Are orbeez biodegradable? (3 materials Orbeez are made of)

This article will discuss the biodegradability status of orbeez. Other aspects covered would include: 

  • What are orbeez?
  • What are orbeez made of?
  • Are orbeez safe?
  • What is biodegradability?
  • What is the importance of biodegradability?
  • Are orbeez biodegradable?
  • FAQs

Are orbeez biodegradable?

Orbeez balls are biodegradable but may require more time than usual. Normally, orbeez may degrade in a decade. 

This is because of two reasons. One is the water absorbance capacity of orbeez and the other is the use of materials like acrylic acid in the making of orbeez. 

Orbeez beads can be explained as super-absorbent polymers that are made from water, sodium hydroxide, and acrylic acid. 

These materials, individually pose threat to human health and the environment, and therefore, prolonged exposure to orbeez beads must be avoided to deter any possible complications. 

What are orbeez?

This section will give an apt introduction to what orbeez is. Orbeez is also named water beads, water gems, and even water jellies. 

As one can guess from the name, the purpose of orbeez mostly adheres to content creation and children’s games. 

Orbeez can be explained as a super absorbent polymer that may expand or grow up to a hundred times when submerged in water. 

However, this is not the original purpose that orbeez was created for. The main or primary function that orbeez was created for was to keep the plants damp. 

Orbeez beads were placed around plants so that plants may extract water from these beads whenever they are dried. 

The next important question that comes to mind of readers and consumers is what is the impact of orbeez? Are these beads harmful or toxic in any way? Further, are these beads biodegradable? All these questions shall be addressed in the coming sections of the article. 

What are orbeez made of? (3 materials) 

The understanding of what orbeez are made of is very essential to know in order to determine the impact of these beads on the environment and also on life. 

It has been discussed that orbeez beads are made from super absorbent polymers. There are two terms that need to be acquainted with here. 

Super absorbent substances are those materials that have a really significant capacity to absorb water or any other solvent. When this happens, the material is bound to undergo physical changes. Some of these changes may include an increase in size and fervent vibrancy of colour. 

The next terminology that one needs to be mindful of is polymers. A polymer is a substance that is made from repeating monomers. These monomers are chemically bonded. 

There are two types of polymers that usually exist. These are natural and synthetic. Natural polymers are made from natural materials whereas synthetic polymers are made from lab-based, fossil fuel derivatives. 

The general rule of thumb is that there are increased and severe impacts of synthetic polymers on the environment and human life. Common examples of synthetic polymers include plastics and synthetic textiles like rayon. 

Based on this literature, it can be assumed that it is in the interest of the environment and nature that orbeez must be made from natural polymers rather than synthetic ones. 

The three main ingredients that make up orbeez balls include: 

  • Water
  • Sodium hydroxide
  • Acrylic gel 

Among these materials, we know that water is a neutral element and will have no great impact as such.

Acrylic acid is said to be made from propylene and is used in the manufacture of plastics and paint formation. Since acrylic acid is obtained from a derivative of fossil fuels, there will be a significant impact of acrylic acid on the environment. Also, it is assumed that acrylic acid will also cause human health at risk. 

Lastly, we have sodium hydroxide. It is considered an inorganic compound which also goes by the name of lye or caustic soda. 

Sodium hydroxide is mostly used in the making of soaps, paper, dyes, and even petroleum products. Due to the harsh nature of sodium hydroxide, it is regarded as dangerous and hazardous to human health. Further sodium hydroxide is also considered hazardous to the environment. 

Are orbeez safe?

This section of the article will comment on the safety aspect of orbeez balls. When it comes to the analysis of literature, there are mixed reviews and perspectives. Some claim that orbeez balls are 100% safe for the people and the planet. 

Whereas, some researchers are a bit wary of the above statement and claim that there are indeed significant impacts of orbeez balls on the people and the planet. 

This section will explain the safety aspect of orbeez balls from both aspects. Let us start off with the second aspect. We have seen that there are three major ingredients that may be used for the making of orbeez balls. 

One is water which is regarded as neutral with no great environmental damage. One possible damage that could be associated with water as an ingredient to make orbeez beads is that there can be unsustained use of water that can put pressure on the water availability index. 

The other two materials that are used in the making of orbeez balls are sodium hydroxide and acrylic acid. 

Acrylic acid is a derivative of fossil fuel and is used to make consumer products such as plastics. Acrylic acid is also linked with a number of medical complications such as: 

  • Skin allergy 
  • Effect on kidneys
  • Effect on lungs

However, there are no significant environmental impacts of acrylic acid. It is claimed that the said substance may degrade readily in sewage treatment plants and also soil. 

Lastly, we have sodium hydroxide, which is a rather harsh substance and is also regarded as unsafe for the environment. It is claimed that water organisms may be affected the most by sodium hydroxide. 

Further, the effects of sodium hydroxide are also reciprocated on human health as well in the following forms: 

  • Skin irritation
  • Eye burning
  • Digestive anomalies
  • Damage to the lungs
  • Dermatitis 

Therefore, even though websites declare orbeez to be safe and eco-friendly, it is argued that care must be taken and excessive use of orbeez must be avoided. Orbeez is also linked with paediatric bowel obstruction. 

