WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
Euro Brand Management GmbH
Many of our customers and consumers are a bit confused by the wide variety of products that claim to be either compostable or biodegradable and whether these products can go into a compost area or into paper trash. These items do have a key difference which impacts their disposal.
For something that can be considered compostable, it must be able to break down quickly into organic materials that can offer nutrients to the soil and plants around it. The environment for the degradation must be somewhat moist or have other nutrients to feed the process. These items can become usable compost in a safe and timely manner in an appropriate composting facility or home compost pile. Food scraps, yard waste, general paper without foil inks, tea bags and coffee grounds, 100% paper plates, and specially marked serving ware are all considered compostable.
The term biodegradable means that an item will break down into smaller parts after disposal. However, being biodegradable does not mean that it is always compostable. The difference for this is that while a biodegradable item may break down into smaller fragments, these components may not be able to provide any nutrients when used as compost. Biodegradable products can include everything from diapers and packaging materials that indicate biodegradable to packing peanuts. If these types of products contain metal residue in their return to nature, they will not 100% compost. Items simply listed as biodegradable should not be placed in your compost container, nor should biodegradable bags be used to set out your extra organic material unless there are no environmental indications of materials which cannot be 100% composted.
If you have a product such as a disposable cup and are not sure if it can be composted, look for a label from the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) stating that it is compostable. Additionally, a product may state that it is ASTM D6400 and ASTM D6868 certified which is a certification for compostable materials. Finally, there may just be the familiar chasing arrows with a “7” inside and the letters “PLA”. This indicates it is made with plant-based materials such as corn, flour or sugar cane and is compostable.
There remain several challenges facing the Federal Trade Commission and individual country trade organizations. Many compost facilities know that contamination from non-compostable packaging is among the biggest obstacles. Nonspecific content labeling is the biggest hinderance as well as organics diversion space. Many outside organics programs do not yet separate compostable plastics and packaging. There are a number of initiatives being worked on such as specific color schemes of green and brown striping and use of the word “compostable” and a third-party certification verification that meets industry standards. “WORK IN PROGRESS” is the byword as there is only one way forward to lessen the environmental damage we are causing.
Euro Brand Management GmbH