Is chemical waste biodegradable? (9 examples) 

This article will unveil the biodegradability status of chemical waste. Other topics covered would include:

  • What is chemical waste?
  • How can chemical waste be disposed of?
  • What is biodegradation?
  • What are the effects of non-biodegradable and chemical waste?
  • FAQs

Is chemical waste biodegradable?

No, chemical waste is not biodegradable. For a material to be biodegradable, it must be made from natural sources such as plants or animals. 

However, chemical waste is mostly synthesised in the labs at the expense of non-renewable resources and products. 

Therefore, it can be concluded that chemical waste is not biodegradable. Rather it may require hundreds of years to degrade. 

What is chemical waste? (9 examples) 

Chemical waste is a type of waste that poses serious, hazardous threats to the environment and human health. Chemical waste can be solid, liquid, or gas. 

The bridge that must be rifted between the presence of chemical waste and its impact on the environment and life is the fact of how the waste is disposed of. 

If waste is disposed of rightly, then it will ensure that there are no negative impacts of the waste on the environment. 

However, if waste is not disposed of correctly, it will not only lead to pollution and contamination but will also cause life at risk. 

A common example of chemical waste can be that of gases such as hydrogen sulphide or sulphur dioxide. When drywall mud is not disposed of properly, there is a release of these gases. 

These gases are responsible for land and aquatic degradation while also putting humans at risk of various diseases such as neuro complications, developmental issues, tumours, skin irritations et cetera. 

Common examples of chemical waste may include: 

  • Batteries 
  • Used oils
  • Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) 
  • Spent solvents
  • Materials that contain mercury 
  • Hazardous waste 
  • Computer equipment
  • Waste from pesticides 
  • Waste from paint 

Chemical waste is mostly sourced from man-made activities. That is because most industrial and synthetic processes make use of various chemicals to achieve the functions and utilitarian aspects of the products. 

Chemicals are also employed to ensure that consumer products are durable while also being cost-efficient. 

However, these social and industrial benefits come at the cost of the environment. As a result, the waste that is produced from chemicals may leach into waterways and soil and cause a plethora of environmental problems. 

For example, there is a process called eutrophication. It is caused when chemicals from detergents and washing powders enter waterways. This leads to algal blooms and as a result, the oxygen reserves of the water body are depleted. 

This leads to an effect on the natural ecosystem leading to the disruption and deterioration of the natural habitat. This is reciprocated at many levels of the food chain. 

How can chemical waste be disposed of?

It has been established that chemical waste may pose a serious threat to the environment and human health, therefore, it is incumbent that appropriate disposal methods are adopted in order to dispose of chemical waste. 

Chemical waste can be in any form be it solid, liquid, or gaseous form. However, there are certain considerations that are needed to be mindful of in order to ensure that chemical waste does not cause any direct and severe harm to life or the environment. 

One of the measures that need to be mindful of is the consideration that chemical waste must never be mixed with other types of waste. The primary reason is that different wastes are dealt with in different ways based on their impact on the environment. 

For example, paper waste or rotten fruits are not that hazardous to the environment and therefore such is not dealt with that severity as is the case of chemical waste. 

If chemical waste is mixed with, let’s say, rotten fruits, then chances are life and the environment will be exposed to the negative, detrimental, and deteriorative effects of chemical waste. 

Another factor that one must be mindful of is the idea of proper labelling. Many waste management authorities deem it incumbent that chemical waste must be labelled properly so that it can be treated that way. 

Along with labels, required information such as the type of chemical waste or the date of production must also be provided so that waste management authorities may act accordingly and undergo the required precautions to make sure that chemical waste poses no harm to life or the environment. 

It already has been mentioned that chemical waste must not be mixed with other types of waste. Usually, there are three colours allocated to dustbins. Chemical waste must be disposed of in red coloured dustbins because it is very likely that chemical waste will be hazardous in nature. 

Another important consideration that one can not get oblivious of is that chemical waste must be stored and kept in safe containers. The containers must be made from durable materials, preferably plastics such as PP or LDPE because these containers will be resistant to chemicals. 

If chemical waste is not stored in apt containers then chances are that the waste will leach out into the environment or atmosphere and cause harm to the environment and life. 

What is biodegradation?

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 are the effects of non-biodegradable waste?

This section will cover the impacts and effects rendered by non-biodegradable waste. This will also plead for the case of importance and urgency of biodegradable waste. 

