Is twine biodegradable? Can it be composted? It depends!

  • Date: May 14, 2022

Regarded as important as stone tools for the early humans, twine is still widely used to this day. Twine is extremely versatile and widely used from packaging to the construction industry. Although durable, unfortunately, it won’t last forever – leading to a lot of twine waste to dispose of! Is it destined for landfill for many centuries like some materials? Or is twine biodegradable and fit for the compost bin?

What is twine made of?

Twine is made when two or more strands are twisted together – these strands are then twisted together. Twine can be made from many different materials.  It falls into two main categories: natural and synthetic. Natural twines can be made of many different materials – common materials include jute, cotton, sisal and hemp. Synthetic twines are generally made of plastics such as nylon, polyester and polypropylene.

Is twine biodegradable?

A material is biodegradable if it can be broken down by bacteria or other micro-organisms. The components, essentially, return to nature.  Generally, twine made of natural materials are biodegradable – those that are made from synthetic materials are not.

Although best avoided, if the natural twines ended up in landfill they would biodegrade in a matter of months or years – depending on the thickness. Synthetic twine, on the other hand, could stick around for centuries and will simply break up into smaller pieces rather than biodegrade. It is likely that any synthetic twine you have used in your life is still around even now! The environmental impact of synthetic twine does not end there – significant emissions are related to plastic production, as well as the use of fossil fuels.

Is twine compostable?

Popping your organic waste items in the compost bin is a great way to dispose of waste. As well as diverting items from the ever-increasing landfill pile it also provides an effective fertilizer for your garden. Good for the planet and saving you money – what’s not to like? It is a common misconception that everything that is biodegradable can be composted. This is unfortunately not the case. The terms are not interchangeable. To be fit for the compost pile, an item must be able to contribute to a nutrient-rich fertilizer. It also must not contain chemicals that can contaminate the pile.

Natural twine fits the bill, it can be composted. As you might know – composting materials can be split into two main types. ‘Green’ materials refer to items that are rich in nitrogen such as grass clippings and food waste. ‘Browns’ are rich in carbon and include items such as shredded paper and dried leaves. Natural twine fits into the ‘brown’ category.

It is really important to maintain an appropriate balance of ‘green’ to ‘brown’ materials in your compost pile. Too much carbon can result in slow decomposition whilst too much nitrogen might cause excess heat – amongst other things. There are several different recommendations of the best ratio, however, we recommend sticking to a 1:1 ratio. It is a lot simpler and gives the desired result without the math! However, no two compost piles are the same – so monitoring it is key.

If you are new to composting, have a look at some of our beginners’ tips here.    

Things to consider when composting twine…

Firstly, it is important to establish whether your twine is natural or synthetic before composting. This will still be on the packaging (if you still have it). The synthetic variety tend to have a more shiny appearance compared to the natural type but this is a general rule of thumb than an absolute fact – be sure to look the label. If you have inadvertently added synthetic twine to the compost pile it is not the end of the world, however it will sit in the pile forevermore. Simply sift it out.

Generally, it is good practice to cut items into smaller pieces when adding them to the compost pile. Although this is not strictly necessary, it allows the twine to be interspersed throughout the pile whilst giving a larger surface area for micro-organisms to work their magic. Ultimately, it speeds up the composting process a little.  

The bottom line

It is not a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer when it comes to biodegradability of twine, unfortunately. It all depends on if the twine is natural or synthetic. Natural adds a carbon-rich component to the pile, whilst synthetic twine will remain there! Although it is not all bad news – you can recycle synthetic, plastic-based twines in some areas. However, this varies from country to country and even region to region. Check out your local recycling rules. As ever, we always recommend sourcing the natural type if suitable for your needs.