Why Are Biodegradable Products Not Recyclable?

With the rising awareness of environmental protection, more and more people are looking to use biodegradable products in their daily lives. However, one common question many have is – if something is biodegradable, why can’t it be recycled?

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Biodegradable products cannot be recycled because the process of recycling requires durable materials that can be melted down and reformed multiple times. The materials in biodegradable products break down quickly and cannot withstand repeated recycling.

In this comprehensive article, we will explore the details behind why biodegradable and recyclable do not go hand-in-hand. We will look at what makes a product biodegradable, the recycling process, and why the two cannot be combined.

What Does Biodegradable Mean?

Biodegradable refers to the ability of a material to break down naturally and return to the environment. Unlike non-biodegradable materials that take hundreds or even thousands of years to decompose, biodegradable products can break down within a relatively short period of time.

Made from natural materials

One of the key characteristics of biodegradable products is that they are made from natural materials. These materials can include plant-based fibers, such as bamboo or cornstarch, or even animal-based products like gelatin. By using natural materials, biodegradable products are able to decompose more easily and return to the earth without leaving behind harmful residues.

Breaks down faster

Another important aspect of biodegradable products is that they break down faster than non-biodegradable alternatives. Traditional plastic products, for example, can take hundreds of years to decompose, contributing to environmental pollution and waste accumulation. On the other hand, biodegradable products can break down within months or even weeks, reducing their impact on the environment.


Many biodegradable products are also compostable. This means that they can be added to a compost pile or facility and decompose along with other organic matter. Composting biodegradable products helps to create nutrient-rich soil that can be used to support plant growth. By choosing compostable products, we can reduce waste and contribute to a more sustainable and eco-friendly lifestyle.

The Recycling Process

Recycling is a crucial process that helps reduce waste and conserve resources. However, when it comes to biodegradable products, they are often not recyclable. This is due to the differences in the recycling process for these products compared to traditional materials like plastic, glass, and metal.

Collection and sorting

During the collection and sorting stage of recycling, biodegradable products can pose a challenge. These products are often made from organic materials such as plant fibers or starch-based plastics. When mixed with other recyclables, they can contaminate the recycling stream and hinder the sorting process. As a result, many recycling facilities do not accept biodegradable products for recycling.

Shredding and melting

Once recyclable materials are sorted, they go through a shredding and melting process. This step helps break down the materials into smaller pieces that can be transformed into new products. However, biodegradable products may have different melting points or properties compared to traditional materials. This can make it challenging to process them in the same way, leading to difficulties in the recycling process.

Reforming and reusing

The final stage of recycling involves reforming the melted materials into new products. This step is crucial for creating a closed-loop system where materials are reused instead of being sent to landfills. However, the unique properties of biodegradable products can make it difficult to reform them into new items. Their organic nature and potential for decomposition can hinder the ability to create durable and long-lasting products.

Key Differences Between Biodegradable and Recyclable Materials

While both biodegradable and recyclable materials contribute to environmental sustainability, it is important to understand their key differences. Biodegradable products break down naturally over time, returning to the environment without causing harm. On the other hand, recyclable materials can be processed and transformed into new products, reducing the need for raw materials and energy consumption. Let’s explore some of the main differences between these two types of materials:


One of the key differences between biodegradable and recyclable materials is their durability. Biodegradable products are designed to break down over a certain period, which can range from a few months to several years. This means that they may not be as durable as recyclable materials, which can be used multiple times without losing their structural integrity. For example, plastic bottles made from recyclable material can be recycled and made into new bottles multiple times, whereas biodegradable bottles may not have the same level of durability.

Ability to be Reformed

Another important distinction lies in the ability to reform biodegradable and recyclable materials. Recyclable materials, such as aluminum cans or glass bottles, can be melted down and reshaped into new products without losing their inherent properties. This ability to be reformed allows for a closed-loop recycling system, where materials can be continuously reused. Biodegradable materials, on the other hand, cannot be reformed into new products once they have broken down. They simply return to the environment as natural elements.

Recycled Material Integrity

Recyclable materials maintain their structural integrity even after being processed and transformed into new products. This means that the quality and functionality of the material are preserved, ensuring that the recycled product can be used effectively. Biodegradable materials, however, may lose some of their integrity during the decomposition process. This can make it challenging to guarantee the quality and performance of products made from biodegradable materials.

