Cut the confusion: Compostable vs Biodegradable - Blog

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Wednesday 3rd March 2021

So, you’ve forgotten your keep cup and picked up a hot coffee from your building’s café and you notice the cup says it’s compostable – result! You’ve done your bit for the environment. But hang on… what does this actually mean? And how should you dispose of this? 

With single-use disposables on every foodie’s mind and plant-based trending, eco-friendly packaging is in the spotlight. But the terminology can be confusing.  

Here, we explain the differences and similarities between compostable and biodegradable packaging so that you can make more informed recycling decisions to benefit our planet.  

Definition of compostable: 


For food packaging to be considered compostable it must be certified to the U.K.’s BS EN 13432 standard. Then to be composted , it must be sent to an appropriate treatment facility for processing.  

The treatment type that needs to be used to meet the BS standard is called “In-vessel composting”. This is an industrial grade process and allows the packaging to be transformed into compost during a 7-week cycle. Crucially it ensures that it reaches the correct temperature to treat any food residues safely. The compost can then be used for agriculture and landscaping to nourish and improve soil structure. Other methods of composting, such as those used in our gardens for green waste, do not create the right conditions for treating compostable food packaging.  

Definition of biodegradable: 


The term biodegradable is also often misused and applied to a broad range of different materials. Without a specified environment and time frame, the term is extremely vague. This is because a biodegradable product may breakdown in some environments and not (in any reasonable timeframe) in others. There is a lack of agreed standards and DEFRA has said that claims about the biodegradability of plastic-based products are difficult to verify. 

So, if you opt for plastic-free packaging in your building – do your research! Understand the difference between compostable and biodegradable packaging, check your product information and make sure you have a suitable disposal route.  

It is for these reasons and more that we partnered with compostable packaging market leaders Vegware and since May 2020 have provided a best-practice solution for our commercial clients with our compostables recycling service. Together, we can help you to make informed decisions about which products to choose and why. 

And next time you buy that coffee, pay attention to the packaging and ask how you can recycle or compost it!

Aisling Aquilina

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