Adapting better packaging solutions is the need of the hour. According to the EPA reports in 2018, containers and packaging make up 28% of municipal solid waste. Among these wastes, plastic containers and packaging alone were about 14.5 million tons.
With the increase of plastic waste in the environment, the impact on wildlife and nature continues to grow. To prevent this disaster, businesses have started offering compostable and biodegradable products. The thing that needs to be noticed here is that compostable and biodegradable are not interchangeable terms. Although both of these materials help us achieve sustainable packaging, there is a huge difference between biodegradable packaging and compostable packaging.
Compostable materials break down into organic matter in a composting environment while biodegradable materials break down into natural substances through natural processes. Compostable materials are typically made from plant-based materials while biodegradable materials can be made from a variety of materials, including plant-based materials and petroleum-based plastics.
Let’s dive deeper and discuss the key differences between biodegradable and compostable materials in detail.
Importance of Knowing the Difference Between Biodegradable And Compostable Packaging
It is crucial to know the type of packaging material you are buying, using and disposing of because your small step can massively impact the environment and eventually the planet be it positive or negative.
If you can differentiate between biodegradable and compostable packaging then you can easily weigh up the pros and cons and pick out what is best for you based on your preferences and priorities.
Biodegradable Packaging Vs Compostable Packaging
Here’s a quick, simple overview of the main differences:
Before we jump into the differences between biodegradable vs compostable packaging let’s have a look at what each of them means. Biodegradable packaging is a kind of packaging material that is made out of biopolymers. These biopolymers are organic compounds that are found in living beings like cellulose and protein. Biodegradable packaging breaks down into the environment over time. However, biodegradable packaging is not always environmentally friendly and can leave harmful toxins in the environment.
Compostable packaging is the type of packaging that breaks down naturally when left in the right environment. Unlike conventional plastic packaging, compostable packaging is made out of organic materials that easily break down over a fair amount of time without leaving any toxins or harmful chemicals behind.
Biodegradable packaging is supposedly a form of packaging that disintegrates and decomposes into natural substances, such as water, carbon dioxide, and biomass. The term ’biodegradable’ is typically used for any sustainable packaging material that breaks down through a natural process in an unspecified period.
So, going by this definition, anything ranging from a wooden box to a cellulose-based wrapper is biodegradable. The only difference is the wrapper is bio-degradable within a few weeks whereas the wood takes decades or even centuries to biodegrade.
Types of Biodegradable Packaging
There are several types of biodegradable packaging with their own unique properties and benefits. Below are listed the most common types of biodegradable packaging and their applications.
Cardboard is a great biodegradable alternative to plastic packaging as it can fully break down in about 2-3 months. The cardboard packaging takes up less space when stored and most cardboard boxes are easily collapsible and filters can be flattened out as well.
Corn starch packaging is another suitable alternative to petroleum-based products. The cornstarch packaging is made out of maize plants and is totally biodegradable. The primal disadvantage of cornstarch packaging is that it competes with animals and plants that consume corn as food. Corn starch packaging allows businesses the opportunity to brand their packaging without causing any direct harm to the environment. And offering a high-quality consumer experience.
Biodegradable Packing Peanuts
Packing peanuts or styrofoam serves as a loose-fill packaging for fragile items that provides cushioning against shocks and also prevents items from moving. However, most of these packing peanuts are made of natural materials including starch and wheat, making them easily decomposable. Usually, biodegradable packing peanuts are lighter and comparatively less expensive than styrofoam.
Water Soluble Plastic
Bio-Plastics are 100% eco-friendly and biodegradable as well. They are made out of parts of plants like; corn, cassava, and sugarcane. These biodegradable plastics are most commonly used in food packaging and can easily replace the regular packaging material that you use currently.
A great alternative to plastic bags is organic reusable bags. Organic fabrics are made out of biodegradable materials such as; plant-based, naturally grown cotton that is easily composted without leaving harmful toxins behind.
