Biodegradable, degradable and compostable are often used interchangeably, but they're not the same thing.

Biodegradable and degradable plastic will eventually break down, however, there are no requirements to define the length of time this should take. Technically, all plastic will biodegrade to a certain extent under suitable conditions, but this could take hundreds (or even thousands) of years, and the microscopic particles remain in the environment.

If a product is certified as compostable it will break down quickly and under specific conditions into carbon dioxide, water, inorganic compounds and biomass providing nutrients to the soil.

There is currently no standardised labelling or regulatory framework in New Zealand for products like these. Therefore at this stage no biodegradable, degradable or compostable packaging (including takeaway coffee cups and plastic bags) are accepted in the Council organics bins regardless of how the product is marketed. The only bags accepted in the green organics bin are paper bags.

Industry, local and central government are working on issues related to the marketing, labelling, certification and processing of compostable packaging. We are involved in and keeping abreast of developments in this area.

A WasteMINZ working group has produced a series of consumer guides that explain differences in terminology as well as the best end of life disposal options.

Want to know the difference between compostable, biodegradable and degradable plastics? View the quick guide to Environmental Claims for Plastic and Packaging [PDF, 819 KB] to understand how these plastics affect the environment and how you can dispose of them properly.

Running an environmentally friendly business helps to reduce your impact on the environment and preserves natural resources. Manufacturers or retailers need to understand the environmental claims of products they are being encouraged to purchase. View the guide to Biodegradable and Compostable Plastic Products and Packaging [PDF, 1297 KB] for more information.