Recyclable vs. Compostable vs. Biodegradable - article by TheGreenOffice.com
Cracking the Code
The good news is that there are many eco-friendly alternatives to traditional disposable packaging, flatware, cups and cutlery.
The bad news is that the terminology is often confusing and the best disposal method is sometimes unclear. Here's a quick & simple guide to cracking the code:
What does it mean?
'Recyclable' products can be collected and reprocessed to produce new items. Common recyclable materials are: paper, cardboard, plastic, glass, aluminum, and electronic waste. Recycling is very important in diverting waste from landfills.
How Do You Identify Recyclable Products?
Many simple paper and plastic products are marked with the universal recycling symbol (at right). Many complex electrical products (mobile phones, computers, printers, etc.) contain parts and materials which can be recycled by disassembling the products. Other products such as batteries, paints and fertilizers can be specially processed to reduce the environmental impact of their disposal.
Visit Earth911.org to view a list of products which can be recycled instead of thrown in the trash.
How Do You Dispose of Recyclable Products?
What Does It Mean?
'Biodegradable' simply means that a product will break down into carbon dioxide, water and biomass within a reasonable amount of time in the natural environment. The term 'biodegradable' however has no legal enforcement or definition therefore the term has been used loosely by some manufacturers.
Biodegradability is a desirable feature in products such as cleaning agents. Conventional cleaning agents will often release harmful phosphates and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) as they break down, but biodegradable versions will not.
How Do You Identify Biodegradable Products?
TheGreenOffice.com indicates biodegradable products via our Green Screen™ system with the following icons:
How Do You Dispose of Biodegradable Products?
Products that are labeled as 'biodegradable' can be disposed of in your garbage. However it is important to remember that landfills lack the microorganisms and oxygen required for waste to biodegrade in a timely manner, so you should still try to minimize your use of items that are not recyclable or compostable.
What Does It Mean?
'Compostable' products are biodegradable, but with an added benefit: when they break down, they release valuable nutrients into the soil, aiding the growth of trees and plants. These products degrade within several months in an industrial composting facility and produce no toxic residues.
Compostability is a desirable feature in traditionally-disposable products such as plates, bowls, cups and cutlery. These products are commonly made out of PLA (Polylactic acid), bagasse (sugarcane fiber) or vegetable starch. It is environmentally-preferable to use disposable products that are labeled 'compostable' rather than just 'biodegradable'.
How Do You Identify Compostable Products?
TheGreenOffice.com indicates compostable products via our Green Screen™ system with the following icons:
There is also a Third Party Certification issued by the Biodegradable Products Institute which is indicated by the following Green Screen icon:
How Do You Dispose of Compostable Products?
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