As climate change is talked about more and more, we start to see brands and blogs using certain “eco-buzzwords”. Terms such as biodegradable, compostable, reusable or recyclable are commonplace when talking about environmentally friendly products. But do we really know what they mean and what the differences are?
If you pick up an item in the grocery store and the packaging says “Recyclable”, then it means that the material can be used again for something else. Recycling in the process of turning waste items or material into reusable material. It won't necessarily mean a new supply of the same material but that the product can be broken down and reused to create something new.
Many materials are recyclable, metals such as aluminum and steel cans, paper, cardboard, glass, and even some plastics. Always check the label when you are purchasing any items to check if they can be recycled to cut down waste ending up in landfills.
Products labelled as reusable means that they can be used multiple times in their current form. For example, packaging that can be washed or re-filled. It can also be used to describe items that have been specifically designed to replace disposable products for a longer period of time- think of stainless steel water bottles, made to replace plastic water bottles. The term ‘reusable’ is less about packaging and more about the type of item.
When something is described as “biodegradable” it means that the item or product can be broken down by bacteria and eventually disintegrate. For example, an apple dropped on the ground will be gradually broken down by bacteria which use it as a source of food, until the apple is no more.
Be careful with biodegradable labels, as all things will EVENTUALLY biodegrade… but items such as plastic bottles will just take 1000 years and some items may leach toxic chemicals into the environment as they break down.
The term “compostable” means that the item is biodegradable in a compost environment in a time frame of around 90 days and without leaving behind any toxic chemicals. While biodegradable items also breakdown, they may still leave trace metals behind. Compostable items are those which break down faster and provide nutrition for the soil.