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If you have a business and buy supplies such as containers, napkins, cups, straws and bags, you will often come across these 5 terms in the descriptions of each product. Still not sure how they differ? We tell you...

Biodegradable products

A product is biodegradable when it can be broken down into the chemical elements that make it up by the action of biological agents, such as water, the sun, bacteria, plants or animals, and different environmental conditions. The decomposition time will depend on each material; all products can decompose if we allow the appropriate time to pass in each case. For example:

- Paper takes 1 year to degrade.

- Bioplastic, from months to 6 years.

- 1 cigarette butt 10 years, the same as an aluminum can.

- Disposable plastic cups take between 65 and 75 years to degrade.

- A plastic straw, 100 years old.

- Ear sticks 300 years.

- Plastic cutlery takes 400 years, just like a plastic bag.

- A plastic bottle takes between 450 and 500 years, although it could take longer if it is buried.

- A polystyrene tray will take 500 years.

- A glass bottle can take 4000 years to degrade.

Oxodegradable products

An oxodegradable product is one that is manufactured with chemical additives (such as EPI, for example, or d2w) that accelerate its chemical decomposition through oxidation and degradation. In other words, they cause the product to degrade more quickly, becoming smaller fragments of the same material, generally plastic (PP and PE), so it would become microplastic. The EU has banned them because, although they degrade more quickly, they do not provide any environmental benefit, since they can be ingested by wildlife and seep into the soil.

Compostable products

A compostable product is one that is made with natural materials and biologically degrades in a short period of time (depending on the product, between 6 and 12 months) along with other organic waste. In the process it produces water, carbon dioxide, inorganic compounds and biomass at the same rate as the rest of the organic matter being composted with it, leaving no visible or distinguishable toxic residue on the ground. The result of the degradation of these products is humus, a fertile land that is usually reused in new plantations.

There is a tendency to think that compostable products can be thrown anywhere in nature and will degrade so easily. However, it is a bug (more common than we would like). For the rapid degradation process to be possible, it is very important that compostable products are adequately treated in a composting plant, since there they are subjected to optimal conditions of temperature (between 35º and 65º), humidity (between 30% and 60%) and microorganisms. There is another factor to take into account: some products are compostable at a domestic level (such as the remains of vegetables, herbs, organic food and certified products such as OK Compost Home) and others at an industrial level (such as PLA and bags certified as OK Compost Industrial). All home compostable products are industrially compostable, but industrially compostable products are not suitable for home composting. Why? Because at home the optimal conditions for its degradation are more difficult to achieve.

Recyclable products

Recyclable products are those that can be converted into new products or raw material, that is, whose material can be reused for the production of another product. There are infinitely recyclable materials (such as glass, steel or aluminum) and others that lose qualities in the recycling process (such as plastic, which can be recycled up to 10 times depending on the plastic in question, or paper, which can recycled 6 times on average without losing qualities). There are certain containers that are more difficult to recycle, because they are made of various materials and are difficult to separate, such as the tetra brik (75% cardboard, 20% polyethylene plastic and 5% aluminum), tubes of toothpaste (various plastics and aluminum), plastic bags (approximately 35% are deposited in the appropriate container and those that reach recycling plants sometimes clog the machines, making the recycling process inefficient), nappies and compresses (they are made of various plastics and also contain organic waste), coffee capsules (it is not possible to separate the packaging material from its content, so they must be thrown in the gray bin) and plastic labels (made of different plastics, as well as inks and adhesives).

Reusable products

A reusable product is one that can be used several times before being completely discarded. There are products that are perceived as disposable, but can be reused without problems, such as ecological cutlery, bags in general, and different plastic containers (have you ever reused the plastic container of an ice cream from the supermarket? Most are quite resistant and can be used several times as a tupperware to freeze food, for example, or to take salads or fruit to the beach. But remember to take it with you again!).

Now you know the differences between these products and you will be able to make a decision that is more appropriate to your needs and your demands when buying, using and disposing of them. Being more respectful of the planet is not that difficult, it is enough to have the intention to be and be informed.

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