Recyclable vs. Biodegradable vs. Compostable – What’s The Difference?

Learn all about the different eco-friendly packaging options available in New Zealand and how to dispose of them correctly.

In the past year there have been massive strides in the plastic-free sustainability movement – from supermarkets banning single use plastic to reusable straws at cafes, and it’s becoming increasingly more common to see the words ‘biodegradable’, ‘recyclable’ and ‘compostable’ stamped across packaging. While it’s great we have so many options, it also makes it all the more confusing for eco-conscious consumers.

Below we unpack the difference between all the terms so you can make an informed decision and shop more mindfully.

RELATED: A Guide To Disposing Of Your Vitally Vitamin Packs

RELATED: Sustainability At Vitally: Our Eco-Friendly Initiatives


Recycling is the process of taking a product, breaking it down and giving it a new life.

What can be recycled?

  • Glass bottles and glass jars
  • Tin, steel and aluminium cans, including empty aerosols
  • Plastic bottles from your kitchen, bathroom and laundry (plastic grades 1-7)
  • Clear plastic food containers
  • Pizza boxes (remove any leftover food)
  • Newspapers, magazines, advertising mail and envelopes
  • Paper and cardboard packaging
  • Egg cartons
  • Milk and juice cartons

All of this is great, but unfortunately despite the best intentions a large majority of people don’t do recycling right.

Common recycling mistakes people make is recycling dirty food packaging – recycling plants are only designed to process materials that have been rinsed clean so make sure to wash those baked bean tins and empty shampoo bottles before popping them in the blue bin.

Recycling is a great way to ensure that materials like plastic, glass and aluminium can be used over and over again, keeping them out of landfill. It’s essential that you recycle right so be sure to follow your local council’s recycling guidelines. Vitally’s shipping and dispenser boxes are both recyclable.

What Can Be Recycled NZ

Make sure to read bins carefully first to see what they accept / Newshub


Biodegradable packaging alternatives were introduced as a more eco-friendly solution to conventional plastic. It essentially means that an item can be broken down into increasingly smaller pieces by bacteria, fungi or microbes to be reabsorbed by the surrounding environment without causing pollution. Some things are naturally biodegradable, like food and plants, whereas others are manufactured specially to be.

To fully break down, biodegradable plastics require the right environment, which usually means commercial processing. If biodegradable plastic is left to break down in a natural environment – such as in landfills or the sea – it often only breaks down into micro-plastics. If you purchase goods that come in biodegradable packaging it’s critical to find a system that facilitates its breakdown.


Ok here’s where we get nerdy-excited. Compostable products are all biodegradable but with an added benefit: when they breakdown they release valuable nutrients into the soil aiding the growth of trees and plants. Compostable packaging is one step further than biodegradable, returning substances to nature and degrading faster, in as little as 6-12 weeks. Vitally’s vitamin packs are compostable (and recyclable!) so you can feel good about your health and the planet.

Eco-friendly packaging vitally nzVitally dispenser boxes and vitamin packs are both compostable.

To dispose of your compostable packaging simply add them to your home compost bin (see how to create a home compost if you haven’t got one), add plenty of soil and then let the magic happen. Alternatively, we can do the work for you! We’ve partnered with We Compost to collect your used packs free of charge to ensure they’re disposed of correctly.

Main image: Canva

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