Difference Wiki

Biodegradable vs. Compostable: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on November 18, 2023
Biodegradable items break down naturally over time, while Compostable items decompose in compost conditions to produce nutrient-rich humus.

Key Differences

Biodegradable materials are substances that can be broken down by natural processes and decomposed by microorganisms, fungi, or bacteria. This term simply means that a product can disintegrate into natural elements with the help of living organisms.
On the other hand, Compostable materials go a step further. They not only break down but do so within a specific timeframe in composting conditions. Compostable items are designed to decompose in composting systems and transform into nutrient-rich compost or humus.
An important distinction between Biodegradable and Compostable items is the end result. While Biodegradable materials break down, they might leave behind metal residue or other tiny fragments. Compostable materials, conversely, fully decompose, leaving no toxic material behind.
Furthermore, the time frame for decomposition varies. Biodegradable items might take years, even decades, to fully break down, depending on environmental conditions. Compostable materials, in contrast, decompose within a matter of weeks to months in a compost system.

Comparison Chart


Breaks down naturally over time
Decomposes in compost conditions

End Result

Might leave residues
Transforms into nutrient-rich humus with no toxic residues

Time Frame

Varies, can be years
Typically weeks to months in compost systems

Decomposition Agents

Microorganisms, fungi, bacteria
Requires specific composting conditions

Environmental Impact

Can be minimal, but depends on residues left
Typically beneficial as it returns nutrients to the soil

Biodegradable and Compostable Definitions


Capable of being broken down by natural processes.
The packaging is made from Biodegradable materials.


Fully biodegrading in a compost system without leaving toxic residues.
Consumers are encouraged to look for Compostable labels on packaging.


Decomposed by bacteria or other living organisms.
The company switched to Biodegradable cleaning agents.


Capable of decomposing into nutrient-rich soil in composting conditions.
The cutlery is made of Compostable materials.


Able to disintegrate over time without harming the environment.
Consumers prefer Biodegradable shopping bags.


Transforming into beneficial compost under specific conditions.
The coffee grounds are Compostable and can enrich the soil.


Dissolvable through the action of living organisms.
The new product line boasts of Biodegradable ingredients.


Breaking down into humus when subjected to composting.
Using Compostable plates reduces waste in landfills.


Subject to decomposition into natural elements.
Biodegradable waste helps reduce environmental pollution.


Suitable for organic recycling in managed compost facilities.
Many cities are promoting the use of Compostable trash bags.


Capable of being decomposed by biological agents, especially bacteria
A biodegradable detergent.


Suitable for compost.


Capable of being decomposed by biological activity, especially by microorganisms.


That which is suitable for compost.


Any material that can be decomposed by biological activity.


Capable of being decomposed by e.g. bacteria;
A biodegradable detergent


Can Biodegradable items leave behind toxins?

Yes, some might leave residues that aren't environmentally friendly.

Can Compostable items be composted in a backyard?

Some can, but many require industrial composting conditions.

Do Biodegradable products always benefit the environment?

Not necessarily; some Biodegradable items may leave harmful residues.

Are all Biodegradable items also Compostable?

No, but all Compostable items are Biodegradable.

Can I put Compostable items in my regular trash bin?

It's best to place them in compost bins for proper decomposition.

How long do Compostable items take to decompose?

Typically weeks to months in appropriate composting conditions.

Can Compostable items degrade without composting facilities?

They can, but might not achieve the desired nutrient-rich end product.

How are Biodegradable items processed differently than regular waste?

They're often processed in environments that promote natural decomposition.

Are all natural materials Biodegradable?

Most natural materials are, but decomposition rates vary.

Are there standards for Biodegradable and Compostable products?

Yes, many countries have standards and certifications in place.

Is compost from Compostable items good for gardens?

Yes, it returns valuable nutrients to the soil.

Do Biodegradable plastics harm marine life?

If ingested, they can, as they don't break down quickly in marine environments.

How can I identify Compostable products?

Look for certifications or labels indicating they're Compostable.

Are Biodegradable items more expensive?

Often, yes, due to the eco-friendly materials used.

Do Compostable items need specific conditions to decompose?

Yes, factors like moisture, temperature, and microorganisms matter.

Can Biodegradable items break down in landfills?

They can, but landfills often lack the conditions for rapid decomposition.

Do Biodegradable items always decompose faster than non-biodegradable ones?

Not always; decomposition depends on environmental conditions.

What are common uses for Compostable materials?

Food packaging, cutlery, and waste bags are common examples.

Why are Compostable items considered eco-friendly?

They return nutrients to the soil and reduce landfill waste.

Are Biodegradable and Compostable the same as recyclable?

No, recyclable means it can be reprocessed; the others refer to decomposition.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

Trending Comparisons

Popular Comparisons

New Comparisons