In any eco-friendly resource or article, terms like compostable, biodegradable, and recyclable are frequently used. They might have some things in common, but they are not the same. Do you know the difference?
Biodegradable refers to the innate ability of materials to break down naturally into basic elements, with the help of bacteria, fungi, and other biological processes, when left in the natural environment or the landfill. Many materials are biodegradable, but it might take them a very long time to degrade.
The environment where the materials are left to biodegrade is very important, as many factors influence the outcome: sunlight, oxygen, water and presence of bacteria and fungi. The same apple will not biodegrade at the same rate in nature than buried under tons of synthetic materials.
Paper towels are known to biodegrade in 2-4 weeks, apple core in 2 months, wool in 1 year, tin can in 50 years, disposable diapers more than 100 years. We know that synthetic plastics, depending on the type of plastic, may take decades, centuries, or even a thousand years to biodegrade. As for glass, it’s best to recycle it, as the time of biodegradation is so long, it is not even defined.
A material or product is compostable if it will disintegrate into natural components in a compost environment, leaving no toxicity in the soil, on the contrary, providing the earth with nutrients once the material has broken down.
But there is a difference between home composting and industrial composting.
In home compost, you will usually find organic plant-based materials like vegetable peelings, fruit waste, plant prunings, and grass cuttings.
Industrial composting sites can manage products that have the label of compostable. There must be a perfect balance of heat, moisture, and oxygen to decompose not only plant and animal materials, but also compostable plastics.
Recycling is the process of collecting and later converting used items, usually waste materials, into new products. First, the materials are separated into very specific categories, cleaned, and then converted into raw material. The process usually involves shredding the materials into tiny pieces to be melted, create a pulp, or converting them to other forms of raw material. The raw material is used to create new products. The most commonly recyclable materials are paper, cardboard, glass, tetra packs, some types of plastic, and metals.