Is Amber biodegradable? (7 environmental effects of illegal mining of amber)

This article will answer the question, “Is amber biodegradable?” Other covered aspects that would be shed light on are: 

  • What is the biodegradability status of amber?
  • Why is amber termed fossil resin?
  • Is amber harmful to the environment?
  • Can amber be composted?
  • FAQs

Is Amber biodegradable?

Yes, amber is biodegradable because it is a natural resin that is often called fossil resin. Amber is primarily made from a non-crystalline mixture of organic compounds such as hydrocarbons.

Biodegradability is the breakdown of waste by the action of microbes. It is nature’s way of ensuring that waste does not accumulate in the system. 

Amber itself is not harmful to the environment because it is a natural resin, but the illegal mining of amber has negative and annihilative effects on the environment such as soil erosion, deforestation, increased carbon emissions et cetera. 

Theoretically, amber is a natural resin and natural resins can be composted. However, since amber is an extremely liked material, it is very unlikely that it will be composted. 

What is the biodegradability status of amber?

The main focus of the article is to figure out the biodegradability status of amber. Amber can be explained as a fossilised tree resin. It is biodegradable. 

Biodegradability is explained as a process in which waste is broken down into simpler materials by the action of microbes. 

These microbes include bacteria, fungi, algae, protozoa et cetera. The microbes break down the waste so that it may become a part of the system again. 

Biodegradability is important because if there is no biodegradability, there will be waste accumulation. The accumulated waste will cause pollution and environmental issues. 

Other than microbes, there are also some external factors that facilitate the biodegradation process. These include temperature, pressure, and aeration. 

There is a general understanding about biodegradability that natural material is more prone to be degraded by microbes as compared to non-natural materials. 

This is mainly because natural materials have nutritional content that is in the interest of microbes. Also natural waste is comparatively less complex as per the dictionary of microbes. 

Therefore, waste from natural sources may degrade readily either in a week or a few months. However, this is exactly the opposite of the case of non-biodegradable materials. 

The microbes do not find any nutritional content and also the structures of synthetic material are too complex to be broken down by microbes. As a result, non-natural materials such as plastics and synthetic resins remain in the environment for hundreds of years. 

Based on these details, it can be seen why amber is biodegradable. The primary reason why amber is biodegradable is that it is a natural resin which may also be introduced as fossilised tree resin. 

Why is amber termed ‘fossil resin’ even though it is organic?

It is a common question that if amber is an organic material then why is it termed a fossilised product? 

This question has some validity because amber is a biodegradable material whereas fossil products are not biodegradable. 

The reason why amber is called a fossilised material is that it is a petrified substance, just like dinosaur bones. However, the main difference between amber and fossils is that it retains the chemical nature. 

That is the primary reason why amber is called a fossil resin. If you ever watched the Jurassic Park movie then you are already familiar with what amber is. 

The attractive stone in which mosquitoes were fossilised was actually amber. Amber has the capacity to preserve various specimens inside it. 

Owing to its retained chemical nature, many animals can be preserved inside of amber and may include animals as large as frogs, lizards, and salamanders. 

Therefore, it can be said, as it turns out, the Jurassic Park movie was not that fictional after all. The concept used in the movie was quite close to actual science. At Least till the aspect of fossilised mosquitoes inside amber. 

We also need to know what materials are present in amber. It also would help us better understand the role of amber in the environment. 

You can tell a lot about the environmental impact of something by analysing what it is made of. For example, let us take the case of textiles. 

There are two types of textiles. One is natural and the other is synthetic. Just because natural textiles are made from plant and animal sources, not only are these biodegradable, but their impact on the environment is also very less significant as compared to that of synthetic textiles. 

The case of amber, is made of tree resin material. This material primarily is a non-crystalline mixture of organic compounds such as hydrocarbons. 

Is amber harmful to the environment? (7 environmental effects of illegal mining of amber)

Amber itself is not harmful to the environment in any way but there are various channels through which the existence of amber has become a source of environmental degradation. One such channel is the illegal mining of amber. 

Amber is regarded as an extremely beautiful and catchy gemstone. Although it is not a gemstone, a natural resin in actuality. However, when amber is polished, it shines and beams like a gem. 

It is for this reason that the ancient Greeks called amber an Elektron which meant beaming sun. Because of these properties, amber is highly liked and wanted by people who love jewellery.

However, this liking has also resulted in the illegal mining of amber. The illegal mining of amber is done without any consideration for environmental gains or interests. 

As a result, the illegal mining of amber results in many environmental anomalies. These include:

  • Soil erosion
  • Deforestation
  • Loss of habitat 
  • Environmental degradation
  • Increased carbon emissions 
  • Water wastage
  • Air pollution 

When amber is illegally mined, trees are cut without any measure or consideration of the environment. The principle is that when trees are cut, new trees must be planted so that future generations may not suffer. 

