Is agricultural waste biodegradable or nonbiodegradable? (7 classes of biodegradable waste) 

In this article, it shall be known whether agricultural waste is biodegradable or not. Other topics that will be covered are: 

  • What is agricultural waste?
  • What is the classification of agricultural waste?
  • What is biodegradability?
  • What are the types of waste based on biodegradability?
  • What are examples of biodegradable and nonbiodegradable waste?
  • What is the effect of agricultural waste on the environment?
  • FAQs

Is agricultural waste biodegradable or nonbiodegradable?

Most of the agricultural waste is biodegradable. This may include crop solid waste, agricultural solid waste (industrial), animal solid waste, horticultural solid waste, and food waste. 

However, some agricultural waste like synthetic chemicals, agrochemicals, and fertilisers are not sourced from nature and hence are not biodegradable. 

It is also stated that agricultural waste has a lot of detrimental impacts on human health as well as the environment. Therefore, actions must be directed towards the reduction of agricultural waste and alleviation of its negative impacts. 

What is agricultural waste?

A proper understanding of agricultural waste is essential before its biodegradability can be discussed and deliberated. 

It is a clear understanding that waste production is an inevitable process. Everything that we do does create some sort of waste. Every process that is carried out either naturally or non-naturally also results in some waste generation. 

The main factor that actually decides whether a waste is useful or wasteful is the extent to which it can be used and reused by nature. 

As it can be guessed, agricultural waste is the waste produced from agricultural activities and agricultural operations. This waste may or may not be of utilitarian value. 

The issue of agricultural waste is important because the whole world relies on agriculture. It is a major source of food for most people. As per research, agricultural activities result in about 25 million tons of food production every year. 

However, with an increased population, this dependency has also increased several times. 

The world population stands at around 8 billion and is rising exponentially. Owing to this unprecedented ascent, the need for agriculture has also risen tremendously. As per research, agricultural activities have increased more than 3 times in the last 50 years. 

More agricultural activity simply means greater waste production and increased environmental concern about what impacts this waste will be on life and the environment. 

It is also cited that population is not the only driving factor that results in increased agricultural activities. Other factors like technological advancements and increased land use also have their roles to play. 

Agricultural activities are already linked to many negative environmental phenomena such as the use of agrochemicals or fossil-based energy sources. These result in many major environmental issues like global warming and pollution. 

With increased agricultural activities, the management of the increased waste generation from these activities also gets important and beyond emphasis. 

It is estimated that the world’s population may increase by more than 10 billion in the years to come. This means greater food production and agriculture will be one of the main sources of it. 

It will become a great challenge to meet these demands while also being considerate and careful about the environment since it already has been established that agricultural activities and waste (current practices & inclinations) cause environmental deterioration. 

What is the classification of agricultural waste? (7 classes of agricultural waste) 

It has been asserted that agricultural activities belong to the group of mega-scale activities. More than 24 million tons of food is generated through these activities. 

Increased agriculture means increased waste produced as a result of these activities. This waste needs to be classified and sorted out for better understanding and assessment. 

The general classes of agricultural waste which also hint towards its source are: 

  • Chemical waste
  • Horticultural solid waste
  • Crops solid waste
  • Food and meat processing solid waste
  • Animal production solid waste
  • Farming-related medical solid waste
  • Industrial agriculture solid waste 

It is stated that the major reasons that contribute to the generation of agricultural waste are: 

  • Farming activities
  • Use of agrochemicals
  • Food spoilage 
  • Poor storage facilities
  • Poor transportation facilities
  • Defunct logistics
  • Use of ineffective chemicals 
  • Unseen anomalies (droughts et cetera) 
  • Use of non-renewable sources of energy 

However, it is also important to clarify what is not included in agricultural waste. This need arises from ignorance, misinformation, and stereotypes that are found in various aspects of society. 

The following waste can not be called agricultural waste:

  • Plastics 
  • Tyres
  • Trash
  • Garbage
  • Construction materials 
  • Asbestos
  • Landscape vegetation
  • Chemically treated wood

These are some examples that are usually perceived as agricultural waste. However, these are not. 

What is biodegradability? 

Biodegradability is the process through which complex substances are broken down into simpler substances by various drivers such as moisture, microbes et cetera. It is the natural process of the Earth to deal with waste. 

The main drivers of this process are microbes that include bacteria, fungi and various other decomposers. They decompose the natural products within months leaving negligible strain on the environment. 

However, as man advanced his understanding of nature and the various phenomena that edifice nature, he came up with many synthetic products as well under the guise of scientific revolutions and discoveries. 

These synthetic products, however, do not gel well with the Earth’s natural system of disposing of wastes and hence as a result, man-made products are not degraded for hundreds of years and are termed as non-biodegradable. 

However, it is not a rigid rule of thumb that man-made products are not biodegradable. Over the course of scientific evolution and understanding, man has created many products that can be degraded just like natural substances like eggshells et cetera. 

Examples of man-made substances that can be degraded easily may include biodegradable plastics or biodegradable packing peanuts. These substances are made from natural material and hence contain no synthetic elements in them. 

It may also be deliberated that these man-made biodegradable products may be degraded in a controlled setup with provided conditions of temperature, pressure and microbes so that any unwanted scenarios are avoided and no harm is caused to life and the environment nearby. 

What are the types of waste based on biodegradability? 

Based on the concept and edifice of biodegradability, wastes can largely be classified into two classes. One type of waste is that which can be degraded while the second type is that which can not be degraded. 

