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Understanding the difference between compostable and biodegradable plastics

Compostable and biodegradable plastics

Thinking about it, it is quite bizarre we create disposable products that are designed for single use, (single-use plastics) but can take decades to decompose. It is therefore high time that people's attitudes are starting to shift when it comes to unsustainable plastics.

However, If you are anything like me the terms "compostable" or "biodegradable" can be a little confusing and deciphering the difference can be a minefield.

Well, I had to school myself on this subject as I wanted to be as sustainable as possible. I also wanted to be able to answer my customers questions on the types of cups and straws I use and how they are disposed.

So I started digging around and reading as much as I could on the subject - in order to make an informed decision when sourcing our cups and straws from sustainable suppliers.

So to save you some time on research here is some relevant information I have found; along with answers to the type of questions I get asked.



Compostable plastics

However, this is where things can get a little confusing. Not all compostables degrade or breakdown at the same rate - some need to taken to special facilities where they only break down at higher temperatures.

Moreover, as the move to more sustainable materials is a relatively new one, the government and business have not caught up. In a recent report, it states that the UK lacks the capacity to deal with certain sustainable materials.

There is also the issue whereby people don't realise, a cup for example, is compostable and put in waste destined for the landfill.


However, despite some of the drawbacks of compostable packaging I feel we are moving in the right direction and there are a number of benefits.

1. When disposed of correctly they break down quicker than plastics. Some plastic waste can take up to 1000 years (yes you heard that right) to decompose as opposed to 90-180 days for compostable packaging.​

2. When packaging made from PLA such as corn starch breaks downs, it does not pollute the the soil or environment by leaving any petrochemical resins.

3. The production and disposable takes less energy than products made from plastic.

​It takes less material to create say a disposable cup

4. The raw materials used to make compostable packaging (corn-starch, sugar cane) is infinitely renewable because we can grow this with sustainable energy (solar and winds - as opposed to petroleum based materials that are a finite resource.

5. Reduction of the amount of landfill waste.


biodegradable packaging

More and more compostable products are now coming online, due in large part to customer demand.

Here is some products available for retail and wholesale.

  • Compostable plastic bags

  • Compostable smoothie cups

  • Compostable straws

  • Compostable takeaway boxes

  • Compostable napkins

  • Compostable cutlery


Biodegradable material will breakdown and degrade into the environment, from naturally occurring microorganisms such as bacteria or fungi. This means it can be disposed of with general waste, which will breakdown in landfill, reducing overall waste.


Compostable and biodegradable in most people's mind seem to mean the same thing, However, there are slight differences between the two.

  1. Unlike compostable materials, biodegradable products do not need the special conditions of heat or a specialised facility.

  2. The breakdown of biodegradable materials can take place at a slower rate than compostable material.

  3. Biodegradable packaging does not add any nutritional value to the soil or environment, unlike compostable materials.


In short using both compostable and biodegradable is beneficial to the environment. As long as it is a.) designed to breakdown naturally into the environment and b.) disposed of correctly - using sustainable, eco-friendly products can cut down on waste and reduce your footprint on the environment.

We are defininalty moving in the right direction and I suppose we can just do our bit, to save the planet one compostable straw at a time!


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