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biodegradable vs compostable vs recyclable

are they all basically the same?

Not all biodegradable, compostable and recyclable products are created equal. While all of these green descriptions may all sound like environmentally friendly options, each of them should be disposed of in different ways.

We understand why there’s so confusion out there. The labelling makes it difficult for consumers to understand and navigate the many differences between each, and how or even why we should treat them differently. For example, despite products carrying the EN13432 standard and OKBioBased certificate from Vincotte, not all will degrade in landfill, or a home composting system.

The more everyone knows about what happens to our waste and how best to get rid of it, the more it benefits all of us. It’s especially true for small business owners selling products directly consumers.


what is biodegradable?

Biodegradable materials – including packaging – is anything that breaks down over time. Bacteria, fungi and other biological processes contribute to this natural activity. Some materials disintegrate in weeks, others in months and some (like plastic) will actually break time over the course of decades!

“Biodegradable” is very broad for this reason. Most things are technically biodegradable, but many will take so long to actually break down. A lot of biodegradable materials are destined for landfill facilities, where they are left to erode and decompose. While there are uses for this decaying matter, materials that decompose quicker make sure we don’t have landfills literally stacked with everlasting piles of bric-a-brac.


what is compostable?

Composting is when you recycle organic waste and it converts into fertiliser. It’s natural process and something many people do to use as an addition to soil. While your home compost heap might be an effective at breaking down the kinds of things you add to it – like old skins and potato peelings – it doesn’t mean it can handle packaging deemed “compostable”.

In the packaging world, “compostable” materials can be turned into compost, but it may need industrial help to get to that point. In fact, some “compostable” materials will take even longer than other forms of waste to degrade in landfill conditions. This kind of packaging needs to go to a specialist industrial composting facilities that aerate the waste and help it break down into useful fertiliser quicker.


what is recyclable?

Recyclable goods are much more familiar to most people. These include a range of different materials that can be converted to be reused in different products. Recycling reduces waste, as the items avoid landfill altogether, can re-enter the manufacturing stream and can reduce the energy required to create its non-recycled counterparts.

Depending in where you live – and even what part of the country you are in – will determine what you can easily dispose of. In most cases but all paper, card, glass and some plastic can go into your recycled waste collection containers. It’s a very convenient way to be more eco-friendly in your everyday life. For businesses that sell to the public, using recyclable packaging makes it that little bit easier for people to make eco-friendly choices with their waste.


how XOandQuin classify biodegradable, compostable and recyclable products

Most of the eco friendly business supplies at XOandQuin – specifically our biodegradable displays bags, glassine envelopes and stickers – are both biodegradable and compostable. This means they will degrade in landfill conditions, and can be composted in home composting systems. In most cases local authorities will take them in your food or garden waste.

Glassine and stickers, in addition to being biodegradable and compostable, are recyclable because they are made from paper with no additional coatings (such as plastic laminates). This means you can add them to your green recycling bags, boxes and bins to dispose of them. The stickers do not need to be removed to recycle the packaging. XOandQuin only use uncoated paper which will degrade without any plastic residue.

Note that our Nativia® can only be composted in an industrial recycling plant, which is not widely accessible to those outside of specialist industries, whilst these are not an ideal solution, XOandQuin do offer Nativia® products for those requiring a food safe product until a stable alternative can be sourced.

Resources, News & Further Reading:
SciTechDaily, by University of California – Berkley publish date, April 22nd 2021

Image credit: Marcell Viragh via Unsplash 

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