What is the difference between Degradable vs Biodegradable vs Compostable?

Reviewing misleading & greenwashing words: a quick guide to understand concepts right!

As you want to be part of the solution and reduce the amount of plastic consumption, here’s a quick guide to understanding the difference between Degradable vs Biodegradable vs Compostable.

Worldwide we use 2 million plastic bags every 60 seconds. This equals 500 BILLIONS of plastic bags worldwide each year. The life span of these plastic bags is only 12 minutes!

So now that we have decided not to use plastic bags, and knowing that reusable tote bags are the absolute best (check brands such as Biome eco-store, Flip&Tumble, ONYA, Atlas&Ortus, E-Globbal or our canvas & cotton bags if you are a business looking for larger quantities)… now that we are involved in the Plastic Free July campaign this year we want to explain in depth what are the differences between Degradable vs Biodegradable vs Compostable. So let’s dig into it!

What’s the difference between Degradable vs Biodegradable vs Compostable bags?

A quick word on plastic bags:

  • 90% of the trash floating in our rivers, lakes and oceans that are made out of plastic.
  • Every year 100,000 of marine mammals that are killed annually from plastic waste in our oceans.
  • It takes 1,000 years for plastic to degrade. This means all plastic ever made is still out there!
  • Worldwide we use 2 million plastic bags every 60 seconds
  • 500 BILLIONS of plastic bags worldwide each year
  • The life span of a plastic bag is only 12 minutes on average

Degradable bags (aka oxo-degradable)

Some plastic bags labelled ‘Green and Degradable’ or ‘Naturally Degradable’ contain an additive which makes them break down faster into smaller fragments. But these bags are made from normal plastic (polyethene), so they are not in fact ‘green’ at all. The correct term for these ‘degradable’ bags is ‘oxo-degradable’.

Degradable bags are made from plastic with other chemicals additives (including heavy metals) that allow the plastic to break down and disintegrate quicker than a standard plastic bag if exposed to sunlight and heat. If degradable bags are released into our environment they become quite problematic as they break down into hundreds of tiny pieces of plastic. This poses a serious thread pose to marine life and other animals as they can consume the smaller pieces of plastic more readily than they would if the bags were still whole – and ultimately it could enter the food chain as they are consumed. It is also much more difficult to remove hundreds of tiny pieces of plastic from the environment than it is to remove a single bag.

Which Bin? Degradable bags cannot be classed as biodegradable or compostable. Degradable bags should only be used for and placed into your general waste bin.

Biodegradable bags

Biodegradable bags are made from plant-based materials like corn and wheat starch rather than petroleum. Also, be aware that this type is often still plastic bags that have microorganisms (like fungi or bacteria) added to break down the plastic.

However, when it comes to this kind of plastic, there are certain conditions required for the bag to begin to biodegrade. These conditions are temperatures to reach 50 ºC as well as exposure to UV light. In this case, if biodegradable bags are sent to landfill, they break down without oxygen to produce methane, a greenhouse gas with a warming capacity 21 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

Which bin? Biodegradable bags should only be used for and placed into your general waste bin

Compostable bags

Compostable bags is the right option if we are looking into bags. Compostable means it’s made of plant materials, which will break down into non-toxic components – and so leaves NO microplastics.

When compostable bags break down just like plants in a composting environment, which means it can be returned to the ground to grow more plants.

If they do enter the open environment, a compostable bag will break down on land or in water in the presence of oxygen and microorganisms in a relatively short time frame.

Compost is used as a soil improver and can in part also replace mineral fertilisers. Putting organic food scraps into a compost bin or green organic waste bin significantly reduces the need for plastic bin liners. Compostable bin liners can be used to collect food scraps and returned to the soil as organic matter, helping to improve soil quality.

Which bin? Can be put in compost bin or organics recycling bin

Legislation on compostable products

Because composting is a human-controlled process, humans have also invented certain rules and criteria that apply.

For example, according to the EU standard EN 13432 and similarly, in the US ASTM 6400 a product is considered to be compostable if it meets the following criteria under the conditions of an industrial composting plant:

  • At least 90% biodegradation into CO2 within 6 months
  • No more than 1% additives which must be harmless (non-toxic & no negative effects on plant growth)

To make sure you are green-washed, just opt for certified compostable products which have proven to decompose into valuable soil without leaving harmful residues.

What are the best brands for compostable bags?

When looking into compostable bags to serve different purposes such as carry bag, produce bag, dog waste bag, mailing satchel, compost caddy liner or bin liner.



BioBag products are made from a compostable resin named Mater-Bi produced by Novamont, an Italian research company dedicated to environmental alternatives to polyethene-based plastics. Mater-Bi is an innovative family of bioplastics that uses substances obtained from plants, such as but not limited to, non-genetically modified corn starch, and biodegradable/compostable polymers. Find them here!


Wave eco bags

Made of cassava root, Wave Eco solutions provide a natural and compostable alternative for plastic bags. Cassava is a renewable source which leaves no trace of plastic, no contribution to the micro-plastic problem; it can safely return to nature in the form of H2O and CO2 in only 90 days. This is a call out for all kind of businesses to get on board WAVE bags for their packaging solutions. They are highly customizable for your brand to stand by the authentic “wave” of change-makers!

NOISSUE Mailer and Tissue (and more to comesoon!)

Are you a small business looking for sustainable packaging, compostable mailer and tissue? NOISSUE! This brand and its technology allow you to immediately customise your sustainable packaging with your own branding and do it cost-effectively, fast and without being a designer. The goal of NOISSUE is making eco-packaging the new norm. The brand has planted 2800 trees Eco Packaging Alliance program this far. And you, ready to impress your customers with your sustainable packaging?

Green Cell Foam compostable packaging

This eco-friendly packaging is as great for your products as it is for plant food, to start a barbeque or to melt safely down the drain. The performance of Green Cell Foam could be even better than the petroleum-based foams or packaging, especially because it is highly customisable to design and size, shaping to the products that it needs to protect. Best thing? It requires 70% less energy and produces 80% fewer greenhouse gases. No excuses for your business to operate more sustainably!

guide plastic free july 2019 zero waste tips

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