With the rise in popularity of takeaway meals, businesses are increasingly in search of the most eco-friendly options for their packaging materials – be it for sandwiches, salads or takeaway coffee cups. But choosing the best alternative can be a tough choice, particularly when comparing biodegradable and compostable packaging. Here, we delve into the differences between the two and consider what might be the best option for today’s businesses.

What is Biodegradable Packaging?

Biodegradable packaging is designed to break down naturally over time, with the help of biological organisms, reducing its environmental impact. Moreover, as a material is biodegradable, it transforms into water, carbon dioxide and biomass, none of which pollute the environment. Nevertheless, the rate at which these materials decompose can vary substantially, with some taking several years to completely degrade.

What is Compostable Packaging?

Compostable packaging, on the other hand, breaks down into nutrient-rich compost when under specific conditions. Given suitable composting conditions, which entail the right mix of heat, oxygen, moisture and microorganisms, compostable packaging can fully degrade within a relatively short period of time – typically 90 to 180 days.

Biodegradable Vs. Compostable: Which Is Better?

Both compostable and biodegradable packaging offer more environmentally friendly alternatives compared to regular plastic or non-recyclable materials. But determining which is better is not clear-cut, as several factors come into play.

Disposal Methods

Compostable packaging requires specific conditions to decompose properly, typically provided by industrial composting facilities. However, access to such facilities can often be limited, and when compostable packaging ends up in landfill sites, they can generate methane as they decompose, which is a potent greenhouse gas.

Conversely, while biodegradable packaging can break down in a range of environments, there’s often a lack of clarity around how long this process lasts. And, if this takes multiple years, then their benefit is somewhat mitigated.

End Products

Compostable packaging leaves behind a useful product: compost, which can contribute to healthier soils. On the other hand, while biodegradable packaging also breaks down into harmless by-products, these aren’t typically beneficial in the same way compost is.

In Conclusion

Both biodegradable and compostable packaging evolved as a response to the environmental concerns associated with traditional packaging solutions. However, it’s not as simple as saying one is definitively better than the other. The best option will often depend on factors such as disposal routes available and the desired end-product. What remains clear, however, is that any move away from traditional, non-recyclable takeaway packaging is a positive step forward in reducing our collective environmental impact.