This is exactly what the principles of sustainability are. To use the present resources in a way that future use is not affected greatly. 

However, the illegal mining of amber is not done like this. As a result, there is an unchecked and massive cutting of trees. These cutting of trees has a number of degradative impacts on the environment. 

Trees are very important for our planet. They are the primary producers and that means that all the aspects of food chains are directly dependent on trees. 

When trees are cut in unsustainable manners, the results are sure to be reciprocated at other levels of the food chain. As a result, there is a disruption of habitats and food cycles. 

Another important application of trees is that they are a source of habitats. A lot of species live on trees. When trees are cut, their habitats are destroyed and their life is endangered.

Trees, through the process of photosynthesis, remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and provide oxygen. This is called atmospheric cleansing. 

Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas which is responsible for the global rise in temperature. This phenomenon is termed global warming. 

Global warming is the rise in the overall temperature of the globe. This also has serious repercussions that include:

  • Melting of glaciers
  • Rising sea levels
  • Deforestation 
  • Pollution
  • Acid rain 
  • Disruption in ecosystem
  • Floods
  • Droughts
  • Unprecedented weather patterns
  • Economic loss
  • Loss of life
  • Species endangerment 

Can amber be composted?

It is often asked if amber can be composted. Owing to the fact that amber is a natural resin, it is possible to compost amber. 

Composting can be defined as the process of making compost from biodegradable waste. The result of composting is compost which may be defined as dead organic matter. Compost may be used as a natural fertiliser that may be a source to improve and augment the organic content of the soil. 

However, the process of composting is not that simple. There are certain conditions that have to be met before any material can be composted. As a matter of fact, these very conditions create a difference between biodegradability and composting. Otherwise, both processes are quite similar in nature. 

The necessary prerequisites of composting include: 

  • The product must be biodegradable
  • The product must be non-toxic
  • The product must be rich in organic content
  • The product must not emit harmful fumes
  • The product must not damage the natural order (flora and fauna)

When amber is composted, there may be the following advantages:

  • Increase in organic content of the soil
  • Improvement in soil fertility 
  • Increase in the water retention ability of the soil 
  • Promotion of plant and crops growth 
  • Conservation of water
  • Economical benefits 
  • Flourishing biodiversity

It must be mentioned here that when natural resin such as amber is composted, the effects of illegal mining of amber can be undone to varying extents. 

However, since amber is an extremely liked and precious material, it is very unlikely that anyone will opt for the composting of amber. 

Regardless of it, a stance can be understood on the composting possibility of natural resin through this section. 

Conclusion 

It is concluded that amber is a natural resin that is often called fossil resin. Amber is primarily made from a non-crystalline mixture of organic compounds such as hydrocarbons.

Biodegradability is the breakdown of waste by the action of microbes. It is nature’s way of ensuring that waste does not accumulate in the system. 

Amber itself is not harmful to the environment because it is a natural resin, but the illegal mining of amber has negative and annihilative effects on the environment such as soil erosion, deforestation, increased carbon emissions et cetera. 

Theoretically, amber is a natural resin and natural resins can be composted. However, since amber is an extremely liked material, it is very unlikely that it will be composted. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Is Amber biodegradable?

Is amber toxic?

No, amber is non-toxic in nature. However, careless use such as ingestion et cetera may cause medical complications. 

Is amber natural?

Yes, amber is a natural resin. It is called fossil resin because it can preserve specimens such as mosquitoes or lizards. This happens because its chemical composition does not change over time. 

Does amber release any chemicals?

Yes, amber may release succinic acid when amber beads are heated. This succinic acid is called a natural pain reliever. 

References

  • Mills, J. S., & White, R. (1977). Natural resins of art and archaeology their sources, chemistry, and identification. Studies in conservation, 22(1), 12-31.
  • Labandeira, C. C. (2014). Amber. In Reading and Writing of the Fossil Record: Preservational Pathways to Exceptional Fossilization: Presented as a Paleontological Society Short Course at the Annual Meeting of the Geological Society of America, Vancouver, British Columbia, October 18, 2014. Paleontological Society.
  • Langenheim, J. H. (1969). Amber: A Botanical Inquiry: Amber provides an evolutionary framework for interdisciplinary studies of resin-secreting plants. Science, 163(3872), 1157-1169.
  • Korniyenko, V. Y., Malanchuk, E. Z., Soroka, V. S., & Khrystyuk, A. O. (2018). Analysis of the existent technologies of amber mining. Resources and resource-saving technologies in mineral mining and processing, 209, 232.
  • Myroniuk, V., Bilous, A., Khan, Y., Terentiev, A., Kravets, P., Kovalevskyi, S., & See, L. (2020). Tracking rates of forest disturbance and associated carbon loss in areas of illegal amber mining in Ukraine using landsat time series. Remote Sensing, 12(14), 2235.

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