Is eco-friendly the same as biodegradable? (5 ways to tell if a product is eco-friendly) 

In this article, the basic difference between biodegradable and eco-friendly would be uncovered. With that, the following topics will also be detailed: 

  • What is the meaning of eco-friendly?
  • What is the meaning of biodegradable?
  • What is the difference between eco-friendly and biodegradable?
  • Why are eco-friendliness and biodegradability important?
  • How to know if a product is biodegradable or eco-friendly?
  • FAQs

Is eco-friendly the same as biodegradable? 

No, eco-friendly is not the same as biodegradable. The difference is that not all biodegradable material is eco-friendly whereas all eco-friendly material is biodegradable. 

This is because eco-friendly is comparatively a broad term and brackets many factors and considerations whereas biodegradability is limited to a number of controlling factors. 

If a material or product is biodegradable then it does not necessarily mean that it is eco-friendly because there are some obvious filters that are at play. For example, how that particular biodegradable product is disposed of. 

What does Eco-friendly mean?

The term eco-friendly simply means earth-friendly or something that causes little to no harm to the environment. With time, this terminology is increasingly used and applied as a filter to almost all aspects of commercial life. 

The scientific revolution resulted in the production and manufacture of a vast variety of products. This production really sped off with the industrial revolution with the basic purpose of adding more value and comfort to man’s life. 

However, this initial pursuit of seeking more comfort and ease of use was naively ignorant of the harmful effects on the environment that were caused along the way. 

As a result of this obliviousness, the world experienced many harmful effects that affected life at all scales of high magnitude. Man experienced increased melting of glaciers, rising sea levels, the rise of global temperatures, and unprecedented weather patterns– to name a few. 

These negative impacts kept on being exacerbated and this very exacerbation led man to understand that industrialisation, commercialisation, consumerism, and urbanisation is not free of cost at all. All these come at the cost of our environment. 

This realisation resulted in the birth of an eco-friendly label. This implies that if a product or process is labelled as eco-friendly it means that it causes little to no harm to the environment. This empowers buyers to make the right sustainable choices to save them and their future. 

Eco-friendliness is not only limited to products but is also expanded to processes and habits. For example, a process can be eco-friendly if wastewater is reused in it and its carbon footprint is the least (given the context of possibility). 

It may be mentioned that given the current scale of scientific development, it is almost impossible to achieve absolute (100%) eco-friendliness since every consumer product does have some impact on the environment as laid out by its life-cycle assessment.

Eco-friendly habits may include buying lead-free petrol, using solar energy to power the house, buying electric vehicles instead of gasoline based or shifting to biodegradable products. 

What does biodegradable mean?

Biodegradability is the process through which complex materials are broken down into simpler materials by the action of microbes complemented with air, water and atmospheric conditions. It is a naturally occurring process designed by nature to deal with waste produced. 

You often see dead animals by the side of a highway. If some time has passed, they start to decompose automatically which can be seen and smelled. This is an example of biodegradability. The degradation by the action of bio (life). 

The concept of biodegradability is not only limited to plants and animals. Products and packages can also be biodegradable and non-biodegradable. 

Generally, there are three types of biodegradability. These are: 

  • Bio-Compostable
  • Oxo-degrade
  • Landfill biodegradable

If any product or material is made from natural substances (such as animal-based or plant-based material) then it implies that the particular product is biodegradable. It will degrade in some months or perhaps a week thus leaving no strain on the environment. 

However, if a product or material is made from man-made, artificial or synthetic materials then it would not degrade readily and hence would be termed as non-biodegradable. 

Perhaps the best example of non-biodegradable material is plastic. Plastic remains in the environment for as long as 400 years and causes grave impacts on the environment and life in general.

Research has shown that plastic impacts as many as 700 species on land and countless aquatic species. It causes material deterioration, species endangerment, and environmental degradation. 

With the increasingly rising population, the handling and managing of population-related aspects are becoming unprecedentedly challenging. The current world’s population stands at 8 billion and is expected to increase to more than 11 billion by the start of the next century. 

With this unprecedented scenario, the tackling of waste produced by man is also becoming increasingly impossible and therefore, the need for biodegradable waste is now more than ever. 

What is the difference between eco-friendliness and biodegradability?

On a general scale, or to a layman, both the terms would mean the same. That is to know if any product is safe for the environment and people or not. 

However, at a deeper level, there is a stark difference between eco-friendliness and biodegradability. The difference is that not all biodegradable material is eco-friendly whereas all eco-friendly material is biodegradable. 

If a material or product is biodegradable then it does not necessarily mean that it is eco-friendly because there are some obvious filters that are at play. For example, how that particular biodegradable product is disposed of. 

If any biodegradable product is not disposed of in the right way, it will still cause harm and obstruction to the environment despite being biodegradable and hence would not be termed as eco-friendly. 

For example, if plastic let’s say is biodegradable but instead of being subjected to a landfill, it is ignorantly disposed of in an open dump, it still could affect animals and potentially kill them by entanglement. 

