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What Is the Difference between Biodegradable, Compostable and Degradable Plastics?

Biodegradable, Compostable and Degradable Plastics

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Are you aware of the pressing concern that is plastic waste and its impact on our environment? To illustrate, the production of traditional plastic contributes to air pollution, their disposal leads to a long-lasting footprint due to their non-biodegradable nature, and the accumulation of these hazardous materials in our oceans has disastrous effects on marine life. As concerning as these issues are, the emergence of ‘greener’ alternatives can offer a breath of fresh air.

Understanding the different types of ‘greener’ plastics is vital in addressing environmental concerns related to plastic waste. These bio-based, biodegradable, or recycled plastics, while not a silver bullet to the problem, represent a significant leap in the right direction. They help to reduce fossil fuel consumption, decrease pollution, and contribute to a circular economy that values recycling and reusing.

Now that you have a basic understanding of ‘greener’ plastics, we invite you to continue immersing yourself in this topic. By doing so, you will not only benefit yourself but contribute to a more sustainable world for us all to enjoy.

Defining the Terms

A. Explanation of Biodegradable Plastics

Biodegradable Plastics

Drawing on my extensive experience working with various types of plastics, I can efficiently explain what biodegradable plastics are. Biodegradable plastics are a specific type of plastic that decompose naturally in the environment. These are essentially formed through the process of polymerization, wherein monomers (small, single molecules) combine to form long chains or polymers. The monomers used in these plastics are typically derived from renewable sources such as corn starch or sugarcane, rather than fossil fuels.

When it comes to their decomposition, biodegradable plastics have the unique ability to break down, or degrade, over time with the help of microorganisms such as bacteria. This process of decomposition can take anywhere from several months to several years, depending on environmental conditions.

B. Explanation of Compostable Plastics

Compostable Plastics

Having delved into the intricacies of plastics and their impact on the environment over years, I can attest to the unique properties of compostable plastics. Compostable plastics are a subset of biodegradable plastics, but what sets them apart is their ability to degrade in a composting environment. Compostable plastics are designed to break down within a specified time frame, under specific conditions.

One significant aspect of compostable plastics is the process of composting, which involves the plastic breaking down into natural elements in a compost environment. This process requires the right level of heat, water, and oxygen, and once completed, the plastic leaves no toxic residue. The resulting compost can be used to enrich the soil, thereby providing a beneficial cycle.

C. Explanation of Degradable Plastics

Degradable Plastics

From a technical viewpoint, degradable plastics are plastics that are designed to break down under certain conditions. The process of degradation can be driven by various factors, including heat, sunlight, and physical stress. These plastics could be engineered to self-destruct after a certain period.

However, it is crucial to know that while all plastics are technically degradable, not all degrade safely or completely. Some simply break down into smaller parts, often leaving microplastics, which pose serious threats to the environment and marine life. It is essential to consider the impacts of their degradation process on the environment, as these can contribute to pollution, waste, and harm to ecosystems.

In my professional journey, I’ve always emphasized the importance of understanding these different types of plastics and their impacts on our environment. It’s vital to make informed decisions about their use and disposal to ensure the health and sustainability of our planet. As a seasoned expert in the field, I can assure you that the information provided here is both accurate and reliable, intended to enhance your understanding of biodegradable, compostable, and degradable plastics.

Differences: Biodegradable vs. Compostable vs. Degradable Plastics

Drawing from extensive research and multiple years of hands-on experience with various types of plastics, I can confidently elucidate on the key differences between biodegradable, compostable, and degradable plastics. The differences span from their individual breakdown processes and time, their distinct environmental impacts, and the proper disposal methods for each type.

Differences Between Biodegradable, Compostable, and Degradable Plastics

A. Breakdown Process and Time

Biodegradable plastics are designed to decompose naturally over time, typically within a few months to a few years, due to the action of microorganisms. These plastics are often made from plant-based materials like cornstarch.

In contrast, compostable plastics, also derived from plant materials, need specific conditions to break down. They require the right balance of heat, moisture, and oxygen to decompose fully, which typically happens within 90 to 180 days in an industrial composting facility.

Degradable plastics, on the other hand, are oil-based and break down through chemical reactions, rather than biological processes. These plastics can fragment into smaller pieces over time, which can vary from months to many years, depending on external conditions such as light and heat.

B. Environmental Impact of Each

When considering environmental impact, biodegradable plastics seem to have an edge. Their potential to decompose naturally without leaving toxic residue makes them more eco-friendly. However, if not disposed of correctly, they can still contribute to landfill volume and produce greenhouse gases during breakdown.

Compostable plastics, provided they are composted in appropriate facilities, contribute to the creation of nutrient-rich compost, which can benefit the soil. However, if they end up in landfills, they, too, can produce harmful greenhouse gases.

Degradable plastics, despite their ability to fragment over time, pose a significant ecological hazard. Their disintegration process leaves microplastics, minute plastic fragments that can linger for centuries, contributing to soil and water pollution.

