Is diatomaceous earth biodegradable?  (15 applications of diatomaceous earth) 

In this article, the following topics and aspects will be shed light upon: 

  • What is diatomaceous earth?
  • What are the applications of diatomaceous earth?
  • What is diatomaceous earth made of?
  • What is biodegradability?
  • What are the examples of biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste?
  • Is diatomaceous earth biodegradable?
  • How can diatomaceous earth be problematic?
  • FAQs

Is diatomaceous earth biodegradable?

Yes, diatomaceous earth is biodegradable. Diatomaceous earth is found in fossilised algae sediments, found all over the world. It chiefly contains silica which is an integral and prevalent part of the earth’s crust and also of sand, stones and oil. 

Since it is composed of natural materials, diatomaceous earth is biodegradable. It also offers many other advantages such as uses in the food, medicinal, beverage, and pharmaceutical industries. It is also an effective insecticide. The use of diatomaceous earth as a compost deodorant also stood out. 

However, the use of diatomaceous earth is also linked to some medical complications and anomalies linked to its insecticide properties which need to be mindful. 

What is diatomaceous earth?

Before any stance can be constructed on the biodegradability of diatomaceous earth, it is important to know what diatomaceous earth is in the first place. Rummaging the composition of diatomaceous earth is also very important in determining whether it is harmful or harmless, inert or innately toxic. 

Diatomaceous earth can be explained as a powder that is rich in silica. The source of diatomaceous earth is fossilised algae sediments that are found all over the world. Since algae also contain high amounts of silica, its fossilised sediments are also rich in silica. 

It is estimated that more than 80% of diatomaceous earth is composed of silica. At this point, it may be important to pause for a while and clarify what silica is. 

Silica is structurally made from silicon and oxygen atoms. It is also termed silicon dioxide because of its composition and is an integral part of the earth’s crust. It is found in sand, stone and various oils other than the mentioned source of silicon dioxide. 

The uses of silicon dioxide are perhaps as versatile as the appearance or occurrence of silica, as it is found in many parts of the world and is a prevalent element of the earth’s crust. 

Silica may be used in the food industry, beverage industry, construction and also in the medicinal and pharmaceutical industry. 

Now, coming back to the topic of diatomaceous earth, it is stated that since diatomaceous earth is mostly made from silica, the uses and applications of diatomaceous earth are also expected to be as versatile as that of silica. 

It is claimed that diatomaceous earth is also used in the medicinal and pharmaceutical industries.  It may be used for the treatment of cholesterol, and constipation. It may also give a good boost to the health of hair, skin and teeth. 

Diatomaceous earth is also used in the food and beverage industry where it may be used as an additive or to purify drinking water. As expressed, the uses and applications of diatomaceous earth are quite versatile and will be covered in greater detail. 

What are the applications of diatomaceous earth? (15 applications of diatomaceous earth) 

Diatomaceous earth is made from silica which is otherwise known as silicon dioxide. That is why, there are a number of applications of diatomaceous earth that may adhere to multiple industries. These may be: 

  • The use of diatomaceous earth is linked with the reduction of cholesterol level
  • The use of diatomaceous earth is associated with the purification of water
  • Diatomaceous earth may be  used as an additive in the food industry 
  • Diatomaceous earth may be used in the beverage industry 
  • Diatomaceous earth may be used to treat constipation
  • Diatomaceous earth may be used to treat piles 
  • Diatomaceous earth can be used to clean teeth 
  • Diatomaceous earth removes dead skin cells
  • Diatomaceous earth is an abundant source of silica 
  • Diatomaceous earth may be used as a natural insecticide because it can kill insects 
  • Diatomaceous earth may promote skin health 
  • Diatomaceous earth may promote hair health 
  • Diatomaceous earth may be used as a dough modifier 
  • Diatomaceous earth can be used as an anti-foaming agent 
  • It is used as an insecticide 

What is diatomaceous earth made of?

The materials that make up a product have a lot to tell about the nature of that product. For example, if a product is made from natural substances then chances are that the product is safe for the environment and human health. 

Whereas, if a product is made from non-natural substances such as polymers or PET, then chances are that the product is not that great for the environment or life in general. 

Therefore, the analysis of what diatomaceous earth is made of will be elemental in determining the status of diatomaceous earth in terms of biodegradability and eco-friendliness. 

It is studied that diatomaceous earth is mostly made of silicon dioxide. Silicon dioxide is also called silica. Silica is a prevalent element of the earth’s crust and is found in many portions of the world. The silica that makes up diatomaceous earth is sourced from algae fossilised sediments. 

It may be plausible that algae are naturally occurring organisms that are both photosynthetic and eukaryotic. Algae are not harmful to both the environment and life in general. 

Silica, which is the major constituent of diatomaceous earth, is also found in oil, sand and stones. Since it is found in nature, it can be assumed that diatomaceous earth is of good value. The applications of diatomaceous earth have already been shed light upon. 

