understanding the different types of eco-friendly

Sustainability is becoming an increasingly hot topic as people continue to look for ways to reduce their carbon footprint and improve the environment. When it comes to plastics, many consumers prefer eco-friendly options, and are even willing to pay a premium for them. More than half (54%) of consumers take sustainable packaging and product sustainability into consideration when selecting a product. However, as more options become available, it can cause some confusion when it comes time to dispose of different types of plastic products.

Most of us are familiar with recyclable materials, but what about compostable and biodegradable? While these concepts appear similar, there are some critical differences to know. Most importantly, just because something is biodegradable does not necessarily mean that it’s compostable or recyclable.

Let’s dig in and break down the differences between recyclable, biodegradable, and compostable.


Recycling is the process of converting used materials into something new, keeping products away from a landfill. But there are limits to how many times some materials can be recycled. Standard plastics and paper, for example, can usually be recycled only a few times before they become unusable, whereas others, such as glass, metal and aluminium, can be recycled endlessly.

There are several different types of plastic, some commonly recycled, others almost never recyclable. Each city has its own rules dictating what can and cannot be recycled, so it is always best to check with your local municipality before tossing items into your recycling bin. Putting something into your recycling bin that does not belong can have adverse effects. When your recycling becomes contaminated with food or non-recyclable items, it can compromise the whole batch, causing it to end up in the landfill. For example, only recycle pizza boxes if they are free from any grease, cheese, or other food remnants. If part of the box is contaminated with food, you can compost that portion and recycle the rest. 


Biodegradable means that a substance can break down naturally without causing any harm. The term is assigned to products that can disintegrate into natural elements—such as carbon dioxide and water vapor—with the help of bacteria, fungi, and other biological processes. In reality, nearly everything is biodegradable, but it takes time. Even natural products such as banana skin can take 2 years to biodegrade when thrown away, but some products can take centuries to break down. In the meantime, they can have dire environmental consequences.

As they break down, they turn into smaller pieces of plastics, which can take some time to dissolve. Therefore, although the process of decomposing happens naturally, it can still be harmful to the environment.

Much like the term “natural,” there is not much oversight when it comes to labeling things biodegradable. Products like biodegradable bags require specific conditions for proper decomposition, and you cannot recycle them. When these items end up in landfills, they are deprived of the necessary elements and may produce harmful greenhouse emissions when they decompose. For this reason, these products can sometimes cause more harm than good.

However, biodegradable plastics decompose much faster than their traditional counterparts which may take hundreds of years to break down. They seem, therefore, a more environmentally-friendly solution.


Finally, composting is a microbial process that converts organic materials into a nutrient-rich, soil-like substance. This process allows organic matter to return to the earth, rather than ending up in a landfill where it improperly decomposes and creates methane gas. All compostable items are biodegradable, but not all biodegradable items are compostable.

Compostable packaging breaks down in a backyard composting system (with some exceptions) or a commercial composting facility. This is a good alternative for food packaging, as food can often contaminate recyclable containers. However, you should never put compostable packaging in your recycling bin as it will contaminate the recycling process.

Compostable products are made from natural materials such as starch and decompose fully into “compost” without producing toxic residue as they break down. To be classified as compostable, products must meet specific requirements defined in The European Standard EN 13432.


There is also a fourth category – known as bio-plastics. They are made from marine or plant-based materials (such as corn and sugarcane) instead of petroleum and, therefore, are considered more environmentally-friendly.

This is because their production requires less usage of fossil fuels and generates fewer greenhouse gases than that of petroleum-based plastics. Some bioplastics are also made from waste agriculture byproducts, such as potato peelings, which promotes material “recycling”.

However, despite what their name suggests, not all bioplastics are biodegradable. For example, a polylactic acid (PLA) bioplastic is biodegradable, whereas a polyethene terephthalate (PET) bioplastic is not. It is, however, recyclable… Unsurprisingly, this causes confusion and means that many bioplastics are not disposed of correctly.

Biodegradable Plastics: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Truth

The Good

Bio-plastics are one such alternative and are becoming more readily available for use in everything from product packaging to disposable cutlery.

At a glance, bio-plastics are a dream come true – plastic with all the advantages and none of the terrible downsides! They’re made from plant-based raw materials and biodegradable.

However, bio-plastics are not all as wonderful as they sound. One of the most widely used bio-plastics is Polylactic acid (PLA). The manufacturing process generates far less pollution than conventional plastics and it is made from a carbon-neutral resource (commercially grown corn).

The Bad

The problem is with its disposal. While it is, technically, biodegradable it will only biodegrade in very specific conditions (very high temperatures, high levels of oxygen) that are not found in a home composting bin or any commercial landfill site.

PLA has to go to a specialized composting facility, where it can be composted at high temperatures and in the presence of ample oxygen. These facilities are not readily accessible to the average consumer and many PLA items either go to landfills or are sent to plastic recycling facilities, which are not equipped to handle them.