Therefore, proper knowledge and the right action are fundamentally important to bridge this gap between biodegradable and eco-friendly to actually achieve a sustainable future. 

Why are both subjects of high importance? 

Biodegradability and eco-friendliness are both subjects of extreme importance because the voyage of our ship of sustainability is close to the calamity of environmental degradation. 

If we continue to ship in the current trajectory, very soon the earth’s resources will deplete, the threshold of Earth’s carrying capacity will be surpassed and all existent species will gradually travel towards endangerment. 

Even our current situation is quite bad, almost despondent. The global temperatures are rising unprecedentedly. The water levels are rising to dangerous levels. Whereas the greenhouse gases are destroying the ozone layer further increasing skin and eye diseases. 

Other than medical complications and environmental harms, the psychological effects of all these changes are also significantly disturbing. Various researches have been carried out on environmental psychology until now. 

And it has been found out that this man to nature’s deterioration is not one way but rather two way. Nature’s deterioration is also in return impacting man psychologically leading to rise in hypertension, depression and abnormal behaviour. 

Given this rather dark ground reality, the need for biodegradable, sustainable and eco-friendly is now more than ever. If humanity resorts to the constructive anchors of eco-friendliness, there still is a chance. 

A chance to save our species and all others existent on our Earth since it was man that stemmed this unbalance in resource use in the first place. 

By resorting to choosing biodegradable products and eco-friendly alternatives, we can actually choose a greener future where there is room for man and humanity; otherwise, there is only catastrophe. 

That is why, it is incumbent on us as the dominant species to make the right choices towards industrialisation, urbanisation and consumerism by adhering to the umbrella of green as much as possible. 

How to know if a product is biodegradable or eco-friendly? (5 ways to tell if a product is eco-friendly)

It is easy to know if a product or process is biodegradable and eco-friendly; or in simple words, safe for the environment. 

A biodegradable product would be made from naturally occurring materials which can easily degrade within a few months or weeks. Whereas, a non-biodegradable product would be made from man-made materials and would take hundreds of years to degrade. 

For example, if packing peanuts (used in packaging to provide support and cushion to fragile products) are biodegradable, they would be made from plant-based materials (starch). 

If not, they would be made from plastic polymers and hence would cause harm and stress to the environment. 

Also, there are various labels and filters that can be assessed to know if any particular product is eco-friendly or not. These labels are third-party validations conveying that a particular product is environmentally friendly. Below are some of the ways to know if a product is eco-friendly:  

  • Energy Star Label 
  • USDA Organic Seal 
  • Forest Stewardship Council 
  • Green Seal 
  • Analysing the manufacturers’ profile or website 

These labels speak for themselves. The energy star label means that the product is energy efficient and that its usage will be good for both the economy and the environment. Usually, electronic and electrical products will have this label. 

USDA Organic Seal label will reveal if the product is made from organic material or not. For example, if any clothing has this label then it would mean that it was made from organic cotton and no harmful chemicals (pesticides et cetera) were used during its production.

Forest Stewardship Council label will reveal that the product was made from trees in managed forests. The rise in environmental awareness has led to responsibly managed forests and if a product is made from those then it means little harm was done to the environment. 

Green Seal is a label for general sustainability. If a product has this label it means that minimal resources were used to manufacture that process without depleting future resources. 

Lastly, it is extremely important to self-check and validate if the product is eco-friendly or not. Many companies use fake or misleading labels to lure buyers into believing that what they are about to buy is eco-friendly. 

These labels can be a green-coloured logo or using a tree as a logo. However, such labels mean nothing in the context of environmental sustainability and therefore it is important to be mindful of this illusion. 

Conclusion: 

It is concluded that although biodegradable and eco-friendly are very similar in contexts, they are not the same. A particular material may be biodegradable but it does not mean that it is eco-friendly. 

What really stems this rift is the way a particular product is used and more importantly disposed of. If a biodegradable product is not disposed of rightly, it may still harm the environment. 

FAQs: Is eco-friendly the same as biodegradable?

Is eco-friendly better than biodegradable?

Although both terms relate to environmental safety; regardless, eco-friendly is better. That is because eco-friendliness is comparatively a vast term as compared to biodegradability. 

Like Eco-friendly labels, is there any label for biodegradable products?

Yes, the number 7 symbol inside a triangle of chasing arrows is the label for biodegradability. This is intended to enlighten and entice the consumers to make the right sustainable choices. 

References

  • Orange, E., & Cohen, A. M. (2010). From eco-friendly to eco-intelligent. The Futurist, 44(5), 28.
  • Dagley, S. (1978). Determinants of biodegradability. Quarterly reviews of biophysics, 11(4), 577-602.
  • Gifford, R. (2007). Environmental psychology: Principles and practice.
  • Galarraga Gallastegui, I. (2002). The use of eco‐labels: a review of the literature. European Environment, 12(6), 316-331.

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