Biodegradable vs Compostable vs Oxo-degradable

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Glove Intelligent Assistant

You might have seen products labeled as biodegradable, compostable, or oxo-degradable on various products containing plastic or fiber products. As mentioned throughout these blog articles, many companies are trying to cater to consumers who are looking to purchase sustainable products to help combat climate change with what they can do as individuals, often willing to even pay a premium for sustainable products. Thus, they look to label their products with green labels, most commonly as biodegradable, compostable, or oxo-degradable. In 1992, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) established its Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims, also known as the “Green Guides,” to provide commercial brands and manufacturers with specific guidance on acceptable environmental benefit claims advertised on their products. The FTC Act allows the commission to exercise the power to bring law enforcement actions against brands making false or misleading environmental claims. Many states, such as California, additionally have statutes that a company must provide substantiated scientific proof of any claims that their product contributes to or contains the environmental benefits its label or advertisement suggests. Now that there’s a bit more context for these labels, let’s get down to what they actually mean.

What is the difference between these terms, biodegradable, compostable, and oxo-degradable?


The term, biodegradable, is an umbrella term used for all bioplastics that can be converted into water, carbon dioxide, or organic material at the end of its life cycle over a set amount of time with the introduction of microorganisms to help break down the material. However, all materials will eventually biodegrade when given enough time or the right environment. Usually, companies will provide more context or specific conditions in which their product will biodegrade. This gives us the term, compostable.


Compostable products are those which have been assessed and certified by a third party to follow international standards such as the ASTM D6400 (American Society for Testing and Materials) testing standard, the EN 13432 (European Standard) testing standard, or the ISO 17088 (International Standards Organization) testing standard, to have sufficiently gone through biodegradation in an industrial composting facility environment. Materials that have been assessed and meet the ASTM D6400, EN 13432, or ISO 17088 standards must at least disintegrate during composting within 12 weeks and biodegrade at least 90% within 180 days in a municipal or industrial composting facility. The process is usually aerobic degradation (in the presence of oxygen), in a heated and moist environment. The residual waste can then become valuable compost, a combination of organic matter and water. The testing standards ensure that there is no residual toxic waste from the process as well.

Unless otherwise stated, products labeled as compostable must be disposed of in a designated municipal composting facility and cannot be composted at home. Many certified compostable materials require higher temperatures that only industrial settings can reach to biodegrade quickly enough, or at all in some cases.


The last term, oxo-degradable, is actually a completely different category of its own, which does not fall under the term biodegradable. They are conventional plastics mixed with an additive in order to imitate biodegradation. Instead of organic matter, carbon dioxide, or water, they disintegrate into smaller pieces of themselves – known as microplastics – without fully breaking down at the molecular level. The resulting microplastics are left in the environment for an indefinite time until they eventually fully break down.


What are SW products labeled with?

Our innovative EcoTek technology has been tested per ASTM D5526*. As well as the ASTM E1963 test, which tests for non-toxic landfill residue. Not only are our gloves scientifically certified by ASTM standards, but they were awarded a 510k by the FDA as well, meaning SW gloves are FDA approved and in compliance with FDA’s biocompatibility studies and toxicity testing. While there are compostable gloves on the market, they are only suited for food prep and are not exam grade. As of now, the most cost effective and environmentally friendly process of disposing single use nitrile gloves is anaerobic biodegradation. There are no extra costs (environmental or financial) incurred during the disposal process and no need to separate used gloves from regular trash either. SW is dedicated to mitigating climate change by promoting biodegradable and environmentally sustainable products. We continue to innovate and conduct research that will help our products leave less of a carbon footprint while also benefiting the environment at the same time.

*EcoTek gloves tested to ASTM D5526-12 Standard Test Method for Determining Anaerobic Biodegradation of Plastic Materials Under Accelerated Landfill Conditions. Results are 92.6% biodegradation in 60% solids landfill at 945 days. Future results cannot be predicted/extrapolated. If you need more information on the test reports, send email to