What’s the difference between biodegradable and compostable?
If you’re looking to shift your habits to have a more sustainable period, you might be keeping an eye out for period products that have eco-friendly credentials, such as being biodegradable or compostable. These are terms used to describe how materials, including period products, break down after use and can indicate that they’re more sustainable options than regular plastic-filled pads and tampons.
Biodegradable and compostable are often used interchangeably, so it may be unclear what the differences are between them. The use of one without the other can change how sustainable a product really is. Read on to find out the difference between compostable and biodegradable period products.
What does biodegradable mean?
If a material or product is biodegradable, it means that in the right conditions it will decompose, broken down by bacteria or other living organisms over time. The rate at which biodegradable materials will break down into the environment depends on a few things, including:
- What materials the product is made from
- How much the raw materials have been processed to create the product
- Whether the conditions are optimal for degradation
The rate of biodegradation can hugely vary (we’re talking anywhere between 6 months and thousands of years). So using this word to describe something can be vague and an attempt to mislead and greenwash consumers. The key takeaway here is that biodegradable doesn’t really mean anything without knowing the context for it biodegrading, e.g. the conditions which trigger the material to break down into its natural components.
What does compostable mean?
Compostable materials are organic matter that biodegrade in composting conditions to produce natural, non-toxic components such as water, carbon dioxide, and biomass that won’t harm the environment or leave toxic residues.
When compostable items turn into compost, they can release nutrients into the soil to help fertilise the earth and promote plant growth.
Pads, liners and tampons that are plastic free and compostable!
Compostable products are classed as home compostable or industrially compostable. This helps to identify the best disposal conditions for the products so that they’ll actually breakdown into compost successfully.
So, what’s the difference between biodegradable and compostable?
Put simply: everything that is compostable is biodegradable, but not everything that is biodegradable is compostable.
Both biodegradable and compostable products will break down over time and in the right conditions, but only compostable products will be regenerated into compost and improve soil quality. Compostable products are the same as biodegradable products, but with an added bonus.
What’s more, biodegradable products that aren’t compostable may require much more specific conditions, like the right level of heat and moisture, to be able to fully break down. So if you compost any non-food products at home, you won’t necessarily be able to add products that are labelled as biodegradable. If the labelling is unclear, check with the brand or manufacturer to see if it can be composted at home or commercially.
How does this apply to my period products?
When you’re shopping for more sustainable period products, you’ll notice that some brands state they’re biodegradable, compostable, or both. Knowing the difference between the two words will help you to find products that are right for you.
Products that only say they’re biodegradable probably aren’t compostable, which means it can be difficult to know how to dispose of them, and the best conditions for them to break down in. There’s also less certainty around how long it will take them to fully break down, if at all. Products that are labelled biodegradable AND compostable, or just compostable alone, will be able breakdown in a compost bin or in industrial or commercial compost. If a product is certified compostable, it will either be as “Home Compostable” or “Commercially Compostable”, which will help you to understand which kind of compost they can be go in.
If you have a home compost bin, a community compost that will accept menstrual products, or know your local waste collection will accept them in food waste bins, choosing compostable period products like ours is likely to be the best choice for you.
Here’s more information about composting your period products if it’s something you’d like to get started with!
Natracare period products are both biodegradable and commercially compostable to the EN 13432 standard. So you can rest assured they’ll break down after use and will contribute nutrients to soil when disposed of correctly. They aren’t certified as home compostable because this certification isn’t available for any period product. However, the individual components of our period products are suitable for home composting. The wrappers for our Ultra Extra pads and Normal and Long panty liners are industrially compostable.