Degradable, Biodegradable or Compostable

compost bin

Why is Certified Compostable The Best Pick?

Put simply, out of the three, certified compostable is the only option that breaks down into natural components and does not leave harmful microplastics behind in the environment.

It is not uncommon to see these terms used interchangeably, which can lead to confusion. In a commercial setting, this can be what is referred to as “green-washing”, where it is claimed that just because ‘eco’, ‘enviro’, or ‘bio’ is included in the name of a product, it is good for the environment when usually that’s not true.

Understanding the basic differences between these commonly used terms is beneficial to everyone, so that we can make informed decisions on product purchases, and the impact they will have on the environment.


Certified Compostable: These types of materials fall into one of two categories. Both are necessary for a successful pile and perform best when alternated in thin layers.

Green: Nitrogen rich materials like live plant material and fruit/vegetable waste. These provide moisture to your pile and break down quickly.

Brown: Carbon rich materials like dead plant matter and wood-based waste. These provide aeration and structure, but break down slowly so work best when chopped into small pieces.

As these products are free from harmful plastics such as Polypropylene, Polyethylene, Polystyrene and PVC, they break down to their natural cellulose beginnings, leave virtually undetectable levels in the soil, and are deemed “worm safe” with no micro plastic residues left behind.

Biodegradable: Usually described as anything that degrades from the action of naturally occurring microorganisms, such as bacteria, fungi and algae. Usually, products that are derived from plants, animals, or natural minerals are biodegradable.

Objects that are defined as biodegradable extend far beyond plants and food, however. Items like paper and cardboard boxes can also be classified as biodegradable products, even though they will take much longer to break down to a microscopic level.

You could even argue plastic is biodegradable because it eventually breaks down, but this process can take centuries. These substances will eventually decompose into carbon dioxide, water and other forms of organic material. Harmful microplastics will be left in the environment and most likely find their way into the food chain.

Degradable: Almost everything is degradable. Degradable generally simply means something will in time degrade. Degradable means they do not require living organisms to break down. Instead, chemical additives are used in the plastic to make it crumble more quickly than it would otherwise. Once again, this means that harmful microplastics will be left in the environment and most likely find their way into the food chain.

The bottom line is that both biodegradable and degradable are still made with harmful plastics, and though designed to break down faster will merely break down to smaller plastics that will exist and pollute our environment indefinitely. 

The best thing to do is to try and limit products bought that are degradable, and if possible, biodegradable as well. Products that are made with certified compostable materials are the only guaranteed products that are healthy for our environment. Look into alternatives or substitutions for products that you already use, you may be surprised with what you’ll find!