The general understanding related to this concept is that natural products are easily and readily degraded within a short span of time. That is because they contain no artificial or synthetic materials. 

Whereas, synthetic or artificial materials, which usually are man-made, can not be degraded readily and hence may require hundreds of years to degrade in the environment. This increased duration causes strain on the environment which affects life nearby. 

The tragedy today is that non-biodegradable wastes despite being dangerous to the environment and life nearby are preferred by the consumer because of their benefits and convenience of use. 

A common example can be the use of plastic bags in consumer markets. The world was introduced to the detrimental effects of plastic bags a long time ago yet even after that, plastic bags are still used because they are cheap and of good use. 

However, the situation is slowly changing. There is an increasing trend toward biodegradable wastes by consumers, especially in developed regions. 

Other than that, many laws and policies are also being created and implemented to lessen the use of non-biodegradable wastes. 

Technological advances are also advocating in the favour of biodegradable wastes by creating products from natural materials. A good example can be biodegradable bags or perhaps biodegradable packaging materials. 

What are some examples of biodegradable wastes? 

Examples of biodegradable wastes may include: 

  • Food waste
  • Human waste 
  • Manure Sewage 
  • Hospital waste 
  • Dead animals & Plants 
  • Waste from slaughterhouse 
  • Toilet paper

What are some examples of non-biodegradable wastes? 

Examples of non-biodegradable waste may include: 

  • Plastics 
  • Hazardous substances
  • Pesticides
  • Fertilisers
  • E-wastes
  • Rubbers
  • Polymers
  • Shopping bags 
  • Packaging materials
  • Plastic bottles 
  • Nuclear Wastes

What is the effect of agricultural waste on the environment?

It is asserted that agricultural waste has a lot of negative and detrimental impacts on the environment and therefore it is proposed that this waste generation should be reduced. 

Agricultural activities and waste generation are linked to numerous complications that belong to both the environmental and health-related brackets. These may be: 

  • Release of Greenhouse gas emissions
  • Global warming
  • Floods
  • Food insecurity
  • Soil pollution
  • Water pollution 
  • The rise in global temperatures
  • Melting of glaciers
  • The rise in sea levels 
  • Numerous health complications like cancers or skin issues

Agricultural production involves the use of various agrochemicals like fertilisers and pesticides. These products may increase the yield but they also decrease the environmental quality. 

These chemicals may leach into soil and water bodies causing pollution and deterioration of life. These chemicals may deplete oxygen availability leading to the death of aquatic organisms. 

These chemicals may also cause land degradation by leaching into the soil. As a result, these chemicals may result in making land barren causing further food shortage problems. 

The use of non-renewable resources in agricultural activities is linked with the generation of more than 60% of global methane and nitrous oxide generation, other than carbon dioxide. These glasses are extremely harmful and contribute directly to global warming and the rise in global temperatures. 

Global warming, then, is related to various natural anomalies like melting glaciers, rise in sea levels, unprecedented weather patterns et cetera. 

The agricultural waste may also block waterways and canals. This blockage directly results in flooding which not only destroys crops but also has direct, negative implications on human life. 

This production of agricultural waste also leads to food shortages and food security problems. This is also a great environmental and humanitarian concern, and one of the Sustainable Development Goals as well. 

Is agricultural waste biodegradable?

We have seen that for waste to be biodegradable, it must be sourced from nature. We have also discussed the various sources of agricultural waste. These are: 

  • Chemical waste
  • Horticultural solid waste
  • Crops solid waste
  • Food and meat processing solid waste
  • Animal production solid waste
  • Farming-related medical solid waste
  • Industrial agriculture solid waste 

Among these, some are natural like animal waste, crop waste, and food and meat processing waste. Whereas, some waste is non-natural such as chemical waste. However, most of the agricultural waste is sourced from natural materials. 

Therefore, it can be summarised that most agricultural waste is biodegradable but some agricultural waste (like chemical waste) is not biodegradable. 

Conclusion

It is concluded that most agricultural waste is biodegradable. This may include crop solid waste, agricultural solid waste (industrial), animal solid waste, horticultural solid waste, and food waste. 

However, some agricultural waste like synthetic chemicals, agrochemicals, and fertilisers are not sourced from nature and hence are not biodegradable. 

It is also stated that agricultural waste has a lot of detrimental impacts on human health as well as the environment. Therefore, actions must be directed towards the reduction of agricultural waste and alleviation of its negative impacts. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Is agriculture waste biodegradable or non-biodegradable?

What happens to the agricultural waste?

Most of the agricultural waste is either dumped without treatment or is burnt. This leads to water, soil and air pollution. 

What is sustainable agriculture?

It is basically agricultural practice done through the sustainable framework which may include water conservation, pollution minimisation, promotion of biodiversity, decreased use of agrochemicals, integrated pest management, and building healthy soil. 

References

  • Duque-Acevedo, M., Belmonte-Urena, L. J., Cortés-García, F. J., & Camacho-Ferre, F. (2020). Agricultural waste: Review of the evolution, approaches and perspectives on alternative uses. Global Ecology and Conservation, 22, e00902.
  • Loehr, R. (2012). Agricultural waste management: problems, processes, and approaches. Elsevier.
  • Adejumo, I. O., & Adebiyi, O. A. (2020). Agricultural solid wastes: Causes, effects, and effective management. Strategies of Sustainable Solid Waste Management, 8.

What was missing from this post which could have made it better?

Leave a Comment