Click here to view our video on the differences between bio-based, biodegradable and compostable materials.

Click here to view our video on the differences between bio-based, biodegradable and compostable materials.


With so many buzzwords being used to describe environmentally-friendly packaging these days, it can be hard to differentiate the meanings between them.

In this post, we’ll dive into the differences so you can better align the materials you choose with your ultimate sustainability goals.


What Are Bio-Based Materials?

Bio-based materials are made from renewable plant or animal feedstocks. These renewable materials are often used throughout the manufacturing process and at the very beginning of a package’s life cycle.

Examples of Bio-Based Products

The most common examples of bio-based materials are fiber-based packaging that originates from trees, and other fiber sources such as wheat straw or bamboo. Others include bioplastics, which are made from materials like sugarcane, cornstarch, potatoes, and algae.

How to Quantify a Material’s Bio-Based Content

The bio-based nature of a product is often tested against the ASTM D6866 standard in order to quantify a material’s bio-based content. This standard uses radiocarbon analysis to determine the content of solid, liquid, or gaseous samples.

How to Properly Dispose of Bio-Based Products

Many bio-based packaging materials can be recycled, including bio-based plastics. When recycled, bio-based plastics are collected by recyclers and brought to a recycling plant. Then, after being processed, they can be reused in new solutions.


What Does Biodegradable Mean?

When a biodegradable material reaches the end of its life cycle, bacteria and other living organisms will begin to break down the product. Gradually, the material will decompose – i.e., biodegrade – in natural environments and will eventually be converted into components such as carbon dioxide and water.

Examples of Biodegradable Products

Most biodegradable packaging materials are made of cardboard, paper, cornstarch, and bioplastic. Examples include label stock, board stock, corrugated boxes, packaging “peanuts,” and envelopes.

Many bio-degradable packages consist of bio-based materials; however, there are a few exceptions to this large generalization. It is always best to ask your material supplier directly to ensure the materials align with your sustainability initiatives.

How to Measure the Biodegradability of a Material

OECD 301B is the main way to measure a material’s biodegradability. This international testing method measures how quickly a material will break down in water over a period of 28 days. If a material passes the OECD 301B test within the 28-day timeframe and within 10 days of reaching 10% biodegradation, it’s categorized as “readily biodegradable.”

How to Properly Dispose of Biodegradable Products

If bio-based products are also biodegradable and compostable, they can be composted or brought to a biogas plant to be used as renewable energy. Others can also be recycled.


What Makes a Material Compostable?

Compostable materials will quickly biodegrade in a home or industrial composting environment. In order for a product to be classified as compostable, the material must biodegrade naturally without leaving visual remnants or unacceptable levels of toxic residues.

When considering the differences between biodegradable and compostable materials, it is good to keep in mind that while all compostable materials are biodegradable, not all biodegradable materials are compostable.

Examples of Compostable Materials

Compostable packaging materials such as paperboard, coatings, inks, and additives derive from fossils, trees, sugar cane, seaweed, and cellulose fiber.

How to Measure the Compostability of a Material

The ASTM D6400 and ASTM D6868 standards are often used to evaluate the compostable characteristics of plastic and fiber-based packaging materials. ASTM D6400 measures if plastic or plastic-based products will “compost satisfactorily” in municipal and industrial aerobic composting facilities.

Meanwhile, ASTM D686 measures whether or not packaging materials with attached biodegradable plastic film or coating compost in the same kinds of facilities.

How to Properly Dispose of Compostable Materials

Compostable packaging materials – including those made of plastic – can be composted in a commercial or industrial composting facility. If this kind of facility isn’t located near a consumer, it’s best to throw compostable materials in the garbage since they often aren’t recyclable.


SmartSolve water soluble materials are comprised of bio-based wood fibers that are sourced from FSC Certified forests. Our paper-based materials are non-toxic, bio-degradable, and approved for both home and industrial composting. Contact us directly to learn more about how our water soluble materials can help you go beyond recycling.


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