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Biodegradable vs compostable plastic

They both sound like the green thing to do, right? Well, actually, we’d prefer you stick to compostable.

Why?

Well, biodegradable means the item breaks down into hundreds or thousands of small bits of plastic. The pro is it breaks down in landfill faster because there are lots of bits of plastic instead of a big piece. The con – it’s still going to landfill! And if it ends up in our waterways that causes an even bigger concern for fish species.

While you could put it in your home compost, it’s unlikely to ever break down – your home compost doesn’t get as hot as commercially made compost, and you’ll likely want to be using your compost before the biodegradable plastic gets anywhere near close to the point it could degrade.

Other countries are already banning biodegradable products for this very reason.

Photo shows compostable dog poo bag. It's printed with a dog holding a lead, eco-symbols and the words "certified compostable".

Choose compostable

Compostable on the other hand means that it should be able to break down relatively quickly.

Most compostable items you buy still need to be composted in a commercial facility like ours and will still take some time to break down in your home compost bin. If you want to find items you can compost in your home compost bin, then check for ‘home compostable’ on the packaging.

The advantage is that even if you are buying compostable items and putting them in your rubbish bin, they’ll break down in the landfill very quickly due to the heat and gases created by the landfill.

If you ever put things in our organic bins or at a Council event you can be assured, they’re composted at our Awapuni facility.

Packaging can be misleading. Read the fine print!

Green washing is very common practice here and around the world. It simply means that producers may use words like eco and biodegradable on the packaging, the packaging could be coloured green, or they might use images like dolphins to make you think the product you’re buying is good for the planet. A lot of the time this might be legit, but sometimes it isn't.

A new trend we’re noticing is that producers make half the item environmentally friendly, but another part of the packaging isn’t. It’s a hard topic to navigate, but in Palmy you can be assured that any plastics with a 1, 2 or 5 are recycled. Remember to look out for the word compostable rather than biodegradable.

More information

New Zealand’s parliamentary commissioner for the environment has some great information about this topic. Read more here: