Biodegradable Vs Compostable

Compostable vs Biodegradable: What is the difference ?


The terms biodegradation, biodegradable materials and compostability are often misused and misunderstood.

Degradable or oxo-degradable describe where the traditional plastics, such as polyethylene are treated with additives which causes the material to disintegrate over a number of years.  Degradable bags do not ‘compost’ and will contaminate the end compost reducing its value to the planet. To visualise this, imagine the look of your gardening compost full of bits of plastic.

Similarly, degradable bags will contaminate any recyclable plastics causing great damage to a material which should be able to be recycled over and over again.

Misuse of the terms compostable and biodegradable can lead consumers to costly mistakes.  Some countries have now moved to ban the use of the word biodegradable on packaging, as there is little benefit if the end product still ends up in the landfill.  Products may be described as compostable provided they conform to accepted standards.


A concern raised by the compost industry, which was faced with materials that claimed to be biodegradable or compostable, led to the development of the European Standard EN 13432 which lays down criteria for what can or cannot be described as compostable and what can be called biodegradable.  European Standard EN13432 is the basis of the ISO Standard.  These standards are intended to ensure that the materials will break down in industrial composting conditions.

Materials that meet the European Standard will break down effectively in virtually all composting systems.


Each of these points is needed to meet the definition of compostability, but each point alone is not sufficient.  For example, a biodegradable material is not necessarily compostable because it must also break up during one composting cycle.  On the other hand, a material that breaks up, over one composting cycle, into microscopic pieces that are not totally biodegradable, is not compostable.

The compostable material must possess the following characteristics:


Measured by metabolic conversion of the material to carbon dioxide to at least 90% in less than six months. (90% is used to account for sampling error, not to allow for non-biodegradable material).


There should be fragmentation below a certain size with no visible contamination.  This is tested by composting the materials for three months then screening through a 2mm sieve.  The mass of residues above 2mm must be less than 10% of the original mass.

Absence of negative effects on the final compost:  This is tested by a plant growth test and physical/chemical analyses.  There must be no difference from the control compost.

Other chemical/physical parameters that must not be different from those of the control compost after the degradation are: the pH, salinity, volatile solids, Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Magnesium and Potassium.

Low levels of heavy metals: Less than a list of specified values of certain elements

Each of these tests is undertaken according to internationally agreed methods of test.  Independent laboratory test results are then compared with the strict pass/fail limits set in the standard.  Only if a material passes every ‘compostable’ test requirement is it proven to be ‘compostable’.


Each of these points is needed to meet the definition of compostability, but each point alone is not sufficient.  For many standards, including EN 13432, independent certification bodies offer product assessment and certification services. In the case of compostable packaging, upon receipt of an application, a certification body would review the nature and ingredients of the packaging sample and ensure it is sent to an appropriate laboratory for the correct tests to be carried out.  When received, the certification body would then check whether the laboratory test results report on the packaging sample proves that it has EN 13432’s ‘compostable’ criteria.  If it has, a unique packaging product certification number and certificate is awarded, and it may carry the scheme’s certification mark (logo) ‘compostable’.

Compostable seedling logo

Under this scheme, a product that carries the ‘compostable’ seedling logo must also display its 7P number. This allows end-users to trace the product to its source.

Vincotte Ok Compost Logo

Vincotte OK compost logo

Certifies that the product is compostable in an industrial composting unit, including the components, inks and additives used. The certification programme’s sole reference point is the harmonised standard EN 13432: 2000, which means any product featuring the OK Compost mark is in fact in accordance with the EN13432 standard. With this marking system, users are guaranteed that the certified product can be composted in an industrial composting facility.

Vincotte OK Biobased Logo

Vincotte OK biobased logo

Certifies the product is contributing to resolving the economic and environmental problem of fossil fuels and greenhouse gases by using renewable raw materials. And that environmentally conscious motivation on the part of customers is exactly the reason why there is a need for an independent, high-quality guarantee of the renewability of raw materials which the Vincotte OK Biobased logo states.


Capsule Pack’s new hermetically sealed compostable and biodegradable capsule holds all of the certifications as detailed above ensuring our customers have the confidence they are upholding to the strictest of international standards.

The secret to our capsule lies in the material used in our plant-based capsules. We make them entirely from sugarcane and sugar beet. This means that under certain conditions the capsules will fully break-down into compost.

Most coffee capsules use an aluminium sachet to keep the coffee fresh, but we don’t. Aluminium not only leaves a nasty toxic trail after disposal, but is also non-renewable, and requires lots of energy and chemicals to produce. Instead, we have built in a plant-based oxygen barrier to keep our coffee fresh. This means that our entire capsule can be chewed up, and spat out by our little microbial friends, leaving behind biomass, CO2and water.

Unlike the plant-based plastics we use, most conventional coffee capsules are made from petroleum-based plastics. Microorganisms cannot digest these materials, and so a bit like us, they stay well clear of them!

To find out more about our capsules, or to start selling your roast in capsule form, call on (07) 5676 6483 or get in touch with us today!