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biodegradable vs compostable - what's the difference?

Posted by Sarah on 1st February 2018

biodegradable vs compostable - what's the difference?

Over the past few months we’ve been getting more and more questions regarding our green credentials – most notably around whether or not our tea contains plastic. (Spoiler: NOPE)

So, in the theme of full transparency, and because we genuinely love this kinda thing, we wanted to put together a couple of really easy guides for how best to reuse, recycle and dispose of our products - which you can find here.

Even as a team pretty clued up with environmental issues, we found it soon became a bit of a minefield when it came to terminology and what to do with everything (Don’t even get us started on local councils differing recycling policies – that’s a blog for another day!)

During our research, there were a few keywords that cropped up time and time again – so, we thought we’d compile our own glossary, and then thought why not upload it, in case you guys find it useful too.

Tea temples

Fun fact: we were the first people to bring the biodegradable pyramid mesh bag to the UK market. Back then, the idea of calling it a mere tea bag wasn’t quite fitting for such an exciting product, nor did it convey how different the tea inside was! Whole leaf tea with the convenience of a bag, needed something far grander. And so the teapigs tea ‘temple’ was born.

We are incredibly proud of our tea temples. The temples themselves and the string attached are made from a plant based material called corn starch. The label is made from good, old-fashioned paper and even the ink on the label is vegetable-based. The net result? Our tea temples, label and all, will biodegrade in industrial composting conditions and can be put in your food waste bin for the council to process.

 

Corn starch

Corn starch is a natural carbohydrate extracted from corn. You may recognise the name – it is often used in cooking in the form of a fine, white powder as a thickening agent for sauces, gravies, soups and casseroles. It’s a highly versatile substance which can be used to create solid structures such as our biodegradable tea-temples!

 

What’s the difference between Compostable & biodegradable?

The labels ‘compostable’ and ‘biodegradable’ are often mistakenly thought of as interchangeable – it’s confusing, trust us, but we’ve tried to outline the key difference below and clear up why we say our tea temples aren’t suitable for home compost.

If something is compostable, it is capable of decomposing back into natural elements, but it is able to do so under compostable conditions. The time it takes for something to decompose depends largely on the composting conditions, and the product itself. 

If something is biodegradable, it is also capable of decomposing back into natural elements. However, it can take a very long time - far longer than a year and is totally dependent on the temperature and the amount of moisture present. Home compost rarely reaches the required temperature to break down our tea temples, so instead, pop them in with your food waste to be industrially composted. Most councils have industrial food waste systems designed to allow the necessary micro-organisms needed to break down biodegradable materials, to thrive. If you send your tea temples to your local council with your food waste, they will break them down within 12 weeks. 

Good news however for all you keen composters - our new NatureFlex packaging (the clear inner bag that keeps your tea temples fresh) is home compostable, so can be safely put in your garden compost at home. It may feel weird at first, but it's the future! (...we hope). The Time it takes to break down will depend on the conditions of your compost at home. 

Recyclable

If something is recyclable, it means it can be broken down into its raw materials and repurposed so it can be used again. The outer cartons that store our tea temples, 30g matcha tins, and matcha sachets are made from FSC-certified paper that can be recycled. Our tins (tins of tea, matcha 30g tins and matcha 80g tins) are made from tinplate and aluminium, and can also be recycled.

 

Reusable

Reusable products are not the same as recyclable products. If something is reusable, it means that after it has served its original purpose it can be used again without any kind of treatment. The outer cartons that store our tea temples, 30g matcha tins, and matcha sachets are safe to reuse, as are our tins of tea, matcha tins, and loose-tea pouches – although they might want to give them a quick rinse first! Why not give your stylish teapigs packaging a second (and third, and fourth, and fifth…) life by using it to store other food items, buttons, stationary, or whatever else you see fit!

Polypropylene

Some of the tea bags sold by the UK’s leading brands contain the plastic polypropylene, meaning they are not fully biodegradable. While we would never, ever use polypropylene to make our tea temples, it works very well for the clear inner bag we used to use to store them. At regular temperatures, it is safe, hygienic and airtight. It is now widely recycled, so if you have some of our older packs of tea, check with your local council if they accept it. We have, however, recently invested in switching over to a new wonder-material called Natureflex, which you can find out more about below.

NatureFlex

NatureFlex is a wondrous material created by the geniuses at Futamura. They managed to figure out a way of converting wood pulp into airtight, transparent packaging. The wood they use is from sustainably-managed plantations and the end product is both biodegradable and compostable. We have recently invested in switching over to NatureFlex for the clear inner bags we use to store our tea temples. If you’ve got our NatureFlex packaging you can compost it at home!

Composite

A composite material is made from two or more constituent materials. These constituent materials are usually different physically and chemically from one another, and when combined into a composite material, it tends to take on characteristics different from those of its constituents. Composite products often pose a problem for recycling, as they must first be broken into their original materials. Our loose tea pouches are a composite made from paper and polyethylene. Although these are both recyclable materials, many councils refuse to process composites. Our matcha sachets are also currently a composite. We are working extremely hard to remedy this problem and hope to switch to new recyclable packaging for these two products very soon.

FSC certified paper

FSC stands for the Forest Stewardship Council. They are an incredible organisation who only source wood for production from forests that are sustainably managed. We use their paper to make the outer cartons of our tea temples, 30g matcha tins, and matcha sachets. In doing so, we know that the forests the paper comes from will be protected and conserved for generations to come. FSC certified paper is reusable, biodegradable, and recyclable, so we recommend putting it in with your home recycling.