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How Do Biodegradable Materials Affect the Environment?

As the world becomes increasingly aware of the negative impacts of waste and pollution on our planet, the use of biodegradable materials has gained popularity as a potential solution. But how do biodegradable materials actually affect the environment? 

In this article, we’ll explore the advantages and disadvantages of biodegradable materials, and examine how they impact the environment, from waste reduction to greenhouse gas emissions.

What’s the Difference Between Biodegradable and Nonbiodegradable?

The main difference between biodegradable and nonbiodegradable materials is their ability to break down naturally in the environment. Biodegradable materials can be broken down into simpler, harmless compounds, such as water, carbon dioxide, and organic matter, while nonbiodegradable materials cannot.

Before discussing the effects of biodegradable waste, let’s quickly recap what biodegradable and nonbiodegradable even mean. That would help us understand their impact better.

What Are Biodegradable Materials?

Biodegradable substances or materials can be broken down into natural components with the help of microorganisms like bacteria or fungi. These microorganisms consume biodegradable materials, leaving only simple compounds like water, carbon dioxide, and organic matter. 

Biodegradable materials can be synthetic or organic. Examples of biodegradable materials that are organic include food waste or wood. Synthetic materials, such as biodegradable plastics, made from plant-based sources like cornstarch, can also be biodegradable. 

Does this mean that biodegradable materials are better for the environment? Keep reading to find out.

What Are Nonbiodegradable Materials?

Nonbiodegradable materials are the opposite of biodegradable materials, i.e. they cannot be broken down into natural components. Instead, they linger in the environment for hundreds or even thousands of years, contributing to pollution and environmental degradation. 

Examples of nonbiodegradable materials include plastics, certain types of metals, and some chemicals. These materials accumulate in landfills and oceans, where they can harm wildlife and ecosystems. That’s one of the reasons why recycling is so crucial.

Types of Biodegradable Waste

There are many types of biodegradable waste, and they can be divided into several categories:

  • Food waste — any food scraps, leftovers, or spoiled food. It’s the largest source of biodegradable waste that we can compost or process to produce biogas (a renewable energy source).
  • Garden waste — leaves, grass, branches, and other organic material from gardens and parks. We can compost it or use it for mulch.
  • Agricultural waste — waste from farming and livestock operations, such as crop residues, manure, and animal bedding. We can use it for soil improvement, composting, or biogas production.
  • Wood waste — sawdust, wood chips, and other waste from the timber industry. We can use it for energy production or composting.
  • Paper waste — any paper products, such as newspapers, cardboard, and office paper. We can recycle or compost them.
  • Biodegradable plastics — plastics made from plant-based sources, such as cornstarch or sugarcane. We can compost them, but only under specific conditions.

Now that we know what biodegradable materials are and what types exist, we can see how they influence the environment.

how do biodegradable materials affect the environment - soil

How Do Biodegradable Materials Affect the Environment?

Biodegradable materials can have a positive impact on the environment if we manage them properly. When they break down naturally at a normal rate, they can reduce waste accumulation and pollution.

But it’s not all good news. Some biodegradable materials don’t break down completely or they can take hundreds of years to do so. Also, if we don’t dispose of them properly, they can make more harm than good. That would include dumping them in our oceans or in landfills.

Now, let’s dive deeper and see what are the pros and cons of biodegradable substances for the environment.

Advantages of Biodegradable Waste

The growing popularity of composting has certainly raised awareness when it comes to biodegradable waste and its advantages. And there is more than one reason why biodegradable waste is preferable:

  • Reduces landfill waste — If we compost biodegradable waste, we send less trash to landfills. This helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slows the rate at which landfills fill up.
  • Improves soil quality — Composting biodegradable waste can produce nutrient-rich soil that can improve plant growth and health. This can reduce the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which can be harmful to the environment.
  • Renewable source of energy — We can use biodegradable waste to produce biogas. That’s a renewable energy source of electricity, heat, and transportation fuels.
  • Reduces pollution — Composting can reduce the amount of methane emissions from landfills, which is a potent greenhouse gas.
  • Sustainable production — If we make biodegradable materials from renewable sources, such as corn or sugarcane, we can reduce the environmental impact of production and support sustainable practices.

Overall, the advantages of biodegradable waste can contribute to a more sustainable and environmentally friendly society. The question is, are there any disadvantages? 

Disadvantages of Biodegradable Waste

Biodegradable waste is not all it’s cracked up to be. Here are several reasons why:

  • Requires specific conditions for decomposition — Some biodegradable materials require specific conditions, such as high temperatures or certain microorganisms, to break down. Without these conditions, biodegradable materials can stay in the environment and contribute to pollution.
  • Releases greenhouse gases — If we don’t manage biodegradable waste properly, it can release methane and other greenhouse gases, which contribute to climate change. Since biodegradable materials take less time to decompose, sending them to landfills means releasing even more toxic gasses in a shorter period. 
  • Land competition — The production of biodegradable materials, such as crops used to make bioplastics, can compete with food production and natural ecosystems, leading to deforestation and other environmental issues.
  • Limited recycling options — Not all biodegradable materials can be recycled, which can lead to waste accumulation and cause other environmental issues.
  • Misleading labeling — Some products are labeled as biodegradable or compostable, but the conditions required for their decomposition aren’t available in most disposal systems, leading to confusion and improper disposal. That’s why we should understand buzzwords and phrases like eco-friendly or environment friendly

To sum up, while biodegradable waste has some advantages, it’s crucial to manage it carefully if we want to avoid harming the environment and ensure that it truly contributes to a more sustainable society.

Final Thoughts

As we build more eco-friendly habits like composting, we should be aware of the impact of our actions. We need to know how biodegradable substances affect the environment to avoid doing more harm than good.

Now you know that biodegradable materials can bring devastating consequences like increasing greenhouse emissions, pollution, and even health hazards for humans and animals alike. But if we manage our waste responsibly, it can have the opposite effect. Composting biodegradable materials correctly can decrease pollution, improve soil quality, and even serve as a renewable source of energy. 

FAQ

Is biodegradable safe for the environment?

Biodegradable substances can be safe for the environment if we dispose of them properly. The best solution to that is composting. But if we don’t manage biodegradable waste properly, that can have dreadful consequences for the environment as landfills will produce even more greenhouse gas emissions.

How do biodegradable materials help the environment?

Biodegradable materials help the environment by reducing waste accumulation, improving soil quality, producing renewable energy, and reducing pollution. If we dispose of them properly, they can be a way to solve some of our global trash issues. 

Can biodegradable harm plants and animals?

While biodegradable materials are generally safer for the environment than non-biodegradable materials, they can still harm plants and animals. If we don’t dispose of biodegradable materials properly, they can accumulate in ecosystems and harm wildlife through ingestion or entanglement. Also, they can release harmful chemicals as they decompose, which can contaminate soil and water and harm plants and animals. If you want to learn more about how biodegradable materials affect the environment, read the article.

How can biodegradable materials be harmful to us?

Biodegradable materials can be harmful to us if they release harmful chemicals as they decompose or if they are not properly managed and contribute to pollution or environmental degradation. For example, improperly composted biodegradable waste can release methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change and can harm human health if inhaled in large amounts.

How does biodegradable waste cause pollution?

Biodegradable waste can cause pollution when it’s dumped into landfills. Under these conditions, the biodegradable waste decomposes faster, leading to more greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

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