Bamboo is one of the fastest-growing plants in the entire world it does not require pesticides which means that they have a lower environmental impact and are completely renewable. Bamboo is heated resilient and resistant, making it an excellent material for food packaging.
Acid-Free Tissue Paper
An acid-free tissue paper is composed of materials that have a relatively higher PH value than traditional paper which makes it less likely to break over time. Acid-free tissue papers are safer alternatives for foods and delicate items. Since it is not going to negatively impact any product that has eco-friendly wrappers or protects.
If you are looking for an excellent way of positioning your business as nature friendly then look no further than Kraft paper. It has a simple, attractive, and primitive look that helps you achieve your goal. If you’re looking for a great way to position your business as a natural champion of the environment, kraft paper has a simple, appealing, and primitive look that can help you achieve that goal. Also, it stands out from traditional paper packaging due to its rustic look.
Pros and Cons of Biodegradable Packaging
Biodegradable packaging is becoming increasingly popular as eco-friendly packaging as it helps reduce waste and greenhouse gas emissions. However, like any other product, it has its own set of pros and cons. Let’s discuss some of the advantages and disadvantages of using compostable packaging.
Reduces fossil fuel demand: Biodegradable packaging replacing traditional plastic packaging, helps in reducing the demand for fossil fuel. This is in turn beneficial for the environment.
Less Energy Demand: Using biodegradable packaging instead of plastic packaging requires less energy demand.
Break Down Easier: This goes without saying, the biodegradable packaging breaks down easily and has far less impact on the environment negatively.
No Pollutants: Biodegradable packaging leaves no pollutants once it's broken down and is not very harmful to the environment compared to traditional plastic packaging.
Demands Unnecessary Resources: Even though biodegradable packaging has reduced the use of fossil fuels, it still demands a lot of unnecessary resources for its production.
Repeating Same Chemicals: A lot of the same chemicals are repeated while manufacturing biodegradable packaging as traditional plastic packaging.
Still Can’t Degrade In Landfill: Despite being biodegradable packaging; a lot of it still cannot degrade in a landfill.
Compostable packaging is a type of packaging that can be composted at home or in an industrial composting facility. It is made out of a combination of compostable plant materials like corn and compostable plastic called poly(butylene adipate-co-terephthalate) also known as PBAT. PBAT creates a flexible yet tough material that lets the packaging compost quicker into natural, non-toxic elements that help nourish the soil.
Unlike traditional plastic packaging, compostable packaging breaks down within 3-6 months of time. This is the same speed at which any organic matter decomposes. Unlike plastic packaging, certified compostable packaging breaks down within 3-6 months - the same speed as organic matter decomposes.
Types of Compostable Packaging
Compostable packaging is made from plant-based materials and there are many ways to use compostable packaging. Here are some most common types of compostable packaging. Check them out.
This is the kind of plastic that is made out of natural materials like cornstarch. These plastics are made from such materials that will break down into organic materials when composted.
Paper-based packaging is made out of paperboard or paper materials. These are natural materials sourced from trees. Paper-based packaging materials are also made out of alternative fibers such as sugarcane, hemp, and bamboo.
Bio-plastics are a form of plastics that are made out of renewable resources such as sugarcane, cornstarch, and sugarcane. These bioplastics are easily compostable.
Plant-based packaging is another form of compostable packaging that is made out of materials such as palm leaves, bamboo, and bagasse. These are all compostable materials.
Compostable films are films made out of materials such as cellulose or polylactic acid(PLA). These packagings are easily compostable and can be used as food packaging.
Pros and Cons of Compostable Packaging
Compostable packaging is another eco-friendly alternative to traditional packaging products. However, it also has its own set of pros and cons. Let’s take a look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of using biodegradable packaging.
Environmental benefits: The obvious and the most important benefit or the plus point of compostable packaging is that it is made out of renewable and sustainable materials which will have a good impact on the environment.
Reduced waste: Compostable packaging can also help reduce the amount of waste in the oceans and landfills. These packaging can be easily disposed of in any composting facility or also in a home composting system.
