Going into stores nowadays there are a lot of fancy terms like Organic, Compostable, or Biodegradable. People often wonder what the difference is and is one better than another.
Most things that are natural are Biodegradable. All Organic products must be naturally made so they are biodegradable.
What is Organic?
Organic is a term used to refer to the origins of a product.
Products that are organic are made from organic ingredients.
In order for an ingredient to be organic it has to be natural, as opposed to man-made, and it needs to be created or grown without chemical pesticides or fertilizers.
In addition, organic plants and animals cannot be genetically modified in any way.
Organically raised animals also require that the animal be raised humanely and in animal friendly ways. Additionally, animals need to be fed organically.
What is Biodegradable?
Biodegradable refers to how a product breaks down over time.
Biodegradable products break down naturally.
Some biodegradable products take more time than others to break down. This is why it is important to only put food scraps in a compost bin.
Biodegradable products are made of natural ingredients that break down naturally over time.
These ingredients can be, but are not required to be, organic. Some things that are biodegradable are also compostable.
What is Compostable?
Compostable is a term commonly used to refer to food and plant scraps.
All compostable items are essentially biodegradable. However, not all items that are biodegradable, are compostable.
Compostable refers to an item or product’s ability to be turned into compost.
The key difference between Compostable products and Biodegradable products is the amount of time it takes for the product to break down.
With Compostable items the breakdown of the item has to happen in a specific time span. With Biodegradable items there is no limit, it can take a few months or a few years to break down.
How Can You Tell If Something is Biodegradable, Compostable, or Organic?
Labels in stores will often help you determine if something is Biodegradable, Compostable, or Organic.
However, here are a few quick tips for determining if an item is one or more of these.
- Is it Organic?
If the item or product you are buying is organic, then it is biodegradable. If the item is not organic, it may still be biodegradable. If it is not organic and made of a man-made material (such as plastic or Styrofoam) then it is unlikely to be biodegradable.
- Is it Food?
All Foods, whether organic or not, are biodegradable. Vegetables and fruits are also compostable. While meats, eggs, and dairy can be degraded, they do not make good compost.
- Is it Man-Made?
Man-made materials such as plastic, hard plastic, Styrofoam, etc. can be recyclable but they are rarely biodegradable or compostable.
Some exceptions are wood, cork, cardboard, paper, etc.
These items are man-made out of naturally occurring biodegradable materials and will degrade over time. Some are compostable, others are recyclable.
Man-made plastics, acrylics, clothing, etc. may be reused or recycled, and are sometimes biodegradable. However, not all are recyclable, reusable, or biodegradable.
Your best option here is to check labels.
Can Man-Made Materials Be Biodegradable?
Most man-made materials are made from naturally occurring ingredients.
Man-made products whose material ingredients are natural are usually biodegradable.
Man-made Biodegradables often have to be processed in a factory whereas naturally occurring items that have not been super-processed will biodegrade over time.
The processes of making things out of natural ingredients and making them last can impact a product’s speed of breakdown.
For example, the processes used to make clothing or cardboard moving boxes are intended to increase the life expectancy of these products.
It is possible to purchase man-made biodegradable items.
For example, organic clothing or papers. These items will not last as long as their traditional counterparts. However, they are often considered better for the planet.
Man-made items such as Styrofoam, tires, etc. are not biodegradable. In addition, Styrofoam is also not recyclable.
Tires on the other hand are recyclable, even though they are not biodegradable.
Is There A Name For Products That Are Not Biodegradable?
The name for products that are not biodegradable are Synthetics.
Synthetics is a large category that includes many items we use in our day to day lives. Synthetics need to be disposed of properly for the health of the environment.
Some synthetics can be recycled, such as synthetic clothing, water bottles, etc. Other synthetics are not as easily recyclable such as batteries and other chemicals.
Types of Synthetics
- Plastic bottles
- Glass bottles
- Plastic bags
- Items made from petroleum
- Nylon, Acrylic, and other types of synthetic clothing
Another type of Non-Biodegradable items and products that can occur naturally are metals and rocks.
The key here is that they are minerals and not living things or made from living things.
This is true of most synthetics.
They may come from naturally occurring minerals, ores, or oils, but they do not come from living ingredients such as plants or animals.