Is all food biodegradable? (3 ways to reduce food waste) 

In this article, the biodegradability of food waste will be studied. Other covered topics will be: 

  • What is biodegradability?
  • What are the types of waste based on biodegradability?
  • What are the examples of biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste?
  • What is food waste?
  • What is the difference between food waste and food loss?
  • How to tackle food waste and food loss?
  • FAQs

Is all food biodegradable?

Yes, all food is biodegradable. Biodegradability is the process of conversion of waste into simpler substances so that it may become part of nature again. It is done by microbes and natural materials are prone to biodegradability.

Food waste is a natural material because it is sourced from animals, plants and crops. This can be degraded by the action of microbes. The degradation time, however, may vary from some days to several months. 

The problem of food waste and food loss is an eminent one that requires immediate attention because the current food waste generation stands at 1.3 billion tons. More than one-third of produced food is degraded which impacts the people and the planet greatly. 

What is biodegradability?

To truly decipher whether all foods are biodegradable or not, it is essential to fully understand the science of biodegradability. Therefore, this section will commence first with an introduction to what is biodegradability. 

Do you remember the last time you disposed of something in your trash bin? Have you ever wondered what happens after that? What is the fate of trash that ends up in your trash cans and then is taken away by waste management authorities? 

Have you ever wondered how much waste is produced on a global scale and what measures are taken to manage the waste? Or perhaps you may have rummaged mentally that how was waste treated before there was any science or machinery.

The answer to all such queries and curiosities will be found in this section. The understanding of biodegradability is really essential to know what is the fate of the trash that ends up in our trash cans. 

Biodegradability can be explained as a natural process through which microbes break down complex waste into simpler substances. This conversion is also facilitated by external conditions such as temperature or sunlight. 

The main driver of biodegradation is microbes. These microbes include bacteria, algae, fungi, protozoa, yeast, and decomposers. They break down the structures of complex waste so that the simple waste may become part of nature again. 

Biodegradability is nature’s way to ensure that there is no waste and that the waste produced is taken back into the system. It is because mother nature is aware that if there is waste, there will be complications and obstructions. 

To understand this, the article invited you to an analogy. Imagine that for some reason you are unable to dispose of waste in your home or office. The situation may be manageable for some days but not very long.

Now, imagine that you can not dispose of the waste for several hundred years. The first thought that you will get is that your home or office will become unlivable. The same is the case for biodegradability and the earth. 

Biodegradability is the earth’s dustbin and earth is our home. If there is no biodegradability, there is no waste disposal. This will, eventually, steal our home’ capacity to sustain life. Results? Mass extinction and environmental degradations. 

What are the types of waste based on biodegradability?

Biodegradability is the earth’s natural way to eliminate waste by making sure that it gets back to the system. However, there has been corruption in this naturality as well. 

Regarding biodegradability, there is a general understanding that natural materials and natural waste are biodegradable. This is because it coincides with the code of nature. The microbes have no difficulty in breaking down the structures of this type of waste. 

On the other hand, we have the type of waste which can not be degraded by the action of microbes. This type of waste is mostly considered man-made. That is because microbes are unable to degrade the inner structures of synthetic materials and as a result, this type of waste may persist for hundreds of years. 

Do you remember the analogy of the last section? If you do, you will also remember that if there is an incapacity to biodegrade, then this means that nature’s capacity to sustain and promote life is being taken away. 

The same is the case with non-biodegradable waste. Non-biodegradable waste is known to cause a lot of harm to nature and man, other than being non-biodegradable. There is an endless list of these effects but some prominent ones can be cited as a humble example. 

  • Greenhouse effect
  • Global warming
  • Deforestation
  • Soil leaching
  • Pollution
  • Soil erosion 
  • Destruction of habitats
  • Disruption of food chains
  • Species endangerment 
  • Loss of life 
  • Medical complications
  • Harm to the economy
  • Unforeseen and unprecedented climatic anomalies 
  • Pest & insect attacks 

These are some of the effects to illustrate why biodegradable waste is important and needed. 

What are the examples of biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste?

In this section, various examples of biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste will be covered to further our understanding of the concept and science of biodegradability. 

Biodegradable waste is that waste can be degraded by the action of microbes. This type of waste may degrade readily or may also take some months. As per some studies, biodegradable waste (like bio-plastics) may even take some years to degrade. Examples of biodegradable waste include: 

  • Food waste
  • Plant waste
  • Animal waste
  • Manure
  • Sewage 
  • Crop waste
  • Waste from slaughterhouse 
  • Natural fibres
  • Natural fabrics 
  • Semi-synthetic material obtained from plant or animal sources (like rayon fabric) 
  • Drywall mud 

Non-biodegradable waste, on the other hand, can not be degraded by the action of microbes. It is mainly because microbes are unable to break the structures of this type of waste. 

It is generally perceived that materials that are synthesised in the lab from petroleum or fossil fuels are not biodegradable. The tragedy is that with increased commercialisation and consumerism, more such waste is generated which leaves us with unprecedented and grave issues. 