Soil enrichment: When the compostable packaging is composted, it leaves organic matter and nutrients in the soil. This can improve soil health and reduces the excessive need for the chemical fertilizers.
Versatility: Another benefit of using compostable packaging is its versatility. It can be used for a variety of things including shopping bags, disposable utensils, food packaging, and many more.
Limited availability: Compoastbale packaging is not available everywhere. Its availability is limited to certain areas and that too in limited quantities.
Cost: Compostable packaging is way costlier as compared to traditional packaging materials. The price of compostable packaging makes it less accessible to customers and some businesses.
Contamination: Did you know that, if the compostable packaging gets contaminated with other materials, it will not be composted properly? That defeats the whole purpose of using the compostable packaging.
Requirements: There are numerous requirements for compostable packaging to break down completely and that includes; heat, the presence of microorganisms, and moisture. If all these conditions are not met, then the packaging might not break down as it should.
Differences Between Biodegradable VS Compostable Packaging
Biodegradable materials tend to decompose through a chemical process in which, the microorganisms break the materials down into natural elements like water, carbon dioxide, and new biomass. The process of this biodegradation also depends on the conditions of the very specific environment and on the material as well. The rate of this decomposition varies remarkably. The right humidity, temperature, and heat speed up the biodegradation process.
Time Required for Decomposition
Biodegradable packaging takes about 3-6 months to decompose fully. The time of degradation depends on numerous factors. However, it should take about a maximum of 6 months to decompose fully.
Biodegradable packaging can have both negative as well as positive impacts on the environment. Biodegradable materials break down faster than traditional packaging, However, some of the biodegradable materials will only break down in industrial composting facilities leaving behind harmful toxins that will negatively impact the environment.
Also, manufacturing biodegradable packaging requires more resources and energy as compared to compostable packaging. It takes a long time to decompose as compared to the compostable packaging, so if not disposed of properly can add to the litter and waste.
Compostable PackagingDecomposition Process
Compostable packaging decomposes naturally without leaving any traces, Hence it can be treated as any organic waste. In about 6 months, the packaging decomposes completely into natural fertilizers that are beneficial for plants and soil.
Time Required for Decomposition
The time required for the decomposition of compostable packaging depends on numerous factors like materials, temperature, humidity, and the kind of composting process used. Around 90% of the compostable packaging decomposes in a time frame of 180 days.
Compostable packaging has the potential to minimize the environmental impact of the packaging as compared to traditional plastic packaging. Even though the environmental impact depends on several factors, compostable packaging has a lower environmental impact as compared to biodegradable packaging or traditional packaging. If the compostable packaging is managed properly at the end of its life then it will have a much lesser environmental impact.
Industrial Composting VS Home Composting
As mentioned earlier, composting is the process of breaking down organic waste into nutrient-rich soil amendment. You must know that there are two main types of composting: industrial composting and home composting. Industrial composting is a large-scale process that is used to compost large volumes of organic waste, while home composting is a smaller-scale process that can be done in a backyard.
Both of these forms of composting generate nutrient-rich compost at the end of the decomposing process. However, industrial composting is capable of sustaining the stability and the temperature of the compost.
At the basic level, home composting produces nutrient-rich resulting from the breakdown of organic waste including; teabags, leaves, food scraps, and grass clippings. This happens over a period of time. However, the temperatures and the conditions for home composting are not able to break down the PLA bioplastic products.
This is where you know you have to turn to industrial composting. This is a multi-step, closely monitored composting process with the measured inputs of carbon, water, air, and nitrogen-rich materials. There are several commercial composting, and all of them optimize each and every step of the decomposition process, by controlling conditions like shredding materials to the same size and maintaining the oxygen and temperature levels. These measures ensure fast biodegradation of the organic matter to toxic-free and high-quality compost.
Growing Need for Sustainable Packaging
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There is an increasing demand for sustainable packaging that is derived from the increasing concern about environmental sustainability and the harmful impact of traditional packaging material on the planet.
