Biodegradable Definition Vs Compostable Vs Oxo-degradable Plastics

The demand for Sustainable development has grown for consumers. The use of bio-plastics has become more prevalent. As by the usage of bio-plastic, our reliance on fossil fuels can be reduced and emissions of greenhouse gases can be decreased. It is expected by 2022 the use of bio-plastics will be increased by 20%. It is necessary to grow our understanding of

Why do we need to understand the difference between Biodegradable, Compostable and Oxo-degradable?

There is always a confusion found in differentiating these three terms. They are usually used interchangeably but, in fact, are not the same. It is much important to provide a comprehensive outlook on the consequences of these bio-plastics and their disposal. The distinctions between these bio-plastics should be understood by companies so that they can honestly and accurately market their products. We as consumers should also need to understand the difference between these categories, so we can make the right purchasing decisions and get an idea about the proper disposal of these plastics at the end of use.

To learn more about plastics, read our article Plastic Pollution Facts in 2020 and Some Causes

Biodegradable Plastics also are known as Bio-Based

Plastics made of biomass are called Bio-based Plastics at the beginning of their lifecycle. These Plastics are also called biodegradable because at the end of their lifecycle they transform into organic material by degradation.

Based on this, bio-plastics can be broken down into three categories 

  • Non-biodegradable
  • Fully or partially bio-based Biodegradable
  • Petroleum-based

 Biodegradable Plastics Definition

Are the materials which can be disintegrated by fungi, bacteria, microorganisms or some other biological process. The word itself describes its meaning. “Bio” means “life”. “Degrades” means to disintegrate and “able” means that it can happen. In the process of biodegradation, the large materials are broken down into smaller components by nature.

Biodegradable plastics are a relatively small subset of bio-plastics. These Plastics can break down into their components like water, carbon dioxide, and other carbon components after many years with the help of micro-organisms. The biodegradability of these plastics does not depend on the source of the feedstock but it depends on the chemical properties of the polymer.

Process of Plastic Biodegradation

Everything will be biodegraded if enough time is allowed. But the problem with Plastics that its components take decades or even centuries for the degradation process to take place.

Diapers that are notorious to have a long life period will eventually breakdown successfully after many years. The period plastic takes to degrade depends on the environmental parameters such as humidity and temperature.

These factors are misleading the consumers to claim that plastic is biodegradable without any further context (i.e., in what time frame and under what environmental conditions). Reputable companies will often make more specific claims, primarily attesting to the compostable nature of their bio-plastics.

Plastic packaging take years to biodegrade

Read more about the effects of plastic pollution in the ocean.

Many packaging companies claim that their product is biodegradable; all they mean is that when placed in a landfill it will break down. This is a good thing that it will breakdown in landfill. The main point here comes that how much time it will take to biodegrade without effecting the lives and environment. Some products take less time while others need more time to disintegrate. Customers should choose those green products that require less time to degrade during shopping. 

Read more about Plastic-free lifestyle.

Compostable Plastic Definition

Compostable plastics come under the category of biodegradable plastics. How much time a compostable plastic take to biodegrade? It depends upon standard conditions and timeframe.

Although all compostable plastics can biodegrade, all biodegradable plastics are not compostable.

The clear definition of Compostable Plastic is described as, “the biodegradable plastics that are tested and certified by a third company and fulfill the criteria of international standards.

This definition is according to Europe EN 13432 and in the U.S. ASTM D6400, for the biodegradation of plastics in any compositing facility are called as Compostable plastics”.

The EN 13432 and ASTM D6400 are standards specification for biodegradation of any solid material to be composted in a given time.

The disintegration of compostable plastic is completed within 12 weeks and they can completely biodegrade within 180 days in any compositing facility of the company or industry. It is also ensured by the standards that the leftover compost should be free of the toxins.

Toxin-free compost should not cause harm!

The toxin-free compost should also not cause any harm when sold by the company, for the agriculture and gardening applications. These compostable plastics products cannot be disposed of in homes. There should be designated municipal composting facilities for their disposal. These composting processes usually need a higher temperature to decompose in the industrial setting.

In developed countries, like the U.S, closed systems are used to disintegrate the compostable products and plastics. The places used for this process include amusement parks, stadiums, and schools.

To ensure proper disposal of the products, waste is monitored and controlled carefully at these places. International Airport of  San Francisco is the best example of the organization that is operating the facilities to compose these biodegrade plastics. This building is reducing its carbon footprint and providing an environmentally friendly approach.

Oxo-degradable Plastic Definition

The Oxo-degradable Plastics plastic does not belong to any category of biodegradable plastics. This is a completely different type of plastic, as these plastics are made-up of a compound of plastic which is mixed with an additive.

Due to this additive, this type of plastic also can degrade by microorganisms. A quick breakdown and fragmentation into smaller pieces are shown by these plastics. The smaller pieces in which it is disintegrated are called microplastics. It does not breakdown into polymer or molecular stage as biodegradable or compostable plastics. The leftover microplastics stay in the environment for quite a long time until they fully breakdown.

Conclusion on Biodegradable vs. Compostable vs. Oxo-degradable Plastics

Biodegradable plastics are a relatively small subset of bioplastic that can break down into its components, within time, with the help of micro-organisms. Compostable plastics are a subset of the biodegradable plastics, that are tested and certified by a third company and fulfill the criteria of international standards for the biodegradation of plastics in any compositing facility. While the Oxo-degradable Plastics plastic does not belong to any category of biodegradable plastics. This is a completely different type of plastic, as these plastics are made-up of a compound of plastic which is mixed with an additive, but these plastics are also having an ability to degrade.

Plastics that are not biodegradable can cause harm to the living organisms and the environment. You might be interested in how to Reduce microplastic pollution.

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