Biodegradable and Compostable – What’s the Story?

As we evaluate sustainable packaging solutions, we often talk to suppliers about their biodegradable and compostable offerings. Unfortunately, the terms are not used consistently AND we’re surprised that some suppliers don’t even know what they truly mean for their own products. Heck, if suppliers are confused about it for their own stuff, how can the rest of us really know what’s up.

To help you better understand what’s out there, we’d like to provide a short overview of “biodegradable” and “compostable” for products and packaging materials. Unfortunately, you’ll probably find that what we have to say may undermine some of your existing beliefs.

By definition, a “biodegradable” product can break down by biological means, safely and rather quickly, into the raw materials of nature and disappear into the environment. While this seems straight-forward, there is no standard that regulates how biodegradable is used to describe a product or its packaging. For instance, the term biodegradable is often used in labeling when only a portion of a product is biodegradable, for example, a plastic that has vegetable oil added to achieve the “biodegradable” result. The vegetable oil will biodegrade but the petroleum-based plastic ingredients certainly will not.

Fortunately for compostable, there is a definition AND regulations do exist for how the term can be used to describe a product and its packaging. A “compostable” product is a solid that will break down into the soil by biological means in a safe and rather quick fashion. It is almost synonymous with “biodegradable”, except it is limited to solid materials. From a regulation perspective, the term compostable can only be applied if the product will decompose into nutrient-rich material in a commercial composting facility, or in a home compost pile or device.

It is extremely important to note that for truly biodegradable and compostable products, landfills should be avoided since they prevent the product from actually breaking down. Unlike commercial composting facilities and home compost piles, landfills are designed to keep out moisture, sunlight, and bacterial activity, ingredients necessary to facilitate the breakdown of products into the raw materials of nature. Anthropological digs at multiple landfills in North America (yes, these really do take place!) have shown that newspapers have lasted for 40+ years and food scraps for 5+ years, highlighting that biodegradable and compostable products don’t break down in a ‘relatively quick fashion’ at a landfill.

Having studied plenty of packaging materials on store shelves, Simply Dara is proud of the wood-cellulose, BPI® Certified Compostable wrappers that we use to individually wrap each of our RAW BALLS®. We are strong believers in the use of Sustainable Packaging materials and its ability to enable a business to thrive.

Please remember to put your individual RAW BALLS® wrappers into the compost and keep it from going to a landfill!