Traditional packaging materials like plastic are often made out of non-renewable resources that will take up to hundreds of years to decompose in the environment. This has resulted in building up plastic waste in the ocean, landfills, and the natural ecosystem. This can in turn result in a significant threat to human health as well as wildlife.
As a result of this, consumers and business owners all around the world are seeking out a better alternative packaging that is more environmentally friendly and sustainable. This sustainable packaging includes biodegradable plastics, recycled materials, and innovative packaging that reduces waste and energy consumption.
Along with the environmental benefits, sustainable packaging also has several economic advantages like; reduced shipping costs, and improved brand reputation amongst the consumers that prioritize environmental sustainability.
Factors To Consider When Choosing Between Biodegradable and Compostable Packaging
Both biodegradable and compostable packaging are eco-friendly and sustainable alternatives to traditional packaging. But when choosing between these two, there are several factors you must consider. Some major ones are listed below.
Purpose of Packaging
The first and foremost thing to consider while choosing between biodegradable and compostable packaging is the purpose of packaging. If you are looking for a sustainable packaging option for food packaging, then it is better if you opt for compostable packaging rather than biodegradable packaging; it is a safer option for your food as it will not leave any toxins behind.
Likewise, if you are looking for packaging for your gifts or something that lasts for some time then you can opt for biodegradable packaging. Hence, your purpose of packaging is a major factor in selecting sustainable packaging.
Product Type and Shelf Life
Now, talking about Shelf life; compostable packaging tends to have a shorter shelf life as compared to biodegradable packaging. This happens because the compostable packaging is designed to break down easily under specific conditions. The product type will also determine which packaging is better. Compostable packaging is typically used for organic wastes such as yard waste, and food scraps which can later be composted to create nutrient-rich soil.
Whereas biodegradable packaging tends to have a longer shelf life and will break down over a long period of time. Talking about the product type; biodegradable materials can be used for a wide range of products including electronics, packaging, and plastics.
Now let’s have a look at the end-of-life options. It is crucial to consider the disposal option before selecting the preferable sustainable packaging option. Both compostable and biodegradable packaging offers environmentally friendly disposal. However, compostable packaging is considered better because it is made out of natural materials, breaks down easily, and is returned to the soil easily, providing nutrients to the plants.
On the other hand, biodegradable packaging may not break down as easily as compostable packaging. Some of the biodegradable packagings is designed in such a way that it needs to be disposed of in a particular way to ensure that it breaks down properly.
Now, the next factor to keep in mind before buying sustainable packaging is the environmental impact. Even though both sustainable and compostable packaging is designed to reduce the harmful impact on the environment, Biodegradable packaging tends to have a more harmful impact on the environment as compared to compostable packaging as it leaves harmful toxins behind. Compostable packaging has higher environmental benefits as it helps in enriching the soil.
Cost and Availability
Compostable packaging is generally made out of organic materials including; starches, and plant-based fibers. It is specially designed to break down into soil rich in nutrients when placed in a composting environment. Hence, compostable packaging is more expensive than the biodegradable packaging due to the cost of sourcing and processing the organic matter for manufacturing.
On the other hand, biodegradable packaging can be made out of a wide variety of materials including synthetic as well as organic materials. It is designed to break down over a period of time upon getting exposed to natural elements such as; microbes, moisture, and sunlight. Biodegradable packaging tends to be less expensive as compared to compostable packaging since it can be made out of a wide variety of materials.
Biodegradable packaging and compostable packaging are two totally different types of sustainable packaging. The bottom line is that compostable packaging is designed to break down into nutrient-rich soil when exposed to the right criteria in a composting facility whereas the biodegradable packaging can break down into natural elements over a period of time.
While selecting between biodegradable packaging and compostable packaging, it is crucial to understand the disposal method and intended use. Compostable packaging is suitable for products that are to be disposed of in a composting facility, whereas biodegradable packaging is best suited for products that may end up in a landfill where you don’t have an option for composting. Some products that claim to be biodegradable or compostable can still have some negative impacts on the environment.
If you are looking for original sustainable packaging options then you can connect with KEEO. We provide you with sustainable packaging products with unique prints and design.