What is biodegradability?

Biodegradability can be defined as a process in which biological agents such as enzymes and microbes break down complex waste into simpler structures. The simpler structures are thus able to get back to the system. 

Every day you come across the process of biodegradation. The rotten vegetables that you dispose of or the spoiled fruits that you think can not be eaten. These are common, everyday examples of biodegradation. 

It is the very process of biodegradation that is responsible for the spoilage of food. It can be termed the necessary evil because on one side food is spoiled but on the other side, it is ensured that there is no waste accumulation. 

If there is waste accumulation, there will be environmental problems and anomalies because the waste will lead to problems such as pollution and human diseases. 

Other than microbes and enzymes, there are also external factors that play a key role in the process of biodegradation. These include:

  • Sunlight 
  • Temperature
  • Aeration
  • Presence or absence of oxygen 
  • Type of microbes

Based on biodegradability, waste may be divided into two categories. These are 

  • Biodegradable waste
  • Non-biodegradable waste 

Examples of biodegradable waste include crops, plants, dead animals, manure, sewage, bioplastics, and natural fabrics. These may degrade in some days or some months. 

Examples of non-biodegradable waste may include synthetic plastics, epoxies, synthetic dyes, and synthetic fabrics like acrylic fabrics. These substances may remain in landfills for hundreds of years. 

For example, synthetic plastics may degrade in more than a thousand years while also causing other environmental problems such as global warming, weather anomalies et cetera.

What is the importance of biodegradability?

The importance of biodegradability can be explained from a simple analogy. Consider that you are unable to dump the waste produced by your house. 

Now consider that you can not dump that waste for an extended period of time, let us say one year. Do you think that your house will be livable?

Obviously not. The same is the case for biodegradability. Biodegradability can be regarded as the Earth’s dustbin whereas your house is the Earth. 

If there is no dustbin, our house will not be able to support life. The result? Armageddon. As per the statistics, there is a generation of more than 2 billion tons of waste every year. 

What this means is that every person, on average, makes about 5 kgs of waste every day. Biodegradability is a measure to ensure that this mass amount of waste does not cause that big of havoc. 

If there is no biodegradability, the waste will remain in the system for hundreds of years. This will lead to decapacitation of waste systems and decreased ability to support life. 

Are orbeez biodegradable?

After the analysis of the literature, let us delve into the main question which is the biodegradability status of orbeez beads. 

It is claimed that orbeez beads are biodegradable but not as readily as natural products. Normal biodegradable materials may degrade in a week to six months. 

However, since orbeez balls are made from materials such as acrylic acid et cetera, orbeez balls may require more than a decade to degrade. 

Another reason why orbeez balls require increased time to degrade is the fact that orbeez can soak in moisture due to the high water absorbance capacity. This can also slow down the degradation process of orbeez beads. 

Conclusion

It is concluded that orbeez balls are biodegradable but may require more time than usual. Normally, orbeez may degrade in a decade. 

This is because of two reasons. One is the water absorbance capacity of orbeez and the other is the use of materials like acrylic acid in the making of orbeez. 

Orbeez beads can be explained as super-absorbent polymers that are made from water, sodium hydroxide, and acrylic acid. 

These materials, individually pose threat to human health and the environment, and therefore, prolonged exposure to orbeez beads must be avoided to deter any possible complications. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Are orbeez biodegradable?

How can orbeez be disposed of?

You can dispose of orbeez beads by throwing them in garbage bins and garden plants. However, be careful not to flush them and pour them as these beads may cause environmental issues and may affect waste management systems. 

References 

  • Martin, F. M. (1988). Summary review of the health effects associated with sodium hydroxide: health issue assessment.
  • Maccone, P., Brinati, G., & Arcella, V. (2000). Environmental stress cracking of poly (vinylidene fluoride) in sodium hydroxide. Effect of chain regularity. Polymer Engineering & Science, 40(3), 761-767.
  • Pille, A., Dumont, M. J., Tavares, J. R., & Roy, R. (2022). The effect of foaming additives on acrylic acid/acrylamide hydrogels. Journal of Environmental Chemical Engineering, 10(2), 107310.
  • Darracq, M. A., Cullen, J., Rentmeester, L., Cantrell, F. L., & Ly, B. T. (2015). Orbeez: the magic water absorbing bead—risk of pediatric bowel obstruction? Pediatric emergency care, 31(6), 416-418.
  • Mullens, C. L., Coleman, K. C., Parrish, D. W., & Vaughan, R. (2021). Orbeez ingestion can mimic duplication cysts as a cause of pediatric small bowel obstruction. Journal of Pediatric Surgery Case Reports, 64, 101711.
  • Darracq, M. A., Landen Rentmeester, M. D., Jennifer Cullen, M. D., & Binh Ly, M. D. (2013, August). “Orbeez®”: The magic absorbing bead-risk of pediatric bowel obstruction. In CLINICAL TOXICOLOGY (Vol. 51, No. 7, pp. 588-588). 52 VANDERBILT AVE, NEW YORK, NY 10017 USA: INFORMA HEALTHCARE.

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