We often see the words ‘biodegradable’ and ‘compostable’ used interchangeably and can easily be confused. We try to be conscious of the materials that make up products we purchase and use in order to create less waste. This week, we’re covering the difference between biodegradable and compostable to help us make more eco-friendly decisions!
Biodegradable products can break down into small enough pieces where naturally-occurring microorganisms, like bacteria, fungi and algae, can consume it. Typically these products are derived from plant-based or natural materials. Eventually, the result of decomposition may be carbon dioxide, water or other forms of organic material.
It could be said that anything can be biodegradable, since there’s no defined time period or specific standards that biodegradable products are held to. All products inherently have the ability to slowly break down, even if the process takes centuries. Products break down at different rates depending on the original material they’re made from and how much it has been processed.
An apple core, cardboard and even plastic can all be seen as biodegradable even if it takes longer to break down to a microscopic level.
However, there is a lack of evidence that supports plastic is able to completely disappear and return to the earth as organic material. This attributes to plastic and microplastic pollution and why so many animals ingest small pieces of plastic. Even if a material can biodegrade, it may leave behind toxic waste and do more harm than good for the environment.
Compostable products are broken down into organic matter by microorganisms like bacteria, actinobacteria and fungi. The composting process requires carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and water. Often these products are processed by human management in a municipal or industrial composting facility, like our friends at LA Compost.
As compostable products can break down into their natural elements, they leave no visible, distinguishable or toxic residue behind and will not cause any harm to the environment. The resulting ‘humus’ is rich in nutrients and is useful for our planet. It can be used as soil conditioner, fertilizer and natural pesticide.
The compostability of a product is held against certain standards, unlike biodegradable products that don’t have specific guidelines. For example, the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) outlines their compostable certification as any product that can:
- Disintegrate entirely within 12 weeks
- 90% of product disintegration occurs within 180 days in a composting facility
All compostable material is biodegradable, but all biodegradable is not compostable.
Graphic obtained from The Clean Market.
How are our organic cotton briefs making a difference?
All materials our organic cotton briefs are always naturally derived, plant-based, vegan, beneficial for the planet and good for you too. Our organic pima cotton briefs are fully compostable at their end of life - so you can literally plant your pants. Specifically, our product and packaging ingredients include:
Organic pima cotton fabric
- 100% GOTS certified
- Fully compostable, and will disappear within 20 weeks
- Naturally derived from from plant-based materials and cotton
- Fully compostable, and will disappear within 16 weeks
Individual brief pouch
- Bio-based material
- Composts within 3 to 6 months
Individual brief pouch sticker
- Natural, unblocked sugarcane paper
- Fully compostable
- We use 100% recycled and recyclable kraft mailers
- Naturally biodegradable
We’re committed to upholding our super natural standards and we love to keep learning and upgrading our progress. See how we’re making a difference for our Mother Earth here, and let us know any other ways you’d like to see us become even more sustainable by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org.