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Biodegradable, degradable, compostable – a dummy’s guide

Bury this bag

The terms degradable, biodegradable and compostable have started to appear on packaging and bags, but these terms are often used incorrectly and leave the consumer confused. Here is a dummy’s guide to understanding what the terms mean:

Biodegradable plastics are bioplastics that degrade, or break down, into harmless substances through the action of naturally occurring micro-organisms.

Compostable plastics are bioplastics which like, biodegradable plastics, degrade through the action of naturally occurring micro-organisms. These plastics can be safely composted together with organic waste to produce compost, a soil improver. Compostable plastics do not hamper the composting process because they disintegrate safely and do not pollute the final compost.

Degradable plastics are sometimes referred to as oxo-degradable plastics and are polyethylene-based but contain a metal additive to promote degradation. Degradation occurs in the form of repeated fragmentation following exposure to UV light or dry heat.

Close up of compostable logo on tomato punnet
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