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Compostable, recyclable, biodegradable - what's the difference?

Compostable recyclable biodegradable


It's great to see so many more products that are compostable and many are also labelled as recyclable and biodegradable.

But do we really know what the difference is and what it actually means?

We've created a quick little guide to help you understand what these terms mean, and how you should dispose of them... heads up, biodegradable isn't as great as it may seem...


Compostable packaging is the kindest to our planet. It is made from plant-based, recycled materials and when disposed of correctly it safely decomposes back into the earth within 12 weeks, with the added benefit of releasing nutrients. 

So the question is, how do you dispose of compostable packaging?

First of all, don't put it in your recycling! Generally compostable packaging can't be recycled as recyclable goods are processed in the wrong kind of facilities.

If you have a compost bin (for your garden or provided by your council) that is the best option. If you don't however, it should simply go in the bin. 


Recyclable means that it is possible to reuse the materials to create another product. However, there are several issues with recycling that you should be aware of.

Food contamination. If there is food on your paper or cardboard packaging it can not be recycled (it's fine on plastic). Water is added to paper products when recycled to create a slurry, and food turns into oil which contaminates the process. So in future, make sure you put pizza boxes in your compost bins, or unfortunately, straight in the trash.

In addition, only 45% of UK recycling was actually recycled in 2018, a decrease from the previous year. And that doesn't mean that it has been recycled in the UK. The UK exports 70% of paper and 66% of plastic recyclables to China. However, since January 2018, due to the poor quality of the materials and food contamination, China has now banned imports of household plastics and only accepts paper and cardboard with less than 0.5% contamination.

So to summarise, while the theory behind recycling is positive, the reality is most recyclable goods will not be recycled. Look out for those compostable options instead.


This one may come as a bit of a shock.

All biodegradable means is that given the right conditions a product can be broken down by bacteria (or other living organisms); however it doesn't give any indication of time frames.

What's the issue?

First of all, how will the product decompose? If thrown into the trash, it will be decomposing in a landfill, it may take thousands of years to decompose and combine with other elements in the landfill to release toxins.

Secondly, time. A wooden chair is biodegradable but could last for hundreds if not thousands of years. So even if a product will decompose safely into the earth, it will still take up a huge amount of time and space to do so once it has been discarded.

The solution

Reuse, reduce, recycle.

Reuse whatever you can to prevent products being used once then being sent to landfill to contaminate the earth. Start small and get a reusable coffee cup or water bottle.

Reduce the amount of products you use. Avoid buying single use plastics, try to buy less and better quality.

Recycle. We will be using products everyday. It's always better to recycle rather than throw in the trash. Choose compostable products as a priority, but recycling is better than landfill.


We hope this guide was helpful! As always let us know your thoughts and questions below. We'd love to hear any other tips or facts too!


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