Are dried leaves biodegradable? (5 parts of a leaf)


In this article, it shall be explored whether dried leaves are biodegradable or not. Other topics covered would be: 

  • What is biodegradability?
  • Why is biodegradability important?
  • What is the effect of non-biodegradable waste?
  • Does biodegradability mean eco-friendliness?
  • What are leaves made of?
  • What are some uses of dried leaves?
  • FAQs

Are dried leaves biodegradable? 

Yes, dried leaves are biodegradable. That is because they are made of natural and organic substances like ash, carbohydrates, crude fat, fibres, and other minerals such as calcium, potassium, iron et cetera. 

Due to their organic nature and proclivity to biodegradability, dried leaves can be used for a variety of other purposes as well such as use as compost or use as hummus. 

What is biodegradability?

In order to understand the answer to whether dried leaves are biodegradable or not, we need to have a decent grasp of what biodegradability is in the first place. 

Biodegradability is a process in which complex substances are converted into simpler substances by microbes and decomposers because if that does not happen, the complex substances may persist in the environment for a very long time. 

While these complex substances persist in the environment they cause serious environmental and health-related issues which can create quite a havoc. 

That is why mother nature chose the process of biodegradability as its own way of dealing with wastes and their disposal. 

Around the concept of biodegradability, there are certain rules of thumb. One of those is that natural materials that are found in nature are more prone to the process of biodegradability. 

This is because their innate structures align well with the microbes’ capacity to degrade. However, man-made substances which are synthesised by man in artificial settings are generally not prone to be degraded by the action of microbes. 

That is majorly because microbes are unable to break down the innate structures of these man-made materials and resultantly, these materials persist in the environment for a very long time. 

Examples of biodegradable material can be plant-based products, animal-based products, debris from nature, crops, vegetation, animal bodies et cetera. All the mentioned examples are found in nature and hence can be degraded by microbes readily. 

Examples of non-biodegradable products can be polymers, packing peanuts, electronic waste, nuclear waste et cetera. All the given examples do not gel well with microbes’ ability to degrade and hence can persist in the environment for hundreds of years. 

What is the importance of biodegradability?

After a detailed introduction to biodegradability, you might wonder what is the significance of biodegradability. In other words, why should dried leaves be biodegradable? What impact would they create on life and the environment? 

Biodegradability is important for our survival because otherwise, the accumulation of waste can result in many grave situations for all of us. 

The story of statistics is assertive enough to advocate the importance of biodegradability. 

The current number of people in the world is around 8 billion. As per research, it is estimated that an average person in a day created around 5 kilograms of waste. 

If you multiply 5 kgs by 8 billion, the results would be beyond astonishing. That is why it is so important that the waste produced does not remain in the environment otherwise the impacts could be catastrophic. 

As per studies, the current waste production stands at a staggering 2 billion tons. This enormous amount of waste generated is becoming an unprecedented challenge for humanity to manage. 

Therefore, biodegradability is elemental behind the survival and thriving of the earth and all the species it is home to. 

What is the effect of non-biodegradable waste: A case of plastics

Another way to assert the importance of biodegradability is to first reckon the impacts non-biodegradable waste has on the environment and people.

In this case, plastic is a very good example of non-biodegradable waste because the negative impacts of plastics have become a global concern now and the remediation of those impacts, a global priority. 

After the industrialisation era, more plastic products were produced and consumed largely because of their utilitarian and economical value. However, this increased use came at the cost of our environment which was little understood back then. 

However, with increased environmental awareness and responsibility, science and technology become more considerate of the negative impacts imparted by plastics and the realisations were beyond staggering. 

As per the stats, the production of plastic is expected to rise to up to 1000 million tons by as early as 2050 which was less than 3 million back in the 1950s. 

Much plastic (around 8 million tons every year) ends up in the oceans which leads to the death of millions of aquatic animals and thus disrupts the food chains. 

The plastic that ends up in the seas and oceans is converted to microplastic by sunlight, wind and water waves. This microplastic is accumulated in literally every corner of the world. It may be reiterated that plastics may take more than 400 years to break down. 

It is reported that as many as 700 species have been affected by plastic either through consumption or entanglement. The consumption of plastic results in the death of animals. The consumption of plastics also causes liver damage and reproductive complications in animals. 

What are dried leaves composed of?

After an apt introduction to biodegradability and its importance, let us delve deep into the composition of dried leaves. 

Studies show that leaves are made of different internal layers which are bracketed by two layers of strong and tough skin cells. These are called the epidermis.

The epidermis secretes a waxy substance known as cuticle which safeguards the leaves from foreign substances like insects or pests. 

