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Biodegradable vs. Compostable — What's the Difference?

By Tayyaba Rehman & Fiza Rafique — Published on September 26, 2023
Biodegradable materials break down naturally over time, often leaving behind toxins. Compostable materials not only break down but also provide nutrients to the soil, typically within a composting environment.
Biodegradable vs. Compostable — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Biodegradable and Compostable

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Key Differences

Biodegradable products are designed to break down naturally in the environment, often through the action of microorganisms, fungi, or bacteria. Compostable products, on the other hand, not only break down but also disintegrate into non-toxic substances, enriching the soil with nutrients.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 26, 2023
While Biodegradable products can break down in any natural environment, the term does not specify a timeframe for this decomposition. Compostable products usually have a designated timeframe under which they break down, often in a composting facility designed to accelerate the process.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 26, 2023
Biodegradable items may leave behind residue or toxins that are not beneficial to the soil or environment. Compostable items are designed to break down into beneficial compounds like water, carbon dioxide, and biomass, which are environmentally friendly and enrich the soil.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 26, 2023
Biodegradable products can be processed in landfill environments, while compostable products ideally require special composting conditions. Compostable items need specific levels of heat, water, and aeration to break down completely, which are conditions often found in industrial composting facilities.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 26, 2023

Comparison Chart

Decomposition Process

Breaks down naturally
Breaks down into soil-enriching substances
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Sep 26, 2023
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Timeframe

Not specified
Specified, usually quicker
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Sep 26, 2023

Residue

May leave toxins
Leaves no toxins
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Sep 26, 2023

Environment

Any natural setting
Requires specific composting conditions
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End Products

May include non-organic material
Usually organic, beneficial to soil
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Sep 26, 2023

Compare with Definitions

Biodegradable

May take variable time
The Biodegradable utensils can take years to break down.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 14, 2023

Compostable

Breaks down into nutrients
The Compostable cup turned into nutrient-rich soil.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 14, 2023

Biodegradable

May leave residue
Biodegradable plastics may still leave microplastics.
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Sep 14, 2023

Compostable

No toxins left behind
Compostable products leave no harmful residue.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 14, 2023

Biodegradable

No specific conditions needed
Biodegradable items don't need special conditions for breakdown.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 14, 2023

Compostable

Environmentally friendly
Compostable materials are generally better for the environment.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 14, 2023

Biodegradable

Breaks down naturally
The Biodegradable bag decomposed over several months.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 14, 2023

Compostable

Requires specific timeframe
The Compostable bags disintegrate within three months.
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Sep 14, 2023

Biodegradable

Acts through microbes
Biodegradable waste is broken down by microorganisms.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 14, 2023

Compostable

Needs special conditions
Compostable items often require industrial composting.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 14, 2023

Biodegradable

Capable of being decomposed by biological agents, especially bacteria
A biodegradable detergent.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 14, 2023

Compostable

Suitable for compost.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 14, 2023

Biodegradable

Capable of being decomposed by biological activity, especially by microorganisms.
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Sep 14, 2023

Compostable

That which is suitable for compost.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 14, 2023

Biodegradable

Any material that can be decomposed by biological activity.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 14, 2023

Biodegradable

Capable of being decomposed by e.g. bacteria;
A biodegradable detergent
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 14, 2023

Common Curiosities

What does Compostable mean?

Compostable means the material will break down into soil-enriching substances under specific conditions.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 26, 2023

Do Biodegradable items need special conditions?

No, Biodegradable items can decompose in any natural setting.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 26, 2023

What does Biodegradable mean?

Biodegradable means the material will naturally decompose over time.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 26, 2023

Do Compostable items need special conditions?

Yes, Compostable items often require specific composting conditions.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 26, 2023

Do Biodegradable items leave residue?

Biodegradable items may leave behind toxins or residues.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 26, 2023

How long does it take for Biodegradable items to break down?

The time can vary and is not usually specified for Biodegradable items.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 26, 2023

Can Biodegradable items break down in water?

Some Biodegradable items may break down in aquatic environments, but the rate and safety are variable.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 26, 2023

How long does it take for Compostable items to break down?

Compostable items usually have a specified, often quicker, timeframe for breakdown.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 26, 2023

Do Compostable items leave residue?

Compostable items break down into environmentally friendly substances, leaving no toxins.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 26, 2023

Is Biodegradable better than Compostable?

Biodegradable is generally less stringent and may not be as eco-friendly as Compostable.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 26, 2023

Can I compost Biodegradable items?

Biodegradable items may not be suitable for composting as they could leave toxins.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 26, 2023

Is Compostable always better for the environment?

Compostable is generally more eco-friendly but needs specific conditions for optimal benefits.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 26, 2023

What happens to Compostable items in water?

Compostable items typically require a controlled environment and may not properly break down in water.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 26, 2023

Can I landfill Compostable items?

Compostable items are not ideal for landfills as they require specific conditions for proper decomposition.
Tayyaba Rehman
Sep 26, 2023

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Tayyaba Rehman
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to askdifference.com. As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.
Co-written by
Fiza Rafique
Fiza Rafique is a skilled content writer at AskDifference.com, where she meticulously refines and enhances written pieces. Drawing from her vast editorial expertise, Fiza ensures clarity, accuracy, and precision in every article. Passionate about language, she continually seeks to elevate the quality of content for readers worldwide.

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