All frequently asked questions
in a row

What is compostability?

Compostability is the breakdown of a material into organic matter, through the action of microorganisms, such as bacteria and fungi. This includes both biodegradation, which is the breakdown on a biochemical level, and disintegration, which is the timely breakdown on a physical, visual level. Besides degradation, compostability also guarantees environmental safety. Consequently, testing for compostability encompasses four major aspects: material characteristics, biodegradation, disintegration, and ecotoxicity.

What is biodegradation?

Biodegradation can be either aerobic or anaerobic. Aerobic biodegradation is the biochemical conversion, through the activity of microorganisms, of organic carbon into CO₂ & water, while anaerobic biodegradation converts organic carbon into CH₄ & CO₂.

Why is biodegradation tested in different environments?

Every environment is different with its own microorganisms, temperature, and other inherent characteristics. Therefore, products biodegrade differently from one environment to another. While a product may biodegrade rapidly in one environment, it could go very slowly or not work at all in another. Reliable, independent test data in these different environments is therefore important. The environment chosen depends on the typical end-of-life destination of the material to be tested.

What is disintegration?

Disintegration is the physical degradation of a product, how it fragments and breaks down into smaller pieces. Even though disintegration can be caused by microorganisms, this is not proof of (complete) biodegradation since the sample may just be fragmented into invisible micro-particles.

What is the difference between biodegradability and compostability?

Compostability is a broader term than biodegradation. A product that is compostable is by definition biodegradable under composting conditions. A product that is biodegradable under composting conditions is not necessarily compostable, as the material characteristics, timely disintegration, and ecotoxicity must also be verified for full proof of compostability.

What is biobased?

Biobased carbon content is the amount of carbon in a product which comes from renewable (non-fossil based) sources. A product that is biobased is not necessarily biodegradable and vice versa.

How does Normec OWS track biodegradation?

The only scientifically correct parameter to measure biodegradation is CO₂ and/or CH₄ production. We therefore track the production of one or both of these compounds and use this to calculate the rate of biodegradation.

Does Normec OWS offer certification?

No, we are an independent test laboratory, meaning we only perform testing and do not grant certification. We can however assist you in obtaining certification from recognized certification agencies. Please note that to avoid a conflict of interest, certification should be independent from testing.

Where can I go with Normec OWS reports?

As Normec OWS is accredited globally by all certification bodies, you can go to the certifying body of your choice. Alternatively, you could use the reports for research purpose, marketing, or legal claims, depending on the test conditions and the level of quality control.

Why is 90% biodegradation sufficient for certification? Does this mean there is 10% microplastics left?

  • When a product undergoes biodegradation, the carbon takes one of two routes:
    • To CO₂/CH₄ production, which we track during the biodegradation process.
    • To new microbial biomass, which cannot be tracked and is defined as the biomass yield.
  • A 90% biodegradation result is actually a 90% carbon to CO₂/CH₄ conversion, which includes the biomass yield (typically 10% or even more), so it is effectively 100% or complete biodegradation.

Can Normec OWS help me develop products?

No, we are a testing laboratory only and do not take part in product development as we want to remain completely neutral and independent. We can however share our expertise on how we think your product will perform or degrade in a certain environment and what do’s and don’ts you need to consider to obtain certain characteristics for your products.

How long does testing take?

Testing duration depends on the specific type of test and the product itself. This can range from a couple of weeks for material characteristics testing, to months or even years for biodegradation testing. As these are microbial processes, we cannot predict the exact duration beforehand.

Where is Normec OWS located?

Our main offices are located in Ghent, Belgium. We also have a subsidiary located in Kettering, Ohio to serve the needs of our American customers.

Is Normec OWS ISO 17025 accredited?

Yes, we are recognized by DIN CERTCO in line with ISO 17025. This accreditation covers all test procedures and standards with regard to compostability and biodegradation. Additionally, we are ISO 17025 accredited by BELAC for our compost analyses and also recognized by TÜV Austria. Normec OWS is also ISO 17020 accredited for inspection services and ISO 14001 approved for environmental management. View our recognitions & certificates.