Is crumpled paper biodegradable? (7 examples of biodegradable waste) 

The article will detail the biodegradability of crumpled paper. Other elucidations put forward in the article are: 

  • What is crumpled paper made of?
  • How is paper made?
  • What is the environmental impact of paper?
  • Is crumpled paper biodegradable?
  • FAQs

Is crumpled paper biodegradable?

Crumpled paper is biodegradable because it is made from natural materials (trees). The microbes can easily degrade brown paper.  

Other than biodegradable, it is also possible to compost crumpled paper. Compost is dead organic matter which may be used as a natural fertiliser to improve the soil quality. 

As crumpled paper does not contain any harmful elements and is rich in organic content, it is very possible to compost brown paper. 

Paper may also be recycled to make new paper, thus leading to better energy and waste management proclivities.

What is paper made of?

The materials that are used to make up any product or substance play a very important role in determining the overall impact of that product. 

For example, products made from natural materials are usually biodegradable and are linked to decreased environmental impact. 

However, if products are made from non-natural or synthetic sources, there will be greater impacts of those products on the environment and life. 

Therefore, this section will deal with the materials that are used in the making of paper because it will give an intellectual insight into the environmental impact of paper, while also shedding light on the biodegradability aspect of paper. 

Paper is made from wood pulp. Wood pulp is obtained from trees. Therefore, it can be assumed that paper is made from trees. 

You may wonder if there is any difference between paper and crumpled paper. Well, there is no stark difference between crumpled paper and simple, plain paper other than the outer form. 

The crumpling of the paper will render the paper in a deformed shape, but there will be no changes at the molecular or chemical level. 

The production of paper is only from plant sources. There are various chemicals that play an important role in the papermaking process. Proper insights into this aspect will be detailed in the coming sections of the article. 

Common examples of chemicals used in the paper-making process include ammonium sulphide and ammonium chloride. These chemicals are important in separating lignin and bark from cellulose, which improves the paper quality. 

Bleach may also be used to obtain the whiteness of the paper. If bleach is not used, we will get brown paper which is also regarded as kraft paper. 

How is paper made?

Paper is made from paper pulp. Plant-based materials are involved in the making of paper. Therefore, paper is regarded to have minimal impact on the environment and life, in general. 

The sources from where raw materials to make paper may be taken include birch, eucalyptus, aspen, pine, or larch. 

The making of paper is made in consideration of various considerations. For example, the wood pulp may contain bark and lignin. 

The making of paper is done by the successful removal of bark and lignin, because otherwise the functional uses of paper may not be achieved. 

This is done at the expense of various chemicals like sodium sulphide and sodium hydroxide. These chemicals separate the wood pulp from unwanted materials involving bark and lignin. 

However, it may be stated that brown paper has higher amounts of lignin as compared to normal white paper because it is stronger and more durable.

The bark removal may also be done at the expense of mechanical force by machinery. However, this will be done at the expense of the emission of GHGs.

The paper produced after the mechanical removal of bark is termed groundwood paper while the product achieved after the chemical removal is called black liquor. While the former depends on force, the latter depends on temperature and chemicals. 

There are usually 3-4 steps that are adopted mechanically for the paper-making process. These processes may be: 

  • Wet end
  • Wet press section 
  • Dryer section 
  • Calender section 

The first process involves the mixing of paper with water and other fillers, as the name of the process also suggests. This is then followed by the wet press section where the pulp moves on a felt belt. 

The next step is the dryer section which dries the mixture from the pulp. At this stage, the pulp is very much in paper form. Lastly, we have a calendar section that is responsible for giving a smooth finish to the paper using pressure. 

You must be wondering where the protective layer is added in this whole process. As per the deliberations, the synthetic materials, coating and layers are added between the wet and dry processes of the paper-making process. 

As it can be seen, the paper-making process is energy-consumptive and there is high use of chemicals (to separate lignin and bark). Therefore, it is important that sustainability must be run through these processes otherwise, paper production will do more harm than good.

What is the environmental impact of crumpled paper?

It is usually perceived that products and materials made from natural sources will have no impact on the environment. However, this statement is quite distant from the actual reality. 

The primary reason is that every consumer product will have some impact on the environment. Consumer products are made from raw materials at the expense of energy and leaving behind waste. All these factors impact our environment. 

Crumpled paper is made from trees and this means that there will be cutting of trees. It is already suggested that human activities have resulted in a 50% decreased tree count. 

Trees are essential entities that save us from environmental anomalies and play their part in the sustainability and maintaining the greenness of the environment.

