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Confusion with bio-packaging. Figuring out what is what and best practises. 

Just recently biodegradable or compostable packaging was being branded as a solution to all of our packaging problems, which turned out to be just a wave of green washing. In this article we attempt to clearly define all the different aspects of bio packaging, its strengths and weaknesses and possible use cases. Let‘s get started!


Biodegradable vs compostable

The meaning of biodegradable is capable of being decomposed by bacteria or other living organisms into the environment.

Compostable means almost the same thing except that bacteria or other living organisms have to break down the material into other organic elements that degrade in the environment.

And here is the main difference – biodegradable can simply mean that material degrades into other elements, without specifying what they are. And those elements are not necessarily environmental friendly or can be broken down further. Consider that compostable is always better than biodegradable, even though that biodegradable is probably the most popular term stuck into people‘s heads after bio wave.


Biobased simply means the source from which the material is made. And if it is organic, that it could be considered bio-based. TUV Austria issues strict certificates in this area and if you are looking for biobased material, their certification is a good place to start.

Important thing to note that biobased materials only indicate the source of which they are made from. It says nothing about whether they can be composted or recycled. For example, it is not uncommon to produce Bio-PE or Bio-PET from sugarcane instead of crude oil. Material is biobased, but not compostable. Of course material can be both biobased and compostable.

 Industrially compostable vs home compostable

This term considers at which conditions the composting process starts, how long it takes and what should be the final result.

Industrially compostable is defined by EN 13432 standard. Typically, temperature has to be kept around 50-70°C in high humidity and aerobic conditions. Presence of bacteria and other micro organisms is also mandatory. 90% of the material has to be degraded into organic components in order to pass the standard.

Home compostable means that composting should happen in much lower temperatures and more difficult conditions. Hence the name “home compostable” meaning composting in your back yard. The problem here is that there is no defined standard that governs what this should mean across the EU. Imagine that conditions in your back yard are fairly different if you are living in Finland, Germany or Spain.

Disposal and treatment of compostable packaging

Compostable packaging has to be disposed of together with organic waste. Here is the first problem – not all countries or municipalities collect organic waste separately. A more common scenario is that organic waste is collected together with general waste and your great initiative is wasted right at this point.

Second thing to consider, even if you have organic waste collected, but municipalities/countries might not have industrial composting facilities and the loop can break here.

When we talk with our customers or in our consultation sessions and customers are exploring compostable packaging route, this is the first thing that they have to consider – is there a collecting and composting options in your target markets. Otherwise, it would be treated as simple non-recyclable packaging.

 Benefits of bio-packaging

Nonetheless, there can be a few benefits to using compostable packaging.

Dependency on crude oil is reduced

In general, virgin plastics are produced from crude oil, which is a fossil fuel and we will eventually run out of it. Biobased materials can be produced from renewable sources.

CO2 cycle is sustainable

Oil locks up CO2 from millions of years ago that makes it a fuel. When plastic (which is made from oil) is incinerated, this CO2 is released to the atmosphere and thus CO2 levels increase.

Bioplastics, on the other hand, are plant based and they lock up CO2 only from the atmosphere that they have used for growth. When such plastic is composted or even burned, it only releases CO2 that was previously absorbed by those plants. Thus, a sustainable cycle can be formed.

 When to use compostable packaging?

If your target markets have collection, sorting and recycling of plastics or papers, we strongly recommend using those options instead of compostable packaging. However, there are some cases where this packaging type might be a smart option.

Closed environments

For example, a music festival could be considered a good use case for compostable packaging. If it could be achieved that all waste generated in such closed environment is compostable, no need for sorting is needed and simply everything can be collected and sent for composting.

If your target market does not have recycling facilities

This speaks for itself – if there is no way to recycle your packaging, then using compostable packaging will be more environmentally friendly just by creating a sustainable CO2 cycle.

Switching from non-recyclable packaging

Provided that you can achieve necessary barrier properties with compostable packaging and not increasing food waste, compostable packaging would be a better option than non-recyclable (multi plastic) packaging. However, even better option would be recyclable packaging.


Our team here at Lprint hope that this article was beneficial to you by debunking some myths and misconceptions about compostable materials and packaging and shedding some light on what can be done about it. Feel free to get in touch with us and let’s talk about your packaging!

Consult us. We’re here to help 

We understand that you might be new to questions of packaging and sustainability. And it can all get quite confusing quickly. That’s why we are happy to dedicate our time to helping you navigate through it all. Contact us for a free consultation and we’ll help you come up with the best result for your business.

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