What does biodegradable mean? How is it different from compostability?

“Biodegradable” describes the ability of a substance to be broken down (degraded) by microorganisms. By some definitions, biodegradable has a time-frame (ie: less than 30 days), but biodegradable is commonly used without a time frame (this product will biodegrade…eventually). This broad definition includes products whose in–between stages can be toxic or unbalance the ecosystem they degrade in.

Compostable is a special case of biodegradable – where a substance biodegrades safely to form useful compost, and if done in a managed process it will have completely degraded in a timely manner (days, months, or years, depending on the item and the compost conditions). International certifications for compostability generally use a standard of 180 days in conditions of a commercial facility.

How long do compostable products take to degrade?

Depending on the material our products will degrade in 50 - 180 days in a commercial composter. In a backyard compost, products tend to take longer to degrade because of varying compost conditions and varying degrees of maintenance.

What is the price difference between compostable products and traditional ones?

Right now compostable products are more expensive. The price is coming down as the industry of compostable products grows, and improvements in technology and sourcing are expected to reduce the cost over the long term.

What plants can be made into bio-plastic compostable products?

Almost any high starch plants can be used to make bio-plastics. Corn is currently the most popular, but potato, rice and sugar beet are also options.

How much do compostable Bio-plastics impact the world's food supply?

Many plant based bio-plastics currently use the high energy food part of the plant, though there is research on-going to find and develop non-food sources. While that research continues, it is important to note that out of all the corn not grown for food in the world today over 90% is used for bio-energy while less than 2% is used for packaging. So, to increase the proportion of crops grown for food we get the biggest impact by converting to alternative energy sources. (Solar, Hydro, Wind, Waste to Energy biogas) This doesn’t mean that reducing the demand of packaging on this resource and finding alternate materials isn’t an important goal, and we support industry initiatives to look at alternative, non-food crop sources.

Why should you support compostable products even if they are not being composted?

We believe that composting needs to be a standard option for packaging disposal, as familiar as garbage and recycling currently are. However, in some areas we know that composting is not readily available (Check out our Where to Compost section for the BC, AB and WA region). Supporting plant-based, compostable products is one step towards a larger imperative to improve disposable products and their life cycles. Compostable packaging creates new options for both production and disposal over the long term and we think that creating these choices helps push the industry to improve packaging sustainability overall.

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