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The difference of compostable/biodegradable/bio based material

June 11,2023

Most plastics are made from fossil fuels and if not properly managed at their end of life, can accumulate in the environment. This contributes to increased greenhouse gas emissions and pollution.

Alternative plastics, such as biobased,biodegradable and compostable plastics  may be a more sustainable alternative to fossil-based, non-biodegradable plastics. However, they also present their own sustainability challenges and trade-offs that must be carefully assessed and considered.

Compostable materials have a role to play in the circular economy, but they are not a silver bullet. Currently, PLA, the most common compostable material, is melted onto the surface of virgin paper to create a water and oil resistant industrial paper, used to make PLA paper cups, paper containers and to make home compostable waste bags from PLA. Click for more details about PLA paper:

The term compostable is often confused with the terms biodegradable and bio-based.

This can lead to some solutions being mishandled and their environmental impacts miscommunicated. These terms can be distinguished as follows:

Biodegradable: able to be broken down into carbon dioxide, water, and biomass by the natural action of microorganisms over an unspecified length of time and in undefined conditions.

Compostable: able to be broken down into carbon dioxide, water, and biomass within a specific time-frame under specific conditions. This can mean either home-compostable (at ambient temperatures and with a natural microbial community) or industrially compostable (under increased temperatures, humidity, and specifically formulated microbial conditions). Compostable material can be made from either bio-based or petro-chemical inputs. Compostable packaging is subject to certification standards in North America, Japan, and Europe.

Bio-based plastics: refers to where the material comes from rather than what happens to it after use. Conventional plastics are largely oil-based. Bio-based plastics are made – either wholly or partly – from polymers drawn from organic sources such as plants, microorganisms, and greenhouse gases (examples include corn, algae, yeast and CO2).