World Centric Newsletter | February 2012 View email in browser

     | 650-283-3793 | Palo Alto, CA


What's the difference between biodegradable and compostable?

The definition of biodegradable is often subject to different interpretations. Generally speaking, a biodegradable item is presumed to decompose over time, but rarely do we know how long this process will actually take.

Standards organizations like ASTM International and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) define biodegradable in more specific terms.

FTC guidelines require the use of the term "biodegradable" to include information about the environment and timeframe in which the item should completely decompose.

ASTM International standards define the term even further, by requiring that a certain percent of carbon must be converted to carbon dioxide within a specific period of time. According to ASTM International standards, a product is biodegradable if 60% of its carbon is converted to carbon dioxide within 180 days. (During the process of decomposition, carbon gets converted to carbon dioxide.)

A compostable item is capable of undergoing biological decomposition in a compost site - meaning it will break down into carbon dioxide, water, inorganic compounds and biomass.

In order for an item to be labeled "compostable," the item must meet ASTM International requirements for biodegradability, but also leave no toxicity in the soil and disintegrate within 90 days. Because of these additional requirements, compostable is a more strictly defined term than biodegradable, as it defines the environment (a composting system), the biodegradation rate, toxicity and disintegration of the product.

How can you avoid greenwashing when it comes to identifying compostable products? Just follow the rules below:

1. Be cautious of items labeled BIODEGRADABLE, unless the disposal environment and timeframe for decomposition are also specified.
2. Look for products specifically labeled COMPOSTABLE, as compostability strictly defines the environment, biodegradation timeframe and additional criteria such as disintegration and toxicity.
3. Look for products that are Certified Compostable by the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI), meeting rigorous ASTM D6400 and ASTM D6868 standards for compostability.


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