Recyclability, Biodegradability, and Compostability: How to Choose?

Paper pulp is a material primarily composed of cellulose fiber, the most abundant biomass in nature. The most sustainable practice to recover cellulose fiber is paper recycling, which allows for the preservation of the biomass in its fibrous form. Compostability and biodegradability, on the other hand, only enable the recovery of the total biomass without valorizing its fibrous structure. Recovering fiber through recycling is therefore the main practice as it aligns with the foundational principle of the circular economy—recovering raw materials for an equivalent use.

However, unlike aluminum, paper is not infinitely recyclable; repeated paper recycling processes alter the mechanical and chemical properties of the fibers. This is why virgin fibers, sourced from sustainably managed forests (FSC®), are essential to keep the paper cycle active and renewable, ensuring the robustness and quality of the paper.

As a biomass, paper pulp also has the significant characteristic of being biodegradable, and composting is a useful option, especially for papers in direct contact with food, when excessively soiled, or in specific contexts where high-quality sorting is challenging. Once again, the importance of collection flows and end-of-life scenarios (such as paper plates with food remnants in paper collection) are key factors to consider for a sustainable choice.

Europe boasts high paper recycling rates, exceeding 70%, and globally, paper recycling is more effective compared to other materials that require more advanced technologies.

As part of its ESG strategy, Fedrigoni has set the goal for 2030 to have 100% of its specialty papers recyclable, with recyclability levels verified by a third party using the Aticelca 501/19 method. This ensures that only papers with verified recyclability are supplied to the market, bearing in mind that any substantial product modification requires a new assessment to confirm or adjust the recyclability level.


Recyclable: Recyclable materials are waste materials that can be used again in production processes. Examples include glass, paper and cardboard, aluminum, plastic, and wood. Recycling allows these waste elements to be transformed into a resource, giving them new life and reducing the materials sent to landfills. Before fiber can be recycled, it must always exist as virgin; and in any case, recycled fiber has a shorter lifespan, with its strength gradually decreasing.

Biodegradable: Materials that have the ability to decompose in nature through the action of microorganisms and bacteria combined with sunlight or other natural atmospheric agents. Depending on the presence of oxygen, degradation can occur aerobically or anaerobically. This process must be completed within 6 months, and the resulting elements can be absorbed into the soil in the form of water, carbon dioxide, mineral salts, and other elements. A biodegradable material is compostable if the process is completed within 3 months.

Compostable: Materials that, after degradation, are transformed into compost, a substance rich in nutrients commonly used as fertilizer to enrich the soil. Examples of compost include pruning waste and leftover fruits and vegetables. According to European regulations, for a product to be labeled “compostable,” it must biodegrade within 3 months and pass eco-toxicity tests.


Bit #1: Recycling, biodegradation and compostability