The difference between compostable and biodegradable
Compostable and biodegradable are two words which are often used interchangeably when talking about recycling and leading a more sustainable lifestyle. But there are a lot of significant differences between these two terms. Clearly understanding the meaning of compostable and biodegradable materials is crucial in the fight against fast fashion and climate change. But to understand the difference between the two, let's break down both words and take a closer look at their differences.
Compostable materials break down into environmentally friendly, non-toxic components. These non-toxic components might be water, carbon dioxide, or biomass. Different materials decompose at different rates and are dependent on their environment— compost requires food, water and air just like all organisms. When an item decomposes these organisms break it down and return it to the earth in a non-harmful way.
What materials are compostable?
Only clothes made from natural fibres are suitable for composting. Garments made from organic cotton, linen, wool, bamboo and silk can all be added to your compost bin. However, before throwing your old clothes into the compost pile, you’ll need to check for non-compostable elements. Zips, buttons and synthetic fabrics will need to be removed as these materials as they cannot be composted and can damage the environment around them.
Unfortunately, clothing made from a combination of materials, for example, organic cotton mixed with polyester, are not suitable for composting as these harmful synthetic fibres will not break down into natural components. Instead, these fibres will destroy your compost and heat up under the sun, releasing toxic fumes.
What does biodegradable mean?
Biodegradable simply refers to the breaking down of an item into smaller components over time. The reason why this term is so vague is because the majority of items will eventually break down. Some fibres can take a matter of months to break down, whilst others can take thousands of years. All items are biodegradable to some extent. But we want to invest in those that don’t damage the environment once they eventually break down and avoid adding more toxic elements into nature.
The difference between biodegradable and compostable
Biodegradable and compostable materials are not all that different; they both result in the breaking down of fibres into smaller components. The key difference between the two is that compostable fibres return to the earth and enrich the environment. Compost requires a specific environment and if they end up in landfill they will not be composted as this does not occur there. Whereas biodegradable materials will break down naturally, no matter their external surroundings.
As we have mentioned, the differentiation between both biodegradable and compostable is often unclear. Globally there has been some concern from the compost industry regarding material make up and what qualifies as compostable. The good news is that this concern has led to the development of the European Standard EN 13432 which sets out the criteria for what can be described as compostable and what can be defined as biodegradable. The US Standard ASTM D6400-99 also has similar standards.
Like so many eco-friendly practices that we discuss here at Bon and Berg, education and knowledge are the key to success. Make checking the material used to make your garments second nature before making a purchase. Consider its lifespan and be more conscious about where this item will end up when you have finished with it. Always consider the environmental impact your clothes mighthave and try to dispose of them both safely and sustainably.
If you are serious about living a more sustainable lifestyle and learning more about the fight against fast fashion, then you might also be interested in our blog post on How to throw away your clothes responsibly or if you would like to keep up to date on what's happening here at Bon and Berg click here to join our mailing list.