What Does Biodegradable Mean and Why Does It Matter?

What Does Biodegradable Mean?

Are you trying to achieve a greener lifestyle? Do you check details on every product to make sure it is recyclable? Way to Go!

As soon as you see the word “biodegradable,” you know that is the product you should be buying. Who doesn’t want to select a less polluting alternative over a vicious and evil material that will stay in the environment for years? But is it better? Let’s try to find out.

What Does Biodegradable Mean?

Material is biodegradable if it can be broken down into natural components. Such materials will leave no harmful toxins behind, and the end-products will naturally blend back into the environment.

Biodegradation is done by microorganisms, such as bacteria and fungi. There are gazillions of these microorganisms working to break down all kinds of materials, but they require some specific conditions to work properly. The result of the process is organic matter, including carbon dioxide, water, and biomass.

How Long Does It Take?

Biodegradability cannot be tied to any time scale, so there is no one answer to how long the process will take. If we have wood in the form of a sheet of paper, it will decompose relatively quickly. But if the same wood is in the form of building material, it could take hundreds of years to break down.

When designing biodegradable products, manufacturers consider the ideal conditions that are required for the breakdown process. On the flip side, as consumers, we need to make sure that we dispose of the products correctly.

What are Ideal Conditions?

Biodegradation works best when correct amounts of water, oxygen, and bacteria meet at the optimal temperature. If these conditions are disturbed, the microorganisms have difficulty doing their job, and thus, their efficiency is reduced.

Food stays fresh in a refrigerator longer because inside, the conditions are not favorable for microorganisms. But as soon as we remove the food item from the fridge, the conditions become better for microorganisms, and they begin to work faster. Thus, your leftover delicious pasta spoils much faster outside the fridge than inside it.

Is Everything Biodegradable Better?

While biodegradables are more eco-friendly, they do have their share of downsides. If these products are not disposed of correctly, they might lose their edge.

If you throw them in the trash and they end up in landfills, chances are they will get buried in the trash. The good decomposing bacteria cannot survive in the trash due to a lack of oxygen and other resources. Instead, the breakdown will take place in an environment that has little to no oxygen. Anaerobic (without oxygen) biodegradation creates methane, a greenhouse gas classified as a pollutant if allowed to escape.

How to Dispose of Biodegradables

If the products are compostable, it is best to dispose of them at a commercial composting plant. If not compostable, you can send it off for recycling. You might have a biogas plant in your vicinity, if you are lucky, which uses biodegradable waste to produce electricity.

Benefits of Biodegradables

There are many reasons why we should opt for biodegradable products over non-biodegradable ones. Let us look at some of the benefits the former have to offer.

  • Even before they are put to use, biodegradable products are less of an environmental hazard. Producing biodegradable materials results in far less pollution as compared to their petroleum-based alternatives.
  • Producing biodegradables consumes much less energy than petroleum-based products.
  • When disposed of, biodegradable products produce far fewer greenhouse gases. Most products will breakdown into harmless and non-toxic natural elements
  • There are some compostable biodegradables; these can be placed in compost heaps. The compost can then be used as a fertilizer for plants.

More Problems With Non-Biodegradables

Plastic and Styrofoam are the two major pollutants that fill up landfills by the ton every day. These products can take hundreds of years to decompose, and even then, they leave behind toxic residues.

Landfills are expensive. Huge amounts are required first to purchase the land and then to prepare it. All these costs get passed down to municipal departments, and eventually to you, the taxpayer. Non-biodegradable waste can sit in landfills for years, just taking up space.

Biodegradable vs. Compostable

All compostable products are biodegradable, but they require a special environment. Compostable products break down relatively quickly; some can be gone in less than 90 days. At the end of the breakdown, these products turn into a nutrient-rich material, used as fertilizer for plants.

Some biodegradables also require a controlled environment to disintegrate properly. There are only a handful of facilities that can provide optimal conditions for decomposing. These facilities keep the materials at over 130 degrees Fahrenheit for more than ten consecutive days.

One of the most popular biodegradable materials is PLA. It will disintegrate into carbon dioxide and water in a controlled professional environment. But if placed in a backyard compost, it might not disintegrate at all.

It is important to understand what a product package means when it says “biodegradable” and “compostable.” Remember, all compostable products are biodegradables, but not all biodegradables can be composted.

A Few Last Words

Every time we walk into a store to buy anything, we check the details to see if the packaging is eco-friendly. Once we find the term “biodegradable” on anything, we automatically assume that it will not produce as much pollution as its other non-biodegradable counterparts.

Now that we know what biodegradable means, it is important to understand that even biodegradable products can become pollutants if not disposed of properly. Just tossing all your recyclables and biodegradables into the same trash can will diminish the essence of eco-friendliness from all your products.

At TP Green, we believe that no effort to become environment-friendly is wasted. We need to play our role and move closer to a cleaner and greener environment. We offer products that aim to make the world a better place in the future. If you are looking for compostable disposables or sustainable reusables, please visit us.

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