What about bio-plastics, biodegradable and compostable plastics?


It’s easy to confuse bio-plastics, biodegradable and compostable plastics, but each means something completely different. Unfortunately, with our current infrastructure, most of these materials don’t degrade properly in residential composting or in a landfill, so the best option is to use recyclable or recycled plastics.

Are compostables the answer?


When something is called bio-plastic it means it was made from a plant-based source, not a fossil fuel. It doesn’t mean that it biodegrades (breaks down naturally) in the environment. A plant-based plastic is still plastic.

Bio-plastics can be either compostable or recyclable, but not both. It’s a good idea to check the label for the correct disposal method.

If something has the word ‘bio’ in front of it, don’t automatically assume that it’s kinder to the environment as it’s not a regulated term.

Biodegradable and compostable plastic

Biodegradable means it’s something that will break down in the natural environment. But it doesn’t mean anything on its own – it only has meaning if it’s certified as compostable.

You should not put compostable plastics in with your usual plastic recycling. Compostable plastics are designed to break down in very specific composting conditions. They cannot be composted in home composting systems and can only be composted in industrial composting facilities under specific levels of heat and oxygen.

Making plastic compostable doesn’t reduce the huge amount of plastic we consume, and the UK’s composting infrastructure is currently limited.

Any plastic (even compostable) has a detrimental effect on our environment because when it eventually breaks down it doesn’t add any nutrients to the soil.

Recycling plastic

It’s more beneficial to the environment and the economy to use plastic packaging that can be recycled. The material has value and can be re-used and recycled back into useful packaging. Until new technologies and infrastructure exists for recycling compostable plastics, the best option is to use recyclable plastic.

To find out more about what to recycle where you live, visit