What are bio-based and biodegradable materials?

Looking at the rapid acceleration of climate change, environmental degradation, and the growth of the global population, the need for sustainable products, processes and solutions is evident. We live in a time that calls out for change – for sustainable solutions to ever more severe problems.

In the search for solutions to these challenges, bio-based, biodegradable and compostable materials are emerging in our daily lives as alternatives to currently dominant, conventional materials, and in particularly plastics. They are used in applications such as packaging, which accounts for almost half the demand for such plastics, followed by consumer goods and textiles, as well as in sectors like agriculture, transport and construction.

Bio-based materials: are fully or partially made from biological resources, rather than fossil based raw materials. They are not necessarily biodegradable or compostable. Bio-based materials should be adopted when they are better for the environment than their fossil resource counterparts.

Biodegradable materials: biodegrade in certain conditions at their end of life. Biodegradable materials should be used when they are intended to be released into open environment where they cannot be easily retrieved, for example, in agricultural mulch films, bio-lubricants for wind turbines, and fishing gear.

Compostable materials: a subset of biodegradable ones – decompose in home and/or industrial composting facilities, depending on their purpose, and how they have been certified. Compostable materials should be used when carrying beverage residues, plant waste or soil to composting or AD facilities; when material is too small, flimsy, flexible, multi-laminated and hard to recycle in any other waste streams; when made of non-compostable plastic, product currently contaminates biowaste stream, for example, carrier bags, food waste bin caddy liners, tea bags, coffee pods, fruit and veg stickers, condiment sachets

Biodegradable and compostable materials may be made from biological resources or fossil based raw materials. These materials should be used when it is not possible to reduce, reuse or recycle, in line with the circular economy and waste hierarchy principles.



Standards for bio-based and biodegradable materials


MaterialRelevant standard(s)
Bio-based materials

CSN EN 16785-1 – Bio-based products – Bio-based content – Part 1: Determination of the bio-based content using the radiocarbon analysis and elemental analysis

ASTM D6866 – 18 – Standard Test Methods for Determining the Biobased Content of Solid, Liquid, and Gaseous Samples Using Radiocarbon Analysis

Biodegradable materials

ISO 22404:2019 – Plastics — Determination of the aerobic biodegradation of non-floating
materials exposed to marine sediment — Method by analysis of evolved carbon dioxideISO/DIS 22403 – Plastics — Assessment of the inherent aerobic biodegradability and
environmental safety of non-floating materials exposed to marine inocula under laboratory
and mesophilic conditions — Test methods and requirements

EN 17033:2018 – Plastics – Biodegradable mulch films for use in agriculture and horticulture – Requirements and test methods

  • Aerobic biodegradation:
    • ISO 14855‘Determination of the ultimate aerobic biodegradability of plastic materials under controlled composting conditions – Method by analysis of evolved carbon dioxide.’
    • ISO 14852‘Determination of the ultimate aerobic biodegradability of plastic materials in an aqueous medium – Method by analysis of evolved carbon dioxide.’
    • ISO 14851‘Determination of the ultimate aerobic biodegradability of plastic materials in an aqueous medium – Method by measuring the oxygen demand in a closed respirometer.’
  • Anaerobic biodegradation:
    • ISO 15985‘Determination of the ultimate anaerobic biodegradation and disintegration under high-solids anaerobic-digestion conditions – Method by analysis of released biogas.’
    • ISO 14853 ‘Determination of the ultimate anaerobic biodegradation of plastic materials in an aqueous system –Method by measurement of biogas production.’
    • ISO 11734 ‘Evaluation of the “ultimate” anaerobic biodegradability of organic compounds in digested sludge — Method by measurement of the biogas production.’
Compostable materialsEN13432 – Standard for Compostability