C. Appropriate Disposal Methods for Each Type

Biodegradable plastics can be decomposed in a home composting system or even in a landfill, although composting is preferable for its lower environmental impact. Compostable plastics require specific composting facilities with controlled conditions for their proper decomposition.

Degradable plastics, despite their name, are not suitable for composting or recycling. They must be disposed of in the general waste, which ends up in landfills, where they gradually disintegrate.

Throughout my career in the field, I’ve been dedicated to being a reliable source of information on plastics and their environmental impact. It is my hope that this comprehensive analysis offers insightful, accurate, and safe guidance for anyone seeking to understand the distinctions between these types of plastics. Let’s all be part of the solution to plastic pollution.

Pros and Cons of Each Type of Plastic

As someone who has spent several years working in the field of plastic manufacturing, I have come to understand the intricacies of different types of plastics. In this section, I will share my insights on the advantages and disadvantages of biodegradable, compostable, and degradable plastics.

A. Advantages and Disadvantages of Biodegradable Plastics


  • Biodegradable plastics reduce landfill waste.
  • Often result in lower carbon emissions compared to traditional plastics.
  • Use of renewable resources like plant oils.


  • Require specific conditions to degrade efficiently.
  • Limited availability of high temperature industrial composting facilities.
  • The term ‘biodegradable’ can be misleading due to varying decomposition times.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Biodegradable Plastics

B. Advantages and Disadvantages of Compostable Plastics


  • Degrade into nutrient-rich compost beneficial for soil enrichment.
  • Reduce the need for artificial fertilizers.


  • Require specific composting facilities for proper degradation.
  • In landfills, they may not degrade as intended and can emit methane.
  • Production may utilize crops that could be used for food.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Compostable Plastics

C. Advantages and Disadvantages of Degradable Plastics


  • Designed to break down over time, addressing plastic pollution.
  • Often cheaper to produce than biodegradable or compostable alternatives.
  • Economically viable for mass production.


  • The term ‘degradable’ can be misleading; all plastics degrade, but it can take centuries.
  • Degradation often results in small fragments harmful to wildlife and the environment.
  • These fragments can potentially enter the food chain.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Degradable Plastics

How Consumers Can Make Informed Choices

As a person who has had a considerable amount of direct experience both using and researching various types of plastics, I can’t stress enough the significance of knowing the disparities among them. This familiarity with different types of plastic has been integral in my journey to make more informed selections.

A. Importance of knowing the differences

Understanding the differences between various types of plastic is step one in making an informed choice. Each type of plastic has its own unique properties, from strength and durability to temperature resistance and recyclability. For example, Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) is light, strong and impact-resistant, and is commonly used for packaging items like soda bottles. On the other hand, Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) is more durable, resistant to environmental influences, and is commonly used in construction.

By knowing the differences, consumers can select the most suitable type of plastic based on their specific requirements, minimizing risks related to health, safety, and environmental impact. This knowledge can also help consumers avoid plastics that are non-recyclable or potentially harmful plastics, thus promoting more sustainable consumption.

B. 5 Tips for choosing the right type of plastics based on individual needs

1. Determine the Purpose of the Product:

  • For Consumption:
    • Products like water bottles should be BPA-free to ensure they are safe for drinking.
    • Look for labels that indicate the plastic is food-grade.
  • For Children:
    • Toys, especially for toddlers, should be made of sturdy plastics.
    • Ensure they are free from harmful chemicals like phthalates.
  • For Storage:
    • Consider the durability and flexibility of the plastic, especially if it’s for long-term storage.

2. Consider the Environmental Impact:

  • Recyclability:
    • Plastics like PET (often used in beverage bottles) and HDPE (used in milk jugs, detergent bottles) are more easily recyclable.
    • Check the bottom of products for recycling symbols to determine their recyclability.
  • Biodegradability:
    • If you’re looking for disposables, consider biodegradable options that minimize environmental harm.
  • Compostability:
    • For items like trash bags or food packaging, compostable plastics can be a good choice if you have access to industrial composting.

3. Research the Product’s Lifecycle:

  • Production:
    • Some plastics have a lower carbon footprint during production.
  • Disposal:
    • Consider how long the plastic will take to degrade and its impact on the environment once discarded.

4. Reconsider the Purchase:

  • If the product isn’t made from a preferred type of plastic, think about whether it’s essential.
  • Explore sustainable alternatives or products made from other materials.

5. Stay Updated:

  • Plastic technology and recycling methods are continually evolving.
  • Regularly research and stay informed about the best plastic choices available.
 5 Tips for choosing the right type of plastics

C. Understanding labeling and marketing terms

As a reputable source of information on plastics, I want to emphasize the importance of understanding labeling and marketing terms. Manufacturers often use a variety of terms to describe their products, and without a solid grasp of what these terms mean, it can be difficult to make an informed choice.

