Compostable, Biodegradable, Oxo-degradable and Bio-based, What Does It All Mean?

Many terms are used to advertise products as green and environmentally friendly, but not all can be treated the same. Understanding the distinctions between compostable, biodegradable, oxo-degradable, and bio-based packaging is crucial to make informed choices. In this article, we’ll clarify the confusion and misconceptions surrounding these terms.


Compostable packaging refers to materials that can break down through microbial digestion in a composting environment. Composting involves the decomposition of organic waste with the right balance of heat, water, and oxygen. Compostable products must meet the requirements outlined in the European Norm EN 13432 and the US Standard ASTM D6400. These standards ensure that compostable products fully decompose within a specified timeframe without leaving harmful residues.


Biodegradable materials can degrade biologically, either anaerobically or aerobically, resulting in the production of CO2, H2O, methane, biomass, and mineral salts. Microorganisms play a vital role in the biodegradation process. It’s important to note that everything is biodegradable given enough time. The key difference between biodegradation and composting lies in the timeframe required for degradation.


Oxo-degradable plastics are mass-produced plastics that cannot meet the standards for compostability. These plastics, typically made from polyethylene, contain additives that facilitate degradation. Organic transition metal compounds like iron, nickel, and manganese are often used as additives. Oxo-degradation is a chemical reaction-based process in which long chains of polyethylene molecules break down into shorter lengths due to oxygen, ultraviolet light, and heat. However, it is still uncertain whether the smaller plastic fragments left behind are harmful. There is concern that animals and insects could ingest these shards, potentially entering the food chain.

It’s important to note that oxo-degradable plastics are not compostable according to well-established international standards like EN13432 and ASTM 6400. Including oxo-degradable plastics in compost waste can negatively affect the quality of the compost. These plastics are also not suitable for recycling alongside commonly used plastics as they can impact the value and usability of the recycled product.


Bio-based packaging refers to products that are fully or partially made from biological raw materials, as opposed to fossil resources used in mass-produced plastics. Both biodegradable and compostable plastics can be produced from bio-based or fossil raw materials while maintaining comparable functionality to conventional plastics.

It’s important to understand that the term “bio-based” solely indicates the source of the material and doesn’t determine its compostability or biodegradability. The compostability and biodegradability of a material depend on its molecular structure, which is typically more prone to degradation in the case of compostable and biodegradable materials. Ester bonds link small molecules, which can be easily broken in the presence of water, allowing microorganisms to digest them and facilitate degradation.


Clearing up the confusion surrounding compostable, biodegradable, oxo-degradable, and bio-based packaging is essential for making sustainable choices. Gobiopack focuses solely on providing compostable products to ensure customers can safely compost their packaging, benefiting the environment. By understanding these terms and their implications, individuals and businesses can make informed decisions to contribute to a more sustainable future.

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