or less. The ability for a material to biodegrade at a landfill helps to reduce the buildup of waste, which helps contribute to a safer, cleaner, and healthier environment.

Compostable material is similar to biodegradable, since they both break down. The main difference is that compostable materials provide the Earth with nutrients once the material has completely broken down.

Biodegradable materials are designed to be thrown in the trash and decompose at the landfill, while compostable materials require special composting conditions including wind, sunlight, and drainage.1

What everyday items are biodegradable or compostable?

Biodegradable items include: plants, paper, fruits, flowers, and vegetables.2

Compostable items include: fruits, vegetables, eggshells, coffee grounds, tea bags, shredded newspaper, cardboard, yard and grass trimmings, leaves, sawdust, dryer and vacuum lint, hair and fur, and fireplace ashes.3

Non-biodegradable items include: rubber, plastic, chemicals2, and Styrofoam. Non-biodegradable items can take centuries to break down, and when they finally do they leave pollution behind. There are many organizations utilizing green chemistry. Chemicals are used to help reduce hazardous substances that modify non-biodegradable materials to be biodegradable. 

An easy way to help our environment and Earth is to stop using non-biodegradable items, and purchase items that can be broken down naturally. Want to start composting at home? There are many resources available, including YouTube and sites like NPR, dedicated to at-home composting.





  1. https://www.heritagepaper.net/the-difference-between-biodegradable-and-compostable-packaging-materials/#:~:text=Compostable%20materials%20are%20similar%20to,return%20to%20the%20earth%20safely.&text=While%20biodegradable%20materials%20are%20designed,materials%20require%20special%20composting%20conditions.
  2. https://biodifferences.com/difference-between-biodegradable-and-non-biodegradable-substances.html
  3. https://www.epa.gov/recycle/composting-home

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