Synthetic polymers are regarded as the most common non-biodegradable waste. Other examples may include: 

  • Electronic waste
  • Plastics 
  • Polyvinyl Chloride
  • Nuclear waste
  • Hazardous waste
  • Chemical waste
  • Hospital waste 
  • Synthetic resins
  • Synthetic fibres
  • Dyneema 
  • PHA 
  • EVA

What is food waste?

In order to finalise if all food waste is biodegradable or not, it is also important to acquaint yourself with what food waste is. 

The understanding of food waste is not as complex as that of biodegradability. Food waste may be referred to as all the food that is not consumed, rather it is disposed of. 

The inapt disposal of food which was meant to be eaten means that strain is put on the food production process. The process of making food is quite a heft process, not just on the pocket but also on the environment. 

The production of food is mostly accompanied by the use of agrochemicals to meet the burgeoning demands of food. If food is wasted, it means that this demand is further aggravated. Which means greater use of agrochemicals. 

The use of agrochemicals is very grey for the people as well as the planet. Other than causing medical complications like mutations or reproductive anomalies, agrochemicals may leach into the soil disrupting the natural harmony of organisms causing loss of life and a definite loss of substantiality. 

The production of food is not just about the use of agrochemicals. The production and transportation of food are done at the expense of non-renewable resources. Non-renewable resources, simply put, imply that greater amounts of carbon dioxide and other GHG are added to the environment. 

This addition causes countless problems from global warming to unprecedented weather patterns. It is argued that the engine of our earth is linkage. When one aspect is corrupted, this disruption reciprocates to other aspects as well. 

Food waste simply means that more non-renewable resources are put to use, be it the production process or transportation commuting. Greater food waste simply implies that greater amounts of GHG are infiltrated into the environment.   

What is the difference between food waste and food loss?

It is also important to note the difference between food waste and food loss. The two terms may appear the same but there is a fundamental difference which needs to be covered. 

Food waste refers to the misuse of food that is fit for human consumption. Do you remember the last time you did not finish your plate? What you did then was food waste. 

Food loss refers to the loss or waste of food before it reaches the consumer. For example, if food is wasted by unsustainable agricultural practices, then it means that there is food loss. Other reasons for food loss may be climate anomalies, insect attacks and misuse of agrochemicals. 

How to tackle food loss and food waste? (3 ways to reduce food waste) 

It has been asserted that the issue of food loss and food waste is a major issue and needs to be addressed. If that does not happen, there can be greater problems as well. 

It is estimated that global food waste production stands at a staggering 1.3 billion tons. The figure speaks for itself and therefore, it is important to know how this figure can be reduced.

As per studies, the following steps can be taken to ensure that there is less food waste: 

  • Reduction of food loss by endeavours such as better storage, transportation, and correct use of agrochemicals
  • Better food recovery so that wasted food may be distributed among the poor and needy people 
  • Recycling of food waste so that it may be used as compost, biomass and natural fertilisers 

Is all food biodegradable?

It has been established that for a product or substance to be biodegradable, it must source from nature. Natural materials are biodegradable because microbes are able to break down their structures so that they may become a part of nature again. 

It is also seen that food waste is natural because it is sourced from animals, plants and crops. That is why all food waste is 100% biodegradable. 

The biodegradability time of food waste may vary. In some cases, as in the case of vegetables and fruits, it can degrade in a week. However, in some cases, food waste may also take months to degrade. 

However, food waste is unlike non-biodegradable waste which may take hundreds of years to degrade. 

Conclusion 

It is concluded that biodegradability is the process of conversion of waste into simpler substances so that it may become part of nature again. It is done by microbes and natural materials are prone to biodegradability.

Food waste is a natural material because it is sourced from animals, plants and crops. This can be degraded by the action of microbes. The degradation time, however, may vary from some days to several months. 

The problem of food waste and food loss is an eminent one that requires immediate attention because the current food waste generation stands at 1.3 billion tons. More than one-third of produced food is degraded which impacts the people and the planet greatly. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Is all food biodegradable?

Which country wastes the most food?

As per stats, China is the biggest contributor to food waste.

Can food waste be recycled?

Food waste can be reused. It can also be converted to biomass, bioenergy and natural fertilisers. 

References

  • Girotto, F., Alibardi, L., & Cossu, R. (2015). Food waste generation and industrial uses: A review. Waste management, 45, 32-41.
  • Schanes, K., Dobernig, K., & Gözet, B. (2018). Food waste matters-A systematic review of household food waste practices and their policy implications. Journal of cleaner production, 182, 978-991.
  • Tokiwa, Y., Calabia, B. P., Ugwu, C. U., & Aiba, S. (2009). Biodegradability of plastics. International journal of molecular sciences, 10(9), 3722-3742.
  • Souza, V. G. L., & Fernando, A. L. (2016). Nanoparticles in food packaging: Biodegradability and potential migration to food—A review. Food Packaging and Shelf Life, 8, 63-70.

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