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Biodegradable Bags vs Compostable Bags: What's the Difference?

Feb 9

The terms "biodegradable" and "compostable" are commonly used interchangeably, improperly, or misleadingly, which adds to the confusion for anyone seeking to shop responsibly. It's critical to understand what biodegradable and compostable represent, what they don't mean, and how they differ in order to make really environmentally responsible decisions.

Define Biodegradable

Before we get into biodegradable garbage bags, Merriam-Webster defines biodegradable as "capable of being broken down specifically into harmless products by the activity of living things (such as bacteria)." Biodegradation is a natural process in which an object's original composition is broken down into simple components such as biomass, carbon dioxide, and water. This process can take place with or without oxygen, but when oxygen is present, it takes less time. Biodegradable materials include vegetable peels, eggshells, paper, and yard debris. These products decompose quickly after being abandoned, allowing them to be integrated into the natural environment. Determining whether or not an object is biodegradable can be difficult, especially when dealing with items that aren't typically constructed of biodegradable materials, such as cell phone cases or tote bags. The majority of "biodegradable" consumer products will not decompose naturally in the environment. They require a precise set of circumstances to biodegrade, which are provided by the composting process.To be biodegradable, anything must only leave behind natural ingredients. Plastic, no matter how little, is not that. 

What are Biodegradable Bags Made Of?

This is mostly just petrochemical-based plastic that has been designed to break down faster when exposed to certain things. You may come across terms like "photodegradable" or "oxo-degradable," which refer to trash bags that degrade in the presence of sunshine or oxygen, respectively. Another issue with biodegradable plastic is that it cannot be recycled in the same way that other plastics can, and it will contaminate otherwise perfectly sorted recyclables.

Define Compostable 

Compostable materials are those that have been certified to decompose fully into non-toxic components (water, carbon dioxide, and biomass) that will not affect the environment if handled properly. Compostable plastics are not designed for recycling, and if mixed with non-compostable petroleum-based plastics, they can contaminate and disturb the recycling process.

What are Compostable Bags Made of?

In theory, 'compostable' bags are made of entirely degradable vegetable matter such as potato or corn starch. However, they must be broken down in the correct conditions, which are often not met in a home compost setting. It may be necessary to establish central composting facilities where the compost may be guaranteed to achieve high temperatures. Compostable materials, like biodegradable materials, can entirely decompose into natural elements, but they can also become something helpful to the earth. They also have a shorter window of opportunity to do so. The composting process might take anywhere from a few months to three years. Variables such as oxygen, water, light, and the type of composting environment influence the timing. Compostable bags decompose quickly in a composting system because to microbial activity. They must meet the Australian Standard for Compostability AS4736 in order to be classified as compostable. 

Compostable or Biodegradable?

Humans in capitalist society have a tendency to release items into the world without considering, for example, whether or not there are facilities in place to properly dispose of that biodegradable bag. Or effective ways to collect these single-use products in the first place - despite the fact that we have plastic bag recycling facilities, plastic bags continue to end up in the ocean. So it's evident that it's not simply about infrastructure.

Between biodegradable and compostable bags, the apparent winner is compostable waste bags. If you're looking for biodegradable garbage bags, we have a better recommendation: compostable. Even the best biodegradable trash bags fall short when compared to compostable alternatives. Compostable things are a good option if you're attempting to lessen your environmental effect. Composting an item ensures that it does not end up in a landfill, and if you compost at home, you can use the organic matter to aid in the growth of your (or your neighbor's) garden. Furthermore, the labeling of biodegradable goods is frequently more straightforward, allowing you to be confident that you are purchasing an environmentally beneficial product. Bioplastics are an improvement over traditional plastics in some aspects, yet incorrect disposal can still have a harmful influence on the environment. As always, the best approach is to cut back on your consumption, reuse what you already have, and stay away from single-use items as much as possible. 

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