If there will be excessive tree cutting, there will be negative impacts on the environment including soil erosion, destruction of habitats, and disruption of ecosystems. Trees are the primary producers. They are the starting points of food webs and food chains. 

If trees are cut in grave amounts, there will be effects reciprocated at various levels of food chains. 

The production of paper also is energy and water consumptive. This leads to the emissions of GHGs which may cause global warming and other environment-related anomalies. The various impact and effects caused by global warming can be summarised in the following points: 

  • Rising sea levels
  • Soil erosion
  • Deforestation
  • Disruption of ecosystems 
  • Pollution
  • Psychological impacts
  • Ozone depletion 
  • Skin & eyes diseases 

Therefore, it is incumbent that paper manufacture is made in line with concepts of sustainability by cutting trees from controlled environments and making use of renewable resources rather than non-renewable resources. 

Is crumpled paper biodegradable? (7 examples of biodegradable waste) 

In order to better understand the biodegradability status of crumpled paper, it is essential to have apt insight into the context and content of biodegradability. 

Biodegradability is the breakdown of waste by the action of microbes. These microbes can be bacteria, fungi, decomposers, algae, and even protozoa. These microbes ensure that the waste generated does not accumulate and gets back to the system of life. 

If there is waste accumulation, there will be negative effects that waste accumulation which will impact all areas of our life. 

The time taken for a product or substance to biodegrade depends on the type of material and the external conditions. 

Based on biodegradability, there is a classification of waste. Waste may either be biodegradable or non-biodegradable. 

Not all waste can be degraded by the action of microbes. Most of the waste that is from synthetic materials produced at the expense of chemicals and human innovation is not biodegradable. 

Based on biodegradability, waste may be segregated into two classes: 

  • Biodegradable waste
  • Non-biodegradable waste 

Examples of biodegradable waste include plant-based material, animal waste, manure, sewage, bioplastics, natural fabrics like cotton, wool, and silk. 

Examples of non-biodegradable waste include synthetic resin, synthetic fabrics (acrylic fabric, polyester), synthetic polymers (PET, LDPE, HDPE, PC, PA), and synthetic chemicals like DDT. 

These materials may take from a few hundred years to a thousand years to degrade. While they persist, they cause a plethora of problems to the environment and life. Examples of biodegradable waste may include plant waste, animal waste, manure et cetera. 

The impact of biodegradable waste on the environment is very less compared to non-biodegradable waste. 

In light of the given literature, it can be asserted that crumpled paper is biodegradable because it is made from a natural source (cellulose from trees). Microbes may degrade crumpled paper in about two to six weeks. 

Crumpled paper may also be recycled and composted. Compost is dead organic matter which may be used as a natural fertiliser. Natural fertiliser is a green alternative to synthetic fertilisers that have negative impacts on the environment and life. 

Conclusion 

Crumpled paper is biodegradable because it is made from natural materials (trees). The microbes can easily degrade brown paper.  

Other than biodegradable, it is also possible to compost crumpled paper. Compost is dead organic matter which may be used as a natural fertiliser to improve the soil quality. 

As crumpled paper does not contain any harmful elements and is rich in organic content, it is very possible to compost brown paper. 

Paper may also be recycled to make new paper, thus leading to better energy and waste management proclivities. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Is crumpled paper biodegradable?

Does crumpled paper go through a chemical change?

No, the crumpling of paper is a physical change and not a chemical or molecular change. 

How much time does the paper take to degrade?

Crumpled paper may degrade in 2-6 weeks. However, it is better to recycle paper instead of biodegradation. 

References

  • Pommier, S., Llamas, A. M., & Lefebvre, X. (2010). Analysis of the outcome of shredding pretreatment on the anaerobic biodegradability of paper and cardboard materials. Bioresource Technology, 101(2), 463-468.
  • Vikman, M., Vartiainen, J., Tsitko, I., & Korhonen, P. (2015). Biodegradability and compostability of nano fibrillar cellulose-based products. Journal of Polymers and the Environment, 23(2), 206-215.
  • Merrild, H., Damgaard, A., & Christensen, T. H. (2009). Recycling of paper: accounting of greenhouse gases and global warming contributions. Waste Management & Research, 27(8), 746-753.
  • Laurijssen, J., Marsidi, M., Westenbroek, A., Worrell, E., & Faaij, A. (2010). Paper and biomass for energy?: The impact of paper recycling on energy and CO2 emissions. Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 54(12), 1208-1218.
  • Change, P. C. (2018). Global warming of 1.5° C. World Meteorological Organization: Geneva, Switzerland.

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