The Scoop: Composting vs. Biodegrading
There are SO many buzzwords flying around the sustainability community, and two that get thrown around nearly interchangeably are “compostable” and “biodegrade”. Even though these terms may be used in similar contexts, they actually mean significantly different things. It’s important to know the difference so you don’t end up engaging in greenwashing practices.
What is composting?
According to the EPA, composting is “a controlled, aerobic (oxygen-required) process that converts organic materials into a nutrient-rich soil amendment or mulch through natural decomposition.” Basically, it’s a fancy way to say that natural materials (like food scraps, wood, or even fibers like wool) can be broken down using a variety of processes into a rich soil that can be added to your garden or make your indoor plants really happy. Some common composting practices include backyard composting (using a composting tumbler or a compost pile), commercial composting (in which compost is broken down in large facilities like A1 Composting in Colorado), or even vermicomposting (breaking down food in a bin using worms!). Compostable items are designed to break down using these processes, and many products with compostable packaging identify whether they can be backyard composted or need to be composted commercially.
What does it mean to biodegrade?
Biodegrading is often associated with composting; however, there are some significant differences. According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, biodegradable means “capable of being broken down especially into innocuous products by the action of living things (such as microorganisms)”. Biodegradable products are designed to break down by microorganisms under proper conditions, which makes them nearly as environmentally-friendly as compostable items. Here’s the catch: Biodegradable items are not designed to go through the same composting processes (meaning they’re not truly compostable), but rather are meant to break down naturally through normal trash disposal. And when your trash ends up in landfills, these landfills are not designed or maintained in a way that promotes biodegradable products breaking down. The gasses, toxic liquids, and sheer pressure of these layers of landfill are not conducive to the breaking down of biodegradable items, which needs air to complete the process. Therefore, if biodegradable items end their journeys in landfill, they won’t, in fact, biodegrade. They’ll simply add to landfill volume.
So which is better, and where do we go next?
At Summit Sustainable Goods, the answer for us is clear: composting is king. Composting results in nutrient-dense and rich material which can be used to strengthen our soils, while biodegrading, despite the best intentions, can often add to landfill rather than reducing it. That’s why we at Summit prioritize compostable packaging and products over items labeled as “biodegradable”, because we recognize that the term “biodegradable” can be sustainably misleading?
As a consumer, what can you do about supporting composting? Colorado has a plethora of composting options, from information on how to start your own simple compost pile to compost garden tumblers you can easily install and maintain in your own backyard. Colorado-based company CARL will even provide you with the materials and education to start vermicomposting in your own home - even if you live in an apartment or condo! Hoping to commercially compost? We’ve got a variety of local doorstep composting services, including Compost Colorado, Scraps, Wompost, and even a composting service through Denver's waste management. We encourage you to look through all the options available to you and see if composting can fit into your sustainable journey.
Shop Sustainably With Us!
At Summit Sustainable Goods, we take extra steps while vetting products to ensure that all our zero waste household care and personal care products are truly environmentally friendly and plastic-free. We love prioritizing compostable products here! None of our products will go home with you in plastic packaging, and we work with our suppliers to make sure the ingredients and materials sourced for items are clean and safe for you and the planet. It’s just another way we live into our values of being as environmentally and ethically conscious as possible.
Where can you find our curated selection of high quality and sustainable products? You know we’ve got you covered! Check out our website at www.summitsustainablegoods.eco or visit us at a local pop-up around town. (Info available through our website or socials.) Want to follow our journey and learn about future zero waste events and happenings? Adventure with us by signing up for our monthly email subscription or follow us on Instagram or Facebook to keep up-to-date on all things Summit.