What's the Difference Between Biodegradable and Compostable?top half of the image is showing produce scraps. the bottom half of the image is showing nutrient rich soil

What's the Difference Between Biodegradable and Compostable?

Both "biodegradable" and "compostable" refer to the ability of materials to break down and return to nature. People often use them interchangeably, but they are not completely synonymous. And when it comes to disposing waste, the differences become very important. For example, everything that is compostable is biodegradable, but not everything that is biodegradable is compostable.

Read on to find out more about the important distinctions between biodegradable and compostable.


Biodegradable: A material is considered biodegradable if it can be broken down by biological processes, usually with the aid of microorganisms like bacteria and fungi, over a period of time. However, this does not specify how long the process might take or the resulting by-products. Something could be called biodegradable but take hundreds of years to return to the earth and release harmful chemicals while doing so.

Compostable: A material is compostable if it can break down in composting conditions to become nutrient-rich compost. This means it not only breaks down but also releases valuable nutrients into the soil. It typically must meet certain standards to be labeled as such, breaking down within a certain time frame (usually a few months) and not leaving any toxic residue behind.

Time Frame

Biodegradable: Can vary significantly. Some materials might degrade within a year, while others could take decades or even hundreds of years. The term itself doesn't guarantee a quick or safe breakdown.

Compostable: Must break down in a relatively short period, often within one composting cycle. Typically, this means a few months under ideal conditions. For example, our molded fiber containers and tableware will break down in three to six months in an industrial composting setting.


Biodegradable: Depending on the material and environment, the breakdown could result in harmful residues or greenhouse gases like methane.

Compostable: Designed to break down in a way that produces beneficial compost, and without toxic residues.


Biodegradable: Might break down in various natural environments, such as soil, water, etc. However, the exact conditions required can differ greatly among materials.

Compostable: Requires specific composting conditions, typically in industrial composting facilities where heat, moisture, and microorganism activity are optimized. There are a variety of methods available on an industrial level, or at home.

Certification and Standards

Biodegradable: The term is sometimes used loosely, and there may not be strict standards defining it in some contexts or regions. However, some certifications exist for biodegradable products.

Compostable: There are established standards (like ASTM D6400 in the U.S. and EN 13432 in Europe) that products need to meet in order to be certified compostable. Such products have usually undergone tests to ensure they meet these standards. Our products have met ASTM D6400 standards as indicated on the individual product pages.

Environmental Impact

Biodegradable: Just because something is biodegradable does not mean it's environmentally benign. For instance, a plastic bag might eventually break down but can still cause harm to wildlife when an animal gets caught in it or eats it. Plastic often releases toxins as it degrades.

Compostable: Generally viewed as more environmentally friendly, especially if composted properly, as the material turns into nutrient-rich compost that can benefit the soil.

Common Misconceptions

Biodegradable: People often think biodegradable items will break down quickly and safely in any environment, which is not always the case.

Compostable: There's a misconception that compostable items can be thrown into the regular trash or nature and they'll just decompose. However, they typically require specific composting conditions to break down fully and beneficially.


In summary, while both biodegradable and compostable items offer more sustainable alternatives to traditional waste, it's important to understand their distinct properties and benefits. Proper disposal is crucial for maximizing their environmental benefits.