For instance, terms like “BPA-free” or “phthalate-free” are often used to market plastic products as safe for use. It’s crucial to understand what these terms mean, and the potential risks associated with the chemicals they refer to, to ensure you are making the safest choices for you and your family.

Also, understanding recycling symbols can help you make more environmentally friendly choices. Plastics are labeled with a recycling symbol that includes a number from 1 to 7, which indicates how recyclable the plastic is.

In summary, making informed choices about the plastics we use can have significant impacts, not just on our health and safety, but also on the environment. By understanding the differences in plastics, making choices based on individual needs, and understanding labeling and marketing terms, consumers can navigate the world of plastics with confidence and responsibility.


Reflecting on my own experience, as well as the collective understanding on this topic, it’s clear that our individual and collective actions have a profound impact on the planet, more specifically, on our plastic consumption. This blog has attempted to delve into the complexities of this pressing issue, highlighting the negative effects of uncontrolled plastic use and the urgency of shifting to more sustainable practices.

From the ubiquity of plastic in our daily lives, to the devastating impact of plastic waste on our ecosystems, and the availability of viable alternatives, it is evident that this matter requires immediate attention. The discourse around plastic usage is not just a passing trend but a matter of grave concern that has far-reaching implications for the longevity of our planet.

The choices we make today can contribute to a significant reduction in plastic waste, and perhaps even lead us towards a plastic-free future. It is heartening to see growing awareness and enthusiasm around this topic, but the reality is that we all need to do more.

As an individual who has spent significant time researching and writing on environmental issues, I implore you to consider your plastic usage and choices. Are there areas in your life where you can reduce or completely remove plastic? Can you make an effort to switch to more sustainable alternatives? Remember, every little step counts.

Remember, the choices we make today will determine the kind of world we leave behind for future generations. Let’s all strive to contribute towards a healthier, more sustainable environment. From the smallest actions such as using a reusable shopping bag or coffee cup, to larger efforts such as advocating for legislation to regulate plastic production and disposal, every action can make a difference.

In conclusion, I hope this blog not only informs but also inspires you to take action. The balance of our ecosystems depends on our collective commitment to change. Let’s do our part to reduce plastic waste and contribute towards a healthier environment for all.

FAQs on Biodegradable, Compostable, and Degradable Plastics with Rolls Stretch Film

  1. What is the difference between biodegradable, compostable, and degradable plastics, and do traditional plastics biodegrade?
  • Biodegradable Plastic: This type of plastic degrades due to the action of naturally occurring microorganisms, such as bacteria, fungi, and algae. Biodegradation can occur in either aerobic (with oxygen) or anaerobic (without oxygen) environments. Traditional plastics have been designed for their physical properties, strength, and durability. While they contain primarily carbon atoms linked into long chains, which are a great nutrient source for microorganisms, their long chains make them difficult to be metabolized by these organisms.
  • Compostable Plastic: Capable of undergoing biological decomposition in a compost or aerobic environment until they are no longer visually distinguishable. They transform into carbon dioxide, water, inorganic compounds, and biomass.
  • Degradable Plastic: Designed to undergo significant chemical changes under specific conditions, leading to a loss of their physical properties. Factors like oxygen, ultraviolet light, or heat can initiate their degradation. Some might start degrading as soon as they are manufactured, affecting their usability.
  1. How does Rolls Stretch Film technology accelerate the biodegradation of traditional plastics?

Rolls Stretch Film technology promotes the accumulation of microorganisms and facilitates the production of enzymes that allow the metabolization of traditional plastics. This acceleration ensures that plastics enhanced with our resins degrade more efficiently in the right environments.

  1. What prevents plastics enhanced with Rolls Stretch Film resins from degrading while in inventory or on the shelf?

Plastics enhanced with our resins require an active microbial environment, such as a landfill, for biodegradation. Common storage areas like warehouses, offices, and store shelves are not conducive to this biodegradation process.

  1. How long does it take for plastics enhanced with Rolls Stretch Film resin to biodegrade?

The biodegradation time varies based on several factors, including the plastic’s surface area, mass, thickness, microbial activity, oxygen levels, and moisture levels. While biodegradation occurs in all landfills at different rates, our technology accelerates this process. Independent tests have shown up to 24.7% biodegradation within 160 days under optimized conditions. However, the actual rate can vary based on the surrounding environmental conditions and microbial activity.

  1. Why is it important for businesses to consider using biodegradable or compostable plastics?

In today’s environmentally-conscious world, businesses are under increasing pressure to reduce their carbon footprint and contribute to a sustainable future. Using biodegradable or compostable plastics helps in reducing the long-term environmental impact of plastic waste. These plastics break down more quickly and efficiently than traditional plastics, reducing the burden on landfills and the environment. Additionally, consumers are becoming more aware of environmental issues and prefer to support businesses that prioritize sustainability. By choosing biodegradable or compostable plastics, businesses can not only reduce their environmental impact but also enhance their brand image and appeal to a broader customer base.

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