What is biodegradability?

The understanding of biodegradability is important in determining whether diatomaceous earth is biodegradable or not. 

Biodegradability, as the name implies, is the degradation that is brought about by the action of microbes. Microbes such as bacteria, fungi, viruses, and decomposers have the ability to degrade the structure of complex materials. 

As a result, these complex materials become a part of nature again by being broken down into simpler materials. 

The concept and the process of biodegradability are important because it is the Earth’s own way of dealing with waste. It can be called a natural dustbin. 

If there is no biodegradability, there will be waste accumulation and toxicity. This waste will pollute nature and will disrupt every natural process. 

Biodegradability is mostly suited for natural substances such as plant-based products, animal-based products, waste from crops et cetera. The structures of these natural products align them with the degradative capacity given off by microbes. 

However, biodegradability is not compatible with the non-natural products that may be synthesised in the lab. This is because microbes are unable to break down the structures of these products. 

As a result, these products may persist in the environment for a very long time. Examples of these products include plastics, polymers, electronic waste, nuclear waste, waste from hospitals, hazardous waste et cetera. 

To further assert the importance of biodegradability, let us explore some of the detrimental impacts of non-biodegradable products on health and the environment. These include: 

  • Global warming
  • Deforestation 
  • Pollution
  • Loss of life
  • Habitat destruction
  • Infiltration into the food chains
  • Loss of land 
  • Species endangerment 
  • Soil erosion 
  • Decreased yield 
  • Destruction of ecosystems 

That is why we need biodegradable products more than ever because already unsustainable amounts of waste are generated (more than 2 billion tons). If this waste is not degradable, it will have irreversible effects on life and the environment. 

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: 

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

Is diatomaceous earth biodegradable?

In the light of discussed literature, it is possible now to build a stance on the biodegradability of diatomaceous earth. It is claimed that diatomaceous earth is biodegradable because it is found in nature and not synthesised in the lab. 

The trends with biodegradability have revealed that products that are synthesised in the lab such as PET or PVC can not be degraded by the action of microbes. As a result, they may persist in nature for a thousand years. 

However, substances such as diatomaceous earth can be degraded by the action of microbes and do not persist in the environment for a long time. Therefore, diatomaceous earth is considered biodegradable and safe for the environment through this frame. 

Other than being biodegradable, diatomaceous earth also offers tons of advantages to the various industries and aspects related to humanity. 

How can diatomaceous earth be problematic? 

Although the biodegradability and applications of diatomaceous earth have been discussed in detail, let us explore what are some of the concerns anchored with the use of diatomaceous earth. 

It has been seen that diatomaceous earth is used extensively as an insecticide because of its ability to kill insects. This comes from the physical, glass-like structure of silica that eventually results in the death of insects. 

However, the problem with diatomaceous earth as an insecticide is that it is a broad-spectrum insecticide. This means that it will not discern between beneficial insects and pests and will be rather unequivocal in the pest-killing ability. This is bad because we only want to get rid of pests. 

Further, if diatomaceous earth is exposed to water or rain let’s say, then it means that it is of no use. You would have to use new diatomaceous earth for your applications. 

Although food-grade diatomaceous earth is considered non-toxic for human health; some studies have linked diatomaceous earth with medical complications such as lung problems, skin allergies, skin irritation and even skin cancer. 

Conclusion 

It is concluded that diatomaceous earth is found in fossilised algae sediments, found all over the world. It chiefly contains silica which is an integral and prevalent part of the earth’s crust and also of sand, stones and oil. 

Since it is composed of natural materials, diatomaceous earth is biodegradable. It also offers many other advantages such as uses in the food, medicinal, beverage, and pharmaceutical industries. It is also an effective insecticide. The use of diatomaceous earth as a compost deodorant also stood out. 

However, the use of diatomaceous earth is also linked to some medical complications and anomalies linked to its insecticide properties which need to be mindful. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Is diatomaceous earth biodegradable?

Is diatomaceous earth safe for gardening?

Yes, it can be used in organic pest control. However, it is important to be wary because diatomaceous earth is a broad-spectrum insecticide and may harm beneficial insects as well. 

Is diatomaceous earth safe to eat? 

Yes, food-grade diatomaceous earth is safe to be consumed.  

References 

  • Shah, M. A., & Khan, A. A. (2014). Use of diatomaceous earth for the management of stored-product pests. International journal of pest management, 60(2), 100-113.
  • Quarles, W. (1992). Diatomaceous earth for pest control. IPM practitioner, 14(5/6), 1-11.
  • Sonesson, U., Björklund, A., Carlsson, M., & Dalemo, M. (2000). Environmental and economic analysis of management systems for biodegradable waste. Resources, conservation and recycling, 28(1-2), 29-53.

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