Biodegradable or compostable packaging: how do they differ?

Biodegradable or compostable packaging: how do they differ?

Nowadays, the words biodegradable or compostable have become very common in the vocabulary of hospitality professionals. Especially for those who wish to adopt more environmentally friendly practices in their business operations. However, few people really know the differences and the scope of these concepts.

Therefore, Greenuso would like to explain the specifications of these organic materials and how they influence the impact of your operations.

This way, you will have the necessary knowledge to improve your services and make more sustainable decisions. Do you want to know more about it?

biodegradable or compostable? Differences between the two materials

To understand the differences between the two, you need to consider the following aspects:

  • Compostable materials are those that can biodegrade under physical conditions not found in nature. These processes are generated by humans and require high levels of moisture, oxygen and high temperatures.
  • In contrast, biodegradable materials decompose in nature without the need for human factors. They involve biological processes involving organisms such as bacteria and fungi, under natural environmental conditions.
  • Biodegradable products are reduced to water, biomass or carbon dioxide. As for compostable material, after processing it becomes manure or compost.

There are marked differences between these concepts, as their conception has varied over time and depending on the country. This has led to products being sold as “biodegradable” when in fact they require other factors to decompose completely.

Therefore, we believe it is important to establish more concrete criteria to define which materials are in fact compostable or biodegradable.

Moreover, these compounds do not just magically disappear among other waste. The reality is that in low-oxygen conditions (as in landfills), they produce methane and generate high levels of pollution.

It is therefore essential to have a deeper understanding of how these processes work in order to make the best decisions.

Biodegradable or compostable: properties of disposable packaging

Below, we explain in greater depth the characteristics of biodegradable or compostable containers:

Compostable packaging

These containers are made from organic materials, which can be reintegrated into nature using composting methods. Containers made from cardboard and paper require shredding, temperature control and the addition of enzymes to speed up the process. Currently, there are a number of collection services that responsibly adhere to commercial requirements from an environmentally conscious perspective.

PLA compostable cutlery

In some regions, compostable packaging can be treated in certified facilities that have specialised in these tasks. There you can put packaging in the same place as food waste, and in others you have to separate it beforehand. Of the various compostable materials for your packaging, cardboard and paper stand out as they can be reduced using multiple techniques.

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Also, there are materials such as bamboo, sugar cane and corn starch, which offer very effective composting results. It is important to check the descriptions suggested for each individual product to increase the efficiency of the process. In conclusion, if the packaging is made of organic materials it is possible to include it in some composting method.

Biodegradable containers

Biodegradable containers are those created with materials that decompose by the action of the environment in the shortest possible time. This implies that they have the ability to be reduced to integrate into nature without human influence.

Biodegradable packaging has presented a solution to the waste problems caused by traditional materials. This is the case with biopolymers of plant origin, which are highly effective in their natural decomposition. With them, food preservation has been enhanced with breathable and water-resistant quality materials.

Biodegradable or compostable: learn how to differentiate packaging degradability

They are certainly an excellent choice for products that need to be stored or transported for long periods of time. On the other hand, there are some facilities that accelerate the removal of biodegradables through ultraviolet lights and high temperatures.

Biodegradation is a natural process that can be divided into three phases:

  1. Biodeterioration: This is a more superficial degradation, affecting the chemical, physical and mechanical properties of the compound.
  2. Biofragmentation: This is a process through which the bonds of the material are fragmented. Consequently, they produce monomers and oligomers to replace them.
  3. Assimilation: The products resulting from the above process are consolidated into a new structure called microbial cells.

The problem of pseudo-biodegradable packaging

biodegradable or compostable? Sometimes it is not that simple. We have seen in the market today, how some companies deliberately promote so-called “green” products that contrary to the meaning of this word will take decades to fully biodegrade. In addition, there are frequent cases where an organisation labels its goods so that they “look green” when in fact they are made of unnatural substances.

It is common to hear words like “degradable” to mislead ecofriendly customers who want to contribute to the care of the environment. However, this term includes packaging that requires chemicals to decompose and generates toxic waste.

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In fact, they are sometimes much more harmful than conventional products, as they affect the environmental balance at higher levels.

Biodegradable and compostable packaging – is it really a solution?

We are absolutely certain that compostable and biodegradable packaging that is properly disposed of represents the best sustainable alternative. They help extend life on our planet, and offer a great solution against the throwaway culture. In fact, it outperforms recycling in many ways as recycling loses its effectiveness after several cycles.

We are currently experiencing the first steps of a global behavioural shift towards greener living. The emergence of industrial composting and biodegradation facilities means the elimination of waste management as we know it today. And it creates an exciting alternative scenario towards solving landfill problems on a permanent basis.

And as this movement continues to grow, composting can be practiced from your home without any inconvenience. In fact, there are now methods that require little effort and are a great help to the environment.

how can you identify a biodegradable or compostable product?

By now you are clear on the basic concepts and their applications in the packaging industry. Now, you need to apply this knowledge further to everyday food and beverage consumption. Some materials, due to their nature, are easily identifiable as biodegradable and do not require accreditation.

This is the case for animal and plant resources such as vegetables and fruits. However, technologies are now being applied that have pushed the boundaries to the point of creating materials such as bioplastics. These are similar to traditional plastics and must therefore be labelled in order to properly accredit them and avoid misunderstandings.

On our continent, the most recognised certifications are granted by the company TÜV Austria-Vinçotte, and we describe them below:

  • OK Biodegradable: Provides information and guarantees on the time required for biodegradation and which environment is necessary (air, water or soil).
  • OK Compost: Includes the OK Compost Home seal, which confirms whether the product can be composted at home. And also, the OK Compost Industrial which indicates that it is made from materials that require industrial treatment to degrade.

Biodegradable and compostable waste must be deposited in the brown bin, which corresponds to organic waste. The only exception to this rule is clean paper cups and plates (without food residues). The latter should be disposed of in the blue bin, which is intended for cardboard and paper waste.

This concludes this article on biodegradable and compostable packaging and the benefits they offer to your business. Use this information to optimise your packaging services and reach new quality standards.

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