You may have heard or seen these terms mentioned more and more often on eco friendly sites... but what do they really mean? And what are the differences between them? Let's find out!
Compostable and/or compostable
If an item is compostable, it means that the item is intended to be safely returned to nature - just like biodegradable materials. However, compostable materials go a step further by providing the Earth with valuable nutrients once fully broken down, which helps plants and trees grow. You may be familiar with this process (i.e. composting)! Composting works because millions of tiny microbes consume the waste and turn the organic material into compost.
If an object is biodegradable, given the right conditions and the presence of microorganisms, fungi or bacteria, the object will break down into its basic components and return to nature. This process usually takes a year or less. The ability of objects to biodegrade in landfills helps to reduce waste which ultimately contributes to a safer and cleaner environment.
This term is commonly confused with "biodegradable," but in fact, "degradable" is the generic term given to man-made objects that break down through chemical reactions into smaller parts and do not have living organisms as a critical part of the breakdown process. Degradable objects can be photodegradable (degraded by ultraviolet light), oxo-degradable (degraded by exposure to heat) and biodegradable (degraded by the action of micro-organisms).
If an item is recyclable, it means that it can be turned into new materials and objects that would otherwise be thrown away. Ultimately, recycling prevents the waste of potentially useful materials, reduces the consumption of raw materials and its by-product helps to reduce environmental pollution (air and water) and energy use.
Have you noticed the recycling symbols with numbers on the back (or bottom) of plastic items? There is a lot of confusion (or lack of knowledge) around these, so if you don't know what they mean, you're not alone! They are actually plastic or resin identification codes. The purpose of these codes is to let us know what type of plastic the item is made of, whether it is recyclable and how to dispose of it.