In a home compost bin, a landfill, or the natural environment they behave just like any other plastic, taking years to breakdown. This means that unless they go to a very specific and not easily accessible composting facility – they’re really no better than the conventional plastic they’re replacing in terms of waste and post-consumer pollution.

The Ugly

PLA plastic bags have been found intact after more than 3 years in the natural environment. They have been found in the ocean and along beaches, where they’re just like conventional plastic. Unless they go to a specific facility, they’re just as bad as plastic but people don’t realize this because they’re ‘biodegradable’.

The Good Again

The good news is that other kinds of bio-plastics do fully biodegrade, in less than a year, in regular composting conditions. These bio-plastics are newer and less widely used than PLAs but they’re fully compostable at home, in the natural environment, and landfills. Some of them also use waste materials like agricultural waste or agricultural by-products as raw materials, which has helped to bring the price down and make them cost-competitive with conventional plastics and PLAs.

What materials do you work with?

Polyethylene (PE) – is one of the most popular thermoplastic materials. It is available in different crystalline structures, referred to as HDPE, LDPE, and LLDPE. This commodity plastic is produced by addition or radical polymerization. It is used in a large array of applications: plastic containers, bottles, bags, plastic toys, etc.

Polypropylene (PP), e.g. PPH, PPC, PPR, PP-R - is a tough, rigid, and crystalline thermoplastic. It is made from propene (or propylene) monomer. This linear hydrocarbon resin is the lightest polymer among all commodity plastics. PP comes either as homopolymer or as copolymer and can be greatly boosted with additives. most common plastic for are mainly used in packaging, houseware, film, and pipe applications, as well as in the automotive and electrical segments.

Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) is an opaque engineering thermoplastic widely used in electronic housings, auto parts, consumer products, pipe fittings, lego toys, electronic equipment cases (e.g. computer monitors, printers, keyboards), drainage pipes  and many more.

Polycarbonate (PC) is a transparent thermoplastic with carbonate functional groups. Its high strength makes it resistant to impact and fracture. It is lightweight so an excellent alternate to glass. PC is melted and forced into a mold with high pressure to give it the desired shape. It is widely used owing to its eco-friendly processing and recyclability. PC is commonly used for plastic lenses in eyewear, in medical devices, automotive components, protective gear, greenhouses, Digital Disks (CDs, DVDs, and Blu-ray), and exterior lighting fixtures.

Polyamide (PA), e.g. Nylon, PA6, PA66, PA6+GF (glass fiber filled) up to 30%. -  PA6 & PA66 are by far the most used polyamides globally. Both Polyamide 6 (PA6) and Polyamide 66 (PA66) are widely used in many different markets and applications due to their excellent performance/ cost ratios.  Polyamide is used in the production of items that require both strength and flexibility, including fishing line, electrical connectors, gears, guitar picks and strings, medical implants,  toothbrushes, wear pads, wheels, tennis racket strings, tents etc.

Polystyrene (PS), e.g. HIPS - is non-toxic, odorless, and lightweight, making it very popular for food packaging applications. It also has high impact strength and good dimensional stability. Used to produce products, like disposable drinking cups, egg cartons, trays, fast-food containers, cushioned packaging, and thermal insulation for the construction market. Medical applications include pipettes, Petri dishes and medicine containers.

Polylactic acid (PLA), - It is one of the most promising biopolymers used today and has a large number of application such as Healthcare and medical industry, Packaging, Automotive applications etc. It is eco-friendly (it is renewably-sourced, biodegradable, recyclable and compostable), biocompatible (it is non-toxic), processability (it has better thermal processability compared to poly(hydroxyl alkanoate) (PHA), poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) and poly(γ-caprolactone) (PCL)). Polylactides break down into nontoxic products during degradation and being biodegradable and biocompatible, reduce the amount of plastic waste.

Thermoplastic elastomers (TPE), sometimes referred to as thermoplastic rubbers. e.g. TPE-s, TPS-SEBS with Shore A from 20 to 90. -  Thermoplastic elastomers show advantages typical of both rubbery materials and plastic materials. It is a polymer material with the characteristics of thermoset vulcanized rubber and thermoplastic. TPE exhibits high elasticity of thermoset vulcanized rubber at room temperature and good processability of thermoplastic at high temperature. Widely used in many major end-user markets, including consumer products, electronics, medical devices, automotive, and much more

Polycarbonate + acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (PC+ABS) a blend of PC and ABS that creates a stronger plastic. Polycarbonate/acrylonitrile butadiene styrene is most commonly used in the automotive and electronics industries. PC-ABS plastic is used to make: glove boxes, overhead and middle consoles, used in car interior and exterior parts and also in mobile phone bodies, etc.