Difference between biodegradable, compostable and recyclable?

Approximately 10% of all plastic ever produced was actually recycled”, according to the UNEP - United Nations Environment Program and the EPA - United States Environmental Program Agency.

As humanity becomes aware of climate change and the importance of changing behaviour to minimize our impact on the planet, for the sake of its resources, fauna and flora, brands are constantly trying to provide miraculous solutions to achieve those needs. Nevertheless, some of these solutions just created more waste. Once brands realized consumers were becoming more environmentally conscious, they started to provide products made from recycled plastic. It was nothing but a first stage of greenwashing, because although plastic is recyclable, let's face it: it has a much higher expenditure of resources (cleaning, more time-consuming process and energy, mostly), implies its own recycling facilities and is limited in characteristics (colors, for example - limiting purchase attractiveness). All of this raises costs and, consequently, still wihout many governements' subsidies, it is less profitable - which does not encourage its production.

Later, brands explored biodegradable and compostable products. These concepts, although they reduce the amount of waste produced and are often considered interchangeable, describe different processes. A recyclable material can be biodegradable, a biodegradable material can be compostable, and all compostable materials are biodegradable… confusing? That's because we still haven't been able to distinguish these three concepts that are part of the same reality. Keep reading and get to know these terms, particularly if you want to have a more sustainable lifestyle (or reduce your carbon footprint) and prefer to consume sustainable products.

Recyclable products

Recyclable Products

Let's start with the most common concept. A recyclable product means it can be transformed into a new product or its materials can be used, instead of being thrown away. This conversion of waste into renewed material is carried out in industrial processes that, as a rule, transform the recyclable product into a similar product, but with different characteristics, as it is the case with paper or glass. To give you an idea, 74% of the paper in Europe - 56 million tons! - was collected and recycled in 2020, according to the European Paper Recycling Council. However, when it comes to recycling plastic, the issue is more complicated because not all packages made of plastic are recyclable, which is why we should all avoid consuming this material that is so harmful to the environment.

An example of a recyclable product? - Our candles! Firstly, not only they are produced with recycled glass but they are also recyclable. Secondly, just for fun, our candles are made from vegetable oil which origin comes from certified collection and processing of waste cooking oils, fostering a domestic circular economy and reducing their carbon footprint by, mainly reducing water waste.

What is the difference between a biodegradable product and a compostable product?

Biodegradable Products

Biodegradable Products

A biodegradable product is made from materials and/or substances that can be naturally decomposed by microorganisms (such as bacteria or fungi), if given the right time. It will be a quick process (food scraps take only a few weeks to decompose), or longer (plastic, can take decades or centuries). To be considered a biodegradable product, it must be transformed into organic matter. We can therefore conclude that virtually all materials are biodegradable. Therefore, when we use the concept of “biodegradable” as a reference to the sustainability of the planet, we must try to know how long the product takes to be naturally decomposed. Thus, the declaration of biodegradability must be precise as to the period it takes to degrade and the conditions under which the properties apply must be clear. Brands tend to use this term to influence consumers' decision, hiding these details. Now you know that a product that says “made with biodegradable plastic” on the packaging is not necessarily good.

An example of a biodegradable product? - Our bamboo toothbrush. Made with bamboo, a biodegradable material, depending on the soil (humid and hot), sun, exposure among other variables, it can become organic matter between 4-6 months. Isn't it fantastic? Knowing that the toothbrushes we use no longer exist after a few months (as brushes), unlike all the plastic toothbrushes we've ever used?

Compostable Products

Recyclable Products

A compostable product (fruit or egg skins, foliage or non-plasticized paper, for example), as it is composed of organic matter, is a product in which its decomposition aims at reuse or, in other words, when the composting process is completed, its residues can be used as manure or fertilizer. And here's a good reminder: Compostable implies decomposition for reuse. Therefore, a compostable product is also biodegradable (the opposite is not quite the case).
As the composting process consists of transforming organic matter into fertilizer, composting can be done at home for consumers who like to optimize or minimize their footprint, giving new life to organic waste, converting it into compost. for pots or small orchards and gardens. However, compostable products require a balance of factors to decompose properly, such as humidity, air quality and soil, with a mixture of other components rich in nitrogen and/or carbon, necessary to feed the microorganisms that love to devour this type of waste. But indeed it is a much faster under the right conditions, as it can be undone in a few months.

An example of a compostable product?  - Our paper packaging! By default, they are  recyclable. But they can also be compostable if in specific conditions (soil with fungi and bacteria, sun exposure, air, humidity and temperature) as they can be used as a fertilizer.

As individuals, we always want a unique solution to our daily problems. It's important to remember that any product or trend that claims to solve a complex problem in one action only is likely to be greenwashing. Biodegradable and compostable goods may not be our salvation, but that doesn't mean we should give up hope. When biodegradable or compostable products seem to be the only option, we recommend that you read labels carefully. Ultimately, we should try to reduce our consumption of plastic products (hair products, for example) by choosing alternatives, reusing and minimizing the need to  recycle.

Biodegradable, compostable and recyclable products: now that you know how to distinguish the concepts, your daily habits and choices can make a difference.

For your interest on this subject, which is obviously relevant to us, we thought of presenting you with a promotion code, so you can use it on your first order. Use the following code YG-BLOG15 at the Checkout. Check our organic products' range on our website.

We thank you for helping our small business and for helping the Planet by choosing a more sustainable lifestyle.

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