Biodegradable, Compostable or Degradable: What is the Difference?

In an effort to reduce our plastic footprint, many companies have started to turn to biodegradable plastic packaging. This is great news right?! Actually, not really. So what do the terms biodegradable, compostable and degradable all mean and which one is better for the environment?

Spoiler alert – any company who try to appear greener by telling you their packaging is degradable – run for the hills! Degradable packaging is usually still made from plastic or a similar material which means that it breaks down into tiny microplastics. You could argue this is worse as microplastics are so small they more easily enter waterways and so are eaten by seabirds, fish and other animals.

Ok, so if it bio-degradable that must mean it’s good for the environment right? Unfortunately it’s a little more complicated than that, although bio-degradable packaging claims to break down within several months, it still need perfect conditions for it to so do. Bio-degradable packaging that ends up in a landfill will not break down which means it is still harmful to the environment. A study carried out by University of Plymouth’s International Marine Litter Research Unit found that even after burying their test “biodegradable” bags for 3 years in the soil and the sea, they were still in tact enough to be able to carry shopping.

‘Something that is compostable can be used as compost when it decays.’ This usually means that it is made from plant based materials in the first place, which will compost at the same rate as food or garden waste. If you live in an area that takes food waste from your home, you may use compostable bags made from plant starch for your food waste bin (it’s worth noting here that some food waste bags are sold as bio-degradable so make sure you get bags that are classed as compostable). This is in theory the best option for the environment, however, many composting facilities will not take anything other than compostable bags.

So what the hell are we supposed to use?
After all of that, unless you’re using compostable bags for your food waste bin, the best way to ensure you’re not causing any more damage to the environment is to avoid packaging wherever you can and bring your own reusable bags. Zero Waste Shops are popping up all over the place and more and more supermarkets are being forced to offer more loose or paper options for their packaging. If you live in the UK or Europe, take a look at this link to find your nearest package free shops.

I’d love to know if this was helpful in any way! If you have any questions or comments please leave them below or find me on Instagram!

Peace x

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