Eco Rundown: The difference between compostable, recyclable and biodegradable

With such wide media coverage on the state of the current climate, and many big and small businesses adopting more environmentally friendly solutions, it is not a surprise that customers are more conscious about the eco-claims that businesses make.

Because of the changes in customer behaviour, many retailers and manufacturers have been searching for ‘eco-friendly packaging solutions’ or ‘sustainable packaging’ in order to boost their eco credentials, as well as appeal to a wider base of customers. But what exactly is eco-friendly and why are words such as ‘compostable’ ‘recyclable’ and ‘biodegradable’ all used in relation to it?

Compostable, recyclable and biodegradable packaging

Although these eco-friendly terms are often used together, they all mean different things and have different processes which help to contribute to the environment, rather than take away from it. Below we go through the different terms and what they mean.


Compostable materials are made from natural raw materials. Compostable materials and packaging can decompose fully and break down into ‘compost‘ without producing toxic residue.

Typically, the process of composting takes place in an industrial composting facility under controlled conditions. Compostable packaging and products are not suitable for composting at home, due to specific conditions, unless it has been certified as Home Compostable. Make sure you check the labels on packaging and products, so it is properly disposed of.


Recycling is the process of taking a material or product and breaking it down to be used again, mostly as raw material. This process can help to keep products and materials from being thrown away into landfill where it can take years to finally break down.

There are limits on how many times some materials can be recycled. For example, general paper and plastic can usually be recycled only 5-7 times before the process does not continue to work and they become unusable. However other materials, such as metal and glass can continue to be recycled endlessly.

Recycling materials such as paper and cardboard can be easy for customers, but when it comes to plastic, it can become a bit more complicated because there are so many different types. Manufacturers and retailers can help to support their eco-conscious customers by giving them clear recycling information on all internal and external packaging to help prevent excess waste in landfill.


Biodegradable materials are made from raw materials, such as soy protein, starch and cellulose, and they work to decompose in an environmentally friendly way. The process of biodegrading happens through microorganisms which break down the materials under specific conditions, such as humidity and warmer temperatures.

However, labelling something biodegradable is not very precise because it does not specify the length of time needed for the packaging/products to actually break down and decompose. Everything eventually decomposes, whether it takes 1 month under certain conditions or 100 years, so the term biodegradable can be misused in certain situations.

So, when you are purchasing something that is labelled as biodegradable, be sure to ask more about the conditions and length of the biodegrading process.

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