Green waste 101: What is biodegradable and non-biodegradable?

Avoid feeding your food bin something it doesn't like so it doesn't kick up a stink

A young girl and boy discussing what is biodegradable out of the foods they're putting in their food waste bin

Any conversation relating to sustainability and environmental awareness typically involve references to biodegradable and non-biodegradable materials. But do we truly understand what is biodegradable? What does biodegradable mean? Let us de-mystify this buzzword and explain what are biodegradable materials (and what aren’t), and how choosing the right biodegradable products could help you reduce your waste long-term.

What does biodegradable mean?

Let’s start with a definition. If something is biodegradable, it means it can decay naturally, in a non-harmful way. Put simply, it’s organic matter that can be decomposed of by bacteria or other living organisms.

Biodegradable is easily confused with ‘compostable’, as they both mean that a material is technically able to degrade. However, compostable means that (given the right conditions), the material can break down completely into non-toxic components that will not harm the environment.

There are obvious environmental benefits to biodegradable and compostable materials that break down quickly in environments such industrial composting and well-managed home composting. Landfill is the least favourable option, but if the gas from degraded materials is captured, then the negative impact is reduced.

What conditions are needed for composting?

There are certain elements – such as oxygen, temperature, bacteria, and humidity – that encourage the composting process. So, if you can, dispose of compostable materials in an industrial compost or a well-managed closed home compost rather than sending to landfill where it is unlikely there will be the right conditions for degradation.

Biodegradability is the most important factor for compostable materials, together with ensuring there are no unsafe chemicals left behind.

What are biodegradable materials?

Even with a clear definition, it can be tricky to figure out exactly what is biodegradable material, and what isn’t. Here are some typically biodegradable materials:

  • Food waste
  • Human waste
  • Animal waste
  • Plant products
  • Paper
  • Kitchen paper e.g. Plenty
  • Natural wood
  • Grass clippings
  • Leaves

By learning what is biodegradable material you can be better informed on how to dispose of your waste.


Not only is Plenty kitchen paper bio-degradable, it can also be home-composted in around 50 days, making it an eco-minded choice whilst also being a powerhouse for cleaning.

What’s the difference between biodegradable and non-biodegradable?

We’ve got to grips with what is biodegradable, but what about the difference between biodegradable and non-biodegradable materials?

As we’ve seen, renewable and biodegradable things break down into natural materials in the soil. Providing they don’t contain harmful chemicals, there will be no toxins left behind that could damage the environment.

Non biogradable meaning revealed: What is non-biodegradable?

So that’s the definition and differences sorted, but in terms of actual materials, what is non-biodegradable? Nonbiodegradable wastes include:

  • Plastics – such as tires, bags, bottles etc.
  • Man-made fibres – such as nylon
  • Certain construction waste – such as concrete and metal
  • Electrical hardware – such as cables, wires, DVDs, mobile phones etc.
  • Any material with a lot of chemicals would be difficult to degrade in safe way

Now that you know the difference between biodegradable and non-biodegradable materials, you can help educate your friends and family, and use your buying power to help the planet!

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