Nathan Dube

By: Nathan Dube on November 10th, 2022

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Compostable VS Biodegradable Packaging Materials: What's The Difference?

Packaging Materials | Environment

Do you know the difference between compostable and biodegradable packaging materials? At first glance, you would be forgiven for thinking they are identical.


But they are absolutely not the same thing. And you must understand the difference between these two types of sustainable packaging materials before you attempt to make a purchase.


That is because there are entirely different disposal protocols for each of these earth-friendly packaging supplies.


Suppose you do not follow the instructions for the proper disposal of each of these materials. In that case, they may not biodegrade, negating the materials' sustainability and causing more harm than good to our planet.


But what are the differences between compostable and biodegradable packaging materials? How do you properly dispose of each material? And where can you purchase compostable and biodegradable packaging materials?


After reading this article, you will have a good understanding of the difference between compostable and biodegradable packaging materials.


compostable and biodegradable packaging materials


What Are Compostable Packaging Materials?


Compostable packaging materials are packaging supplies that can biodegrade under very specific circumstances. Whether or not compostable packaging materials will properly biodegrade depends on how they are disposed of.


What Are Compostable Packaging Materials Made Of?


For the most part, compostable packaging materials are created by combining recycled natural substrates, plant-based organics, and other natural substances, including wood pulp, rice compounds, starch, mushrooms, palm leaves, and other similar items. 


Today, you will find many compostable packaging materials that are made from a combination of plant-based compounds and biopolymers.


How Are Compostable Packaging Materials Properly Disposed Of?


In order to properly dispose of compostable packaging materials, you need to choose from two disposal protocols.


The first way to properly dispose of your compostable packaging materials is by disposing them into a home compost pile.


A homemade compost pile is created by forming layers of straw, compostable waste (such as coffee grinds, fruit peels, and wood chips), and manure.


Your pile will need to be maintained for proper moisture via regular watering. Once you have created a functional home compost pile, you can add your compostable packaging materials to the pile per the instructions on the container or the materials website.


You will want to review the complete instructions for creating a properly functioning home compost pile.


The second option for properly disposing of your compostable packaging materials is sending them to an industrial composting facility.


Industrial composting facilities require a paid account for the pick up of your compost, similar to how you need an account for garbage pick up.


The process is very similar to single-stream recycling. Each week, you would put a hopper or bin with your compostable materials (compostable packaging, fruit peels, coffee grinds, etc.) at the end of your driveway.


Later that day, a truck that looks similar to a garbage truck will come to collect the contents of your compost bin. Then, the compost will be sent to an industrial composting facility, which will be combined with other residents' and companies' compostable items.


Here, the composting process is done on a much larger scale. The final product will then be sold to home and garden centers or municipalities.


You will find a more in-depth exploration of industrial composting at the link above.


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What Are Biodegradable Packaging Materials?


Biodegradable packaging materials are packaging supplies that (bio)degrade much faster than traditional packaging alternatives such as flexible packaging and rigid packaging.


What Are Biodegradable Packaging Supplies Made Of?


Generally speaking, biodegradable packaging materials are made from the same or similar compounds and materials as compostable packaging. These include items such as biopolymers and plants.


That said, some biodegradable packaging materials contain special additives that increase the rate of biodegradation, such as the P-LIFE additive found in Steelflex BIO bio-degradable stretch film. 


How Are Biodegradable Packaging Materials Properly Disposed Of?


Depending on the brand of biodegradable packaging materials, the proper disposal protocols may be identical to compostable materials or require an alternative process.


For example, while Steelflex BIO biodegradable stretch film is fully biodegradable, it is not compostable. If you were to put this material in a compost pile, it would not biodegrade properly.


This is because the P-LIFE additive requires the film to be exposed to sunlight, heat, water, and oxygen in the open air.


If you tried to compost this material in a home composting pile or an industrial composting facility, it would not break down and biodegrade properly.


What Are The Differences Between Compostable And Biodegradable Packaging Materials?


It may seem like splitting hairs by dividing the terms compostable and biodegradable into two separate categories, but this is an important distinction.


While there are many similar, if not identical, elements between compostable and biodegradable packaging materials, there are a few key differences.


And these differences only become more complicated when companies and consumers often use these terms interchangeably.


As noted above, while some biodegradable packaging materials are compostable and may be disposed of in a home compost pile or industrial composting center, some are not.


So it is vital to read the directions for proper disposal of your compostable and biodegradable packaging materials as they may require specific disposal protocols.


Failure to follow these directions may result in your packaging materials not degrading the way they are supposed to.


As a simple rule of thumb, all compostable packaging materials are biodegradable, but not all biodegradable packaging materials are compostable.


Curious To Learn More About Compostable And Biodegradable Packaging Materials?


While this article should provide you with a foundation of knowledge on compostable and biodegradable packaging materials, there is much to be learned!


Are you interested in learning more about compostable and biodegradable packaging materials? If that is the case, you will want to visit our learning center.


There you can read more great articles about compostable and biodegradable packaging materials


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About Nathan Dube

As the Digital Marketing Specialist at Industrial Packaging, I am honored to create content for such a phenomenal company and work with one of the greatest teams in the Packaging Industry. Whether creating a video, writing blog posts or generating other pieces of content and multimedia, I am always excited to help educate and inspire our prospects and clients to reach their highest potential in regards to their packaging processes and needs.