Is duct tape biodegradable? (3 layers of duct tapes) 

In this article, it shall be explored whether duct tapes are biodegradable or not. Other details covered in this article are: 

  • What is duct tape?
  • What is duct tape made of?
  • What is biodegradation?
  • Why should duct tape be biodegradable?
  • What are the various sources to make duct tape?
  • Is duct tape harmful to the environment?
  • FAQs

Is duct tape biodegradable?

Duct tape usually is not biodegradable. Duct tapes can be made from both natural and non-natural sources. If duct tapes are made from natural sources like plant-based materials, duct tapes can be biodegradable. 

However, in the majority of cases, the raw materials used to make duct tapes source from non-natural sources like plastics. This makes duct tapes both non-biodegradable and harmful to the environment. 

The non-biodegradable duct tapes may persist in the environment for many years which will cause harm to both the environment and life in general. Whereas, the biodegradable duct tape may degrade in 1-3 months.

What is duct tape?

To be able to understand the science behind duct tape being biodegradable or not, you need to first know what duct tape is in the first place. 

Duct tape is a long-lasting adhesive which is applied in a number of ways both indoor and outdoor. The water resistance and good strength of duct tape earn it the badge of being versatile and extensively used. 

Duct tape is strong enough to be applied to indoor and outdoor spaces, given its adhesive properties, but duct tape can also be torn by hand. This rather unique property of duct tape comes from the internal structure of duct tape. 

There are two components that form the edifice of any duct tape. These include the type of adhesive used and also the strength of cloth backing. 

These two edifices are also responsible for determining the grade of duct tape. Duct tape may come in various grades depending upon the required function. For example, an industrial or commercial setting would require a higher grade duct tape as compared to a domestic setup. 

The history of duct tape dates back to the second world war; however, the purpose of duct tape back then was quite restricted as it is now. Back then it was only used as a waterproof safe for ammunition but now its purposes expand to many areas. 

What is duct tape made of? (Three layers of duct tape)

The understanding of materials with which duct tape is made while also getting a good insight into the chemistry of those materials is fundamental to knowing the reality of duct tape in turns of biodegradability. 

It is explained that duct tape is made from three layers. Each layer is made from a particular material. These materials include: 

  • Plastic (Polythene) 
  • Fabric 
  • Rubber based glue 

It is explained that duct tape is usually made from some raw materials. These raw materials may include: 

  • Cardboard roll
  • Scrim fibres
  • Polyethylene resin
  • Adhesive coating

It is further stated that these raw materials have specific purposes pertaining to the overall function of the duct tape. However, the materials can be sourced from both natural and synthetic sources. 

The cardboard roll gives the surface on which duct tape is wrapped. The scrim fibres give the duct tape its fabric screen. Polyethylene resin is responsible for the strength of duct tape whereas adhesives give off the sticky feature to duct tape. 

What is biodegradability? 

Biodegradability is the process through which complex substances are broken