It’s worth noting that while some materials may be both biodegradable and recyclable, others may fall into only one category. Understanding the differences between these two types of materials can help us make more informed choices and contribute to a more sustainable future.

Attempts to Make Biodegradable Products Recyclable

As the world becomes more environmentally conscious, there has been a growing demand for products that are both biodegradable and recyclable. While biodegradable products are designed to break down naturally over time, they often pose challenges when it comes to recycling. However, there have been several innovative attempts to make biodegradable products recyclable, including the use of PLA plastic, starch-based bioplastics, and addressing the problem of contamination.

PLA plastic

One of the most promising solutions for making biodegradable products recyclable is the use of PLA (polylactic acid) plastic. PLA is derived from renewable resources such as corn or sugarcane, and it is biodegradable under certain conditions. However, traditional recycling facilities are not equipped to process PLA plastic, as it requires a different recycling process compared to conventional plastics. To tackle this issue, there have been efforts to develop specialized recycling facilities and technologies that can effectively handle and recycle PLA plastic.

Starch-based bioplastics

Another approach to making biodegradable products recyclable is the use of starch-based bioplastics. These bioplastics are made from renewable resources, such as corn, and they have the advantage of being both biodegradable and compostable. However, like PLA plastic, starch-based bioplastics require separate recycling processes. Some recycling facilities are starting to accept starch-based bioplastics, but widespread adoption is still limited. Continued research and development in this area are crucial to improve the recyclability of starch-based bioplastics.

The problem of contamination

One significant challenge in making biodegradable products recyclable is contamination. Biodegradable products often need to be separated from conventional plastics and other recyclables to prevent contamination that could render the entire batch unrecyclable. This separation process can be time-consuming and costly for recycling facilities. Additionally, consumers may not always be aware of the proper disposal methods for biodegradable products, leading to contamination in recycling bins. Education and awareness campaigns are essential to address this issue and ensure proper recycling practices.

Alternatives and New Research

While it is true that biodegradable products are not always recyclable, there are several alternatives and ongoing research that aim to address this issue. Let’s explore some of these alternatives:

Focus on reducing waste overall

One of the most effective ways to tackle the problem of non-recyclable biodegradable products is by focusing on reducing waste overall. This involves promoting the use of reusable products, such as cloth bags and stainless steel water bottles, instead of single-use items. By reducing our reliance on disposable products, we can significantly decrease the amount of waste that ends up in landfills or as litter.

Industrial composting

Industrial composting is another promising solution for biodegradable products that are not recyclable. Unlike backyard composting, industrial composting facilities have the capability to process a wider range of materials, including bioplastics and other biodegradable products. These facilities create controlled environments where organic waste can decompose efficiently, resulting in nutrient-rich compost that can be used in agriculture or landscaping. Several cities and organizations have already implemented industrial composting programs, demonstrating the potential for widespread adoption.

Innovations in bioplastics

Researchers and scientists are constantly working on developing innovative bioplastics that are both biodegradable and recyclable. These new materials aim to combine the positive aspects of traditional plastics, such as durability, with the environmentally friendly properties of biodegradability. Some bioplastics can already be recycled alongside traditional plastics, while others are designed to break down more easily in composting or anaerobic digestion facilities. The development of these new bioplastics holds great promise for a more sustainable future.

It is important to note that while the alternatives and research mentioned above are promising, they are still evolving. Implementing these solutions on a larger scale requires cooperation between governments, businesses, and consumers. By staying informed and making conscious choices, we can contribute to a greener and more sustainable world.


While biodegradable and recyclable may seem like similar eco-friendly options, they currently remain distinct due to the fundamental nature of the materials involved. Biodegradable products provide the benefit of breaking down quickly to avoid environmental accumulation. But recyclable materials are intended to endure repeated processing to maximize their reuse potential.

Though full recyclability of biodegradables faces challenges, this does not diminish the importance of reducing waste overall. A combination of reusing, recycling, composting, and disposing responsibly remains key to shrinking our environmental footprint. With ongoing innovations in materials science and waste management, more synergies between biodegradability and recyclability may emerge in the future.

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