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Stahl Explains - Are Biodegradation and Composting the same?
05 October 2020

What do you know about chemicals? Are they essential in our everyday life? Is there something like ‘good’ or ‘bad’ chemicals? In our series ‘Stahl Explains’, our chemists and researchers will give clear answers to most frequently asked questions. This week, Frank Brouwer explains the difference between bio degradation and composting:  



Bio degradation and composting are linked but they are not the same. Every compostable material is biodegradable but not every biodegradable material is compostable. Let me explain.

As we explained in last week’s edition of Stahl Explains, the term ‘biodegradable’ refers to the ability of a material to be decomposed by naturally occurring microorganisms into CO2, water and biomass. Whether this process takes 3 months or 5000 years, or if it takes place in the soil or an industrial composting facility is, however, not specified. This means that, technically, most products can be labelled as biodegradable, because most things will break down at some point in their life. In addition, there is nothing specified regarding the residue obtained after a bio-degradation process, which could in theory be harmful to the environment.

When a material is compostable it also biodegrades, but in a controlled environment and conditions (e.g. temperature, humidity, aeration) and within a specified period (e.g. 6-12 weeks). The end product has beneficial use as fertilizer and improving soil health. The term ‘bio degradation’ is not well defined, but any statement about composting needs to be accompanied by a third party certification using ISO standards (e.g. EN 13432 or EN 14995)

It is important to understand that if a material is not composted in the right environment or conditions, a complete breakdown might not occur or at least not within the specified time frame. A material that is certified as ‘compostable’ in an industrial composter, will not (automatically) be compostable in soil, water nor in your home compost bin. This also means you do not have to worry about your compostable shoes degrading while you are wearing them.

At Stahl we would like to understand the environmental impact of our products and their ability to biodegrade and compost will be a factor in the calculation. In this article we have just touched the surface of compostable materials and surfaces but we are committed to the transition to a circular economy: our products will play a key role in that endeavour.


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