Recycling vs. Composting: Which Is Better for the Environment?

recycling vs composting bins

Ever wondered which disposal method is the most beneficial for the environment: composting or recycling? 

The good news is that composting is recycling – organics recycling! And when both are done correctly, our contribution to landfill is reduced, and working towards zero waste is far more probable. Both provide a way of extracting value from waste but are not applicable to the same materials.

So what's the difference, exactly?

What’s the difference between composting and recycling?

The main difference between these two disposal methods? Composting is for organic matter, and other recycling is for paper, glass, and plastics. 

Composting is the natural breakdown of organic matter over time. Fungi, bacteria, insects, worms and other organisms break down organic waste to produce nutrient-rich compost. 

For centuries, we have been able to harness nature’s power by managing this decomposition process in controlled conditions and dedicated spaces, from small home compost bins to large industrial composting facilities.

Recycling of paper, glass, and plastics, on the other hand, is not a natural process and – like composting – requires knowledge and vigilance as both a consumer and a manufacturer. Recycling involves separating waste and processing it (mechanically or chemically) in order to make the materials ready for reuse into new products. 

While recycling is an important step towards achieving a circular economy, depending on the processes involved and the nature of the waste, recycling can be energy-intensive or produce by-product chemicals.

Why is composting the best recycling choice for the foodservice industry?

Paper, metal, plastic and glass recycling are high-quality material recovery waste streams, however, the vast majority of food packaging is not being recycled.

It’s either too small to be sorted by recycling plants, is usually contaminated with food or it is made of various materials that can’t be separated easily.

That’s what we believe in composting as the perfect end-of-life option for foodservice packaging. Packaging and food waste can all go in one bin, the green one, to be composted industrially.

Food waste emits methane in a landfill, a powerful greenhouse gas. Composting helps avoid these emissions while creating compost, a nutrient-rich resource that can be used to improve soil quality.

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What can I recycle?

Recycling is an important step towards achieving a circular economy. By recycling plastics, glass, and polythene correctly, we’re preventing a huge amount of waste from ending up in landfills.

What you can (and can’t) recycle differs from council to council. This is why checking your local council guidelines is necessary for knowing exactly what you can put in your kerbside bins.

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What can I compost?

There are two types of composting: commercial, and home composting.

Commercial composting requires a commercial compost facility to ensure rapid biodegradation of organic material. Critical mass, systematic aeration and controlled feedstock and humidity levels ensure that the materials reach a temperature of 60 degrees, which is required for some materials like hard bioplastics to breakdown.

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What are the benefits of composting?

  1. Organic waste in landfills generates methane, a potent greenhouse gas. By composting wasted food and other organics, methane emissions are significantly reduced.
  2. Compost reduces and in some cases eliminates the need for chemical fertilizers.
  3. Compost promotes higher yields of agricultural crops.
  4. Compost can help aid reforestation, wetlands restoration, and habitat revitalization efforts by improving contaminated, compacted, and marginal soils.
  5. Compost can be used to remediate soils contaminated by hazardous waste in a cost-effective manner.
  6. Compost can capture and destroy 99% of industrial volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) in contaminated air.
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BioPak’s compostable packaging

Our compostable products range is certified commercially compostable (AS4736) as well as home-compostable (AS5810). BioPak’s Compost Service helps by ensuring the compost process is conducted correctly, helping reduce our negative impact on the environment and work towards a circular economy. (source)

The preferred end-of-life option for compostable packaging that is contaminated with food scraps is composting, as these materials cannot be recycled.

However, a number of our fibre-based products can be recycled, too — so long as there is no food or drink residue remaining on the packaging. Check our labels for guidance.

Our packaging is made from renewable resources. Therefore, it has a far smaller Co2 footprint than conventional plastics, as well as being carbon neutral – if our products do end up in landfills, the ramifications on the environment are far less damaging.