Being Green

Biodegradable and Compostable Are NOT One and the Same


The question: Can biodegradable items go into the compost bin?

I was testing some green products for use in my house (in this case, a dryer sheet). After I finished, I planned to place the dryer sheet in the compost bin, but I was not sure if this could be composted. I checked the brochure that mentioned that the product was biodegradable. I needed to understand if materials like these could be placed into the compost bin.

The difference between biodegradable and compostable

Biodegradable and compostable are terms used to describe organics breaking down in a specific environment. These terms are also used when defining environmentally-friendly products.

An item is considered compostable if scientific evidence exists proving the item breaks down, or becomes part of, usable compost in a safe and timely manner in an appropriate composting facility or home compost pile.

The definition of biodegradable is a product that can undergo biological anaerobic or aerobic degradation.  Eventually the process leads to the production of CO2, H2O, methane, biomass, and mineral salts, depending on the environmental conditions of the process.

The main difference between biodegradable and compostable is that compostable materials break down into “humus,” which provides valuable nutrients to the soil.  Biodegradable matter returns to nature, disintegrates or disappears completely.  This disintegration could take a long time, which contrasts with compostable, where items must break down in a “timely” fashion.

Finally, compostable items must completely break down and not release any metals or toxins into the compost.  Biodegradable items can leave metal residue in their return to nature.

To keep things clear

To be safe, keep biodegradable things out of the compost bin unless you can verify they are metal-free. So, the old dryer sheet did NOT end up in the compost bin.