What’s the Difference Between Recyclable, Biodegradable and Compostable?
With over 8 million metric tons of plastic waste finding its way into our oceans each year – let alone the tonnage going into landfills – we’ve only just begun to realise the enormity of the problem we’ve created for our planet and started tackling it.
As a forward-thinking ethical multivitamin brand, we try to do our very best to help, and not harm, the environment, by creating packaging that is easily recycled and breaks down quickly, without releasing harmful chemicals in the process. Click here to read our ‘6-Step Guide to Starting Your Plastic-Free Life’.
But, there so many different terms used for types of non-permanent materials: recyclable, biodegradable, compostable… but what do these actually mean and how do you know what’s actually best for the planet? Let’s take a closer look.
What Does Recyclable Mean?
Recyclable is the term we are most familiar with and we best associate with one-use plastics, paper, and cardboard. When something is recyclable it can be broken down into its raw materials which can then be used again. We should be striving to make everything we use recyclable, so that rather than going landfills to slowly degrade over hundreds or even thousands of years, we can take the materials and make something new.
Are There Any Negatives to Recycling?
Not in principle – not at all, the problem comes in the infrastructure of the way our waste is disposed of and recycled. For example, the county next to yours has different rules for recycling, meaning that while one county can anything at all recyclable in their bins, while others have specific rules and make it difficult for people to know what can go in and what can’t, which often leads to confusion. There are also some recyclable materials that are not easily recognised by industrial scanners that sort the waste, and so those are marked for landfill when they could have been recycled (such as black plastics).
What Does Biodegradable Mean?
Biodegradable is the term used to describe something that will break down over time through natural processes. This means that when these products end up in a landfill bacteria will be able to consume them.
Are There Any Negatives to Biodegradable?
The time for something to break down that is biodegradable is between 6 months and 1,000 years, depending on the composition, and so anything is essentially biodegradable given enough time, so it’s worth doing a little extra research about any biodegradable products you’re interested in purchasing and whether they contain any toxic substances.
What Does Compostable Mean?
Materials that are compostable mean they have proven to break down entirely into its non-toxic components that cause no harm to the environment. These components are often water, carbon dioxide, and organic matter. The time this decomposition takes also varies, but to be compostable it must break down in 180 days.
Are Compostable Products Suitable for Home Compost Heaps?
Not often – in most cases they are only suitable for industrial-scale composting, so be sure to check what you need to do before you throw it in the garden compost bin. Even plant-based compostable products aren’t often suitable because the conditions in most home composting systems won’t reach the right conditions to break these products down in 180 days.
Which is Best for the Environment: Biodegradable, Compostable or Recyclable?
None are inherently bad, but you certainly need to be vigilant about purchasing products and packaging that is marked biodegradable, as it’s a term that can be misleading. The time these products take to break down is often just too long to be of any real benefit to us – that biodegradable bottle or “plastic cup” may still sit in the bushes at the side of the road for 300 years, which is clearly not good.
Compostable and recyclable are ultimately best, as when disposed of properly they will be no longer exist in their previous form within 180 days or so, which is obviously the most environmentally way to use and dispose of unwanted packaging and products.
When you’re shopping try to use your own reusable packaging, but when avoidable, choose packaging that can be easily recycled, like paper, cardboard, aluminium, and similar products. Lined paper products like juice cartons and dry pet food bags are common offenders.
If you want to go above and beyond for the planet (as you should), ensure the inks used to print on the packaging are natural and eco-friendly, like the inks we use on our own packaging. This means that when our products are recycled they don’t give off any harmful toxins.
Is Plastic Always Bad?
Yes, most of the time, but when plastics are properly recycled they can be reused again, and many alternatives aren’t yet significantly better to be widely adopted. For example, while glass bottles are easily recycled, due to their weight they create more pollution in transportation than plastic, and other plastic alternatives aren’t yet “food-grade” and so can’t be widely rolled out to help us with the massive amount of food packaging we use. The best thing is always to take your own reusable bags to the supermarket when buying produce, and vote with your money – pay a little more for the product that has recyclable packaging over those that don’t.
If you’re interested in learning more about plastics, read our response to a BBC News article claiming that a plastic packaging ban could harm the environment.
Why our food supplement packaging is different
It took us a year to perfect our packaging as all the options we found involved using plastic in some way. This meant we had to start from the ground-up and create our own ground-breaking solution – which was absolutely worth it. All our packaging is fully sustainable, made from FSC approved food-grade paper, and entirely free of plastic. We print our labels directly onto our packaging with vegetable inks so they won’t harm the environment when recycled. Read more about our packaging here.
Of course, when you receive your order you’ll receive it in recyclable cardboard boxes, recyclable shredded paper, and even eco-friendly paper tape to secure your supplements. If you’d like to find out more about how we help maintain your health as well as the health of the environment, click here.