The biggest harm that is caused by non-biodegradable waste is the fact that it adds to waste generation and waste accumulation. When waste is accumulated and generated in excess amounts, it leads to the decapacitation of waste management systems.

If we are not able to properly manage and segregate waste, then their impacts will be translated and reciprocated in every aspect, domain, and level of life and the environment. 

This is mainly because the waste will cause pollution and environmental degradation. The effects of waste on animals and humans can also not be ignored. 

To further assert this, consider the case of non-biodegradable plastics. Plastic waste is regarded as non-biodegradable. Even though there are many measures taken to ensure that plastic waste is either reused or disposed of properly; regardless of it, plastic waste affects more than 700 species on land. 

Now imagine what will happen if those preventive measures fail. The whole world will be faced with an irreversible catastrophe. The accumulated waste will make the whole Earth a huge dustbin. 

Another major impact that is caused and rendered by non-biodegradable waste is the emissions of greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane, ethylene, SOx, and NOx are responsible for a plethora of environmental anomalies. 

When non-biodegradable waste is produced and processed, there is the usage of non-renewable resources and products from fossil fuels. This leads to the burning of fossil fuels that adds GHGs to the environment. 

The most catastrophic effect rendered by the GHGs is the phenomenon of global warming. Global warming leads to another set of various environmental problems such as:

  • Melting of glaciers
  • Rising sea levels
  • Increased global temperatures
  • Unforeseen weather patterns
  • Floods
  • Droughts
  • Deforestation
  • Pollution
  • Disruption of ecosystems
  • Destruction of habitats
  • Loss of life
  • Endangerment of species 
  • Infiltrations into the food chains 
  • Degradation of air quality
  • Smog 
  • Acid rains 
  • Acidification of water bodies
  • Damage to crops
  • Infertility of soil
  • Waste wastage 

The effects of non-biodegradable waste, such as chemical waste, are not just limited to animal species and the environment. Humans are also directly and immensely impacted by the occurrence of non-biodegradable waste. 

Non-biodegradable waste is responsible for a plethora of human-related problems and diseases. Some of them can be mentioned as an example:

  • Cancer
  • Neuro complications
  • Neuro toxicity 
  • Developmental issues
  • Hormone disruption
  • Damage to children
  • Lung cancer 
  • Skin problems 
  • Nephrological complications 
  • Autism
  • Infertility 
  • Behavioural problems 

Is chemical waste biodegradable?

Based on the studied literature and provided details it can very easily be stanced that chemical waste is not biodegradable. 

For a material to be biodegradable, it must be made from natural sources such as plants or animals. 

However, chemical waste is mostly synthesised in the labs at the expense of non-renewable resources and products. 

Therefore, it can be concluded that chemical waste is not biodegradable. Rather it may require hundreds of years to degrade. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Is chemical waste biodegradable?

How much time does non-biodegradable waste take to degrade?

Non-biodegradable waste may require hundreds of years to degrade. For example, LDPE (a plastic) may degrade in about 500 years. 

Can chemical waste be recycled?

Yes, there is a possibility that chemical waste can be recycled. This can save the environment from the detrimental impacts of chemical waste. 

References

  • Dunne, M., Lawton, J., Raphael, B., & Burnett, P. (1990). The health effects of chemical waste in an urban community. Medical Journal of Australia, 152(11), 592-597.
  • Thomas, J. M., Skalski, J. R., Cline, J. F., McShane, M. C., Simpson, J. C., Miller, W. E., … & Greene, J. C. (1986). Characterization of chemical waste site contamination and determination of its extent using bioassays. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry: An International Journal, 5(5), 487-501.
  • Ghisalba, O., Cevey, P., Küenzi, M., & Schär, H. P. (1985). Biodegradation of chemical waste by specialized methylotrophs, an alternative to physical methods of waste disposal. Conservation & Recycling, 8(1-2), 47-71.
  • He, X. T., Traina, S. J., & Logan, T. J. (1992). Chemical properties of municipal solid waste composts. Journal of environmental quality, 21(3), 318-329.
  • Grisham, J. W. (1986). Health Aspects of the Disposal of Waste Chemicals. Pergamon Press, Maxwell House, Fairview Park, Elmsford, NY 10523.
  • Ho, H. J., Iizuka, A., & Shibata, E. (2021). Chemical recycling and use of various types of concrete waste: A review. Journal of Cleaner Production, 284, 124785.

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