The Difference Between Compostable and Biodegradable

Updated: May 10

It was National Gardening Week last week, and I wish I could have caught it sooner because when I saw the lovely flower crowns people had made to celebrate, I was filled with the desire to plant something – anything! – that would be flowering enough for me to make a crown at this time of year. So far, it's only tulips and some Brussel Sprouts that have gone to seed that are flowering in our garden, and after the birthday piñata I’m a bit over making things.


I had been busy though, wrapping up orders and putting gift boxes together for the fair at

Wildwoodz – what a lovey weekend! And while I was doing that, and then while chatting to people, I started thinking more about my packaging. I’m proud to say that every part of it is compostable, but what does this actually mean? And is it true?


Being eco-conscious is an important part of the Shepherds Cottage brand, partly because it’s fashionable, but also because it’s something I’m interested in and I think other people are too – but it takes a lot of time to read all the labels and do all the research, and it’s often more complicated than I assumed and always that bit more expensive.


One of the things I’ve learned is that compostable and biodegradable are not the same things, especially when it comes to packaging.


If something is ‘biodegradable’, it will breakdown into natural elements over time, with the help of fungi, bacteria, or other processes. Compostable things are biodegradable, but not all things that biodegrade are compostable. If something is compostable, it is specifically organic and will break down into humus – which improves soil health and leaves no toxins behind.


Also, not all compostable things can be thrown on the compost heap.


However, cardboard, like the kind I use for my packing boxes, can be composted at home if

shredded or ripped up into small pieces. This helps it to break down more quickly. It is a high-carbon material, like straw, hay or dead leaves, and works well at the bottom of your compost heap and layered between ‘green’ or nitrogen rich materials, like grass clippings, manure, and food waste like vegetable peelings.


I’ve recently started using wood wool filler in my boxes, which looks and smells nice. It’s made in the UK without chemical processing, and can be composted at home in the same way as cardboard.


The best way to avoid putting the wrong thing in the wrong recycling bin or in with your home

compost, is to first know exactly what it’s made from and what it needs to break down. A little bit of research will help with this, and like every thing to do with recycling, reading the labels helps.


Another great way is to reuse it – except for buying in the boxes themselves, in the years I’ve been posting out orders I’ve never had to purchase ‘packing’ – the filler that keeps your lovely goodies from moving around. So much of it comes in the post already and can be resized and used again and again.


I’m working hard on getting my packaging just right, but today I’m going to make to time to get our own compost bins under control, in preparation for next year’s National Gardening Week – because like growing a business, saving the planet and much else in life, gardening is a long game. And the results are worth it.




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