What does compostable or biodegradable really mean?

Publish Date : 17 Jul 2019
What does compostable or biodegradable really mean?

Consumer demand for alternatives to single-use plastic packaging, and the desire from businesses to lessen their environmental impact, has led to a plethora of new packaging choices.

Commercially compostable, home compostable, biodegradable, oxo-degradable — do you know what these mean and where these products should go at the end of their lifespan?

It is often difficult to work out what all these terms mean and how to dispose of these packaging types in the best way.

Auckland Council’s Parul Sood, Programme Director - Waste Solutions, welcomes the work done by WasteMINZ in producing a new series of consumer guides to bust the myths and help people make good purchasing and disposal choices. 

“The WasteMINZ consumer guides are a useful resource that can help clear up the confusion around what the different terms mean.

"They help us understand if a product is genuinely compostable; explain the terms that can be misused or cause confusion, such as ‘biodegradable’ and ‘degradable’; and they also clarify the best end-of-life disposal options for each product type,” Sood says.

The first three guides are aimed at consumers, retailers and businesses:

Only certified compostable packaging can be composted and not all commercial composting facilities accept all types of compostable packaging. Materials advertised as oxo-degradable, degradable or biodegradable, without specifying a composting environment, need to go to landfill as they cannot be composted or recycled and can break down into microplastics if left in open, marine, or freshwater environments.

A list of facilities that accept compostable packaging is available to view on the WasteMINZ website here.

A fourth guide, made for manufacturers, distributors and retailers of compostable products, was also recently published in collaboration with Plastic NZ. The Best Practice Guidelines for the Advertising of Compostable Products focus on the requirements of the Commerce Commission and the Advertising Standards Authority for claims (such as ‘compostable’, ‘biodegradable” or ‘degradable’).

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