Biodegradation: one concept, many nuances

09 Jun 2022

It is good to clarify what biodegradability really means and how it needs to be verified. The only correct parameter to measure is the conversion of carbon to CO2 which must not reach 100% since part of the carbon is assimilated in unquantifiable biomass. Standardized tests under well-controlled and optimum laboratory conditions are needed in order to increase sensitivity and accuracy and to reduce variation.

In order to avoid littering it is strongly preferable to use the term compostable packaging instead of biodegradable. Moreover since compostability entails much more than just biodegradation including as well a timely disintegration and the absence of harmful or toxic components and degradation metabolites.

As biodegradation can be different from one environment to the other, generic claims should be avoided and environment where biodegradation will take place specified.

Finally, nuancing is also needed for distinguishing applications for which ready and rapid biodegradation is required from applications where persistence should be avoided and slow biodegradation can offer a solution.


Bruno De Wilde, Managing Director - OWS nv