There are 5 main parts of a leaf. These are: 

  • Petiole 
  • Leaf base
  • Lemina 
  • Leaf apex 
  • Margins 

As per research conducted in 2022, several components of leaves were identified and studied. These included: 

  • Ash
  • Crude fat
  • Fibre
  • Moisture 
  • Crude protein
  • Carbohydrates

Among the various minerals present in leaves, the following were found and studied: 

  • Sodium 
  • Potassium 
  • Calcium 
  • Iron 
  • Manganese
  • Zinc 
  • Phosphorus 

Are dried leaves biodegradable?

Let us now move on to the main question of whether dried leaves are biodegradable or not. 

We have already discussed in detail what biodegradability is and we have also seen that natural products are more prone to biodegradability. 

In the previous section we discussed the anatomy and internal constituents of leaves in detail and on the basis of that we can speculate that dried leaves are in fact biodegradable. 

That is because dried leaves are made from naturally occurring materials such as ash, carbohydrates and various other minerals. 

Can dried leaves be used as compost?

Yes, dried leaves can be used as compost. 

Compost is a mixture of ingredients which can be used as a natural fertiliser to improve soil quality to ultimately enhance plants’ growth. 

Compost usually is made from decomposing organic waste such as plants and food waste. 

Since dried leaves are organic waste, they can be used as compost to improve the soil quality and be a green alternative to chemical fertilisers which have a lot of impacts on life and the environment.

What are some uses of dried leaves?

Dried leaves, being natural, organic and biodegradable, can be used for a variety of purposes. These may include: 

  • Dried leaves can be used as fertilisers 
  • Dried leaves can be used as compost to improve soil quality 
  • Dried leaves can be used as food for plants 
  • Dried leaves can be used as hummus to nourish trees and bushes
  • Dried leaves can be used to create an aesthetic look in your garden
  • Dried leaves can also protect your plants and trees against harsh weather such as winter 

If something is biodegradable, does it imply eco-friendliness too?

You may wonder if something is biodegradable, does it imply that it is eco-friendly too? Biodegradability has already been explained as the capacity to be degraded by the action of microbes. 

However, rather unfortunately, biodegradability is not equivalent to eco-friendliness because there are many factors at play that could exploit and bridge a rift between biodegradability and eco-friendly.  

How a substance is used and disposed of is really important in determining if something is eco-friendly or not despite being biodegradable. 

For example, studies have asserted that drywall mud is biodegradable. However, the degradation of drywall mud results in the release of harmful gases. These harmful gases have potential effects on life and the environment. 

The degradation of drywall mud results in the release of hydrogen sulphide and sulphur dioxide. These gases can cause lung issues, skin irritation, eye irritation, and even cancers. 

These gases are also responsible for environmental problems such as acid rain, water pollution, and deforestation to name a few. 

Another example that may assert why biodegradability is not the same as eco-friendly can be that of bio-plastics. 

We have seen in the previous section that the impacts of conventional plastics on the environment and life are beyond catastrophic. However, science has come up with bio-plastics as well which are created from plant-based materials. 

Bioplastics are created from plant-based materials (cornstarch or sugar-cane) but over-production of these bioplastics simply asserts that unsustainable pressure is being given to crops and land to meet the increasing demands of these plastics.

It also implies that more agrochemicals (fertilisers and pesticides) are used to produce large amounts of bioplastics. 

Hence, bioplastics, despite being biodegradable, would still not be eco-friendly because of land misuse and agrochemicals, which may cause land and water pollution. 

Conclusion

It is concluded that dried leaves are biodegradable because they are made of natural and organic substances like ash, carbohydrates, crude fat, fibres, and other minerals such as calcium, potassium, iron et cetera. 

Due to their organic nature and proclivity to biodegradability, dried leaves can be used for a variety of other purposes as well such as use as compost or use as hummus. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Is dried leaf biodegradable?

Are dried leaves harmful to human health in any way?

No, dried leaves are not harmful to human health in any way. That is because it is made from natural substances that are not linked to any harm to humans or the environment. On the contrary, there are countless medicinal and herbal applications of leaves known to man. 

How long do leaves take to degrade?

Leaves can degrade in about 6-12 months depending upon various external factors. 

References

  • Agbafor, K. N., Engwa, G. A., & Obiudu, I. K. (2015). Analysis of chemical composition of leaves and roots of Ageratum conyzoides. International Journal of Current Research and Academic Review, 3(11), 60-65.
  • Dwivedi, Shivam. (April 13, 2021). 5 Amazing uses of dried leaves: A useful natural resource. Retrieved from: https://krishijagran.com/agripedia/5-amazing-uses-of-dry-leaves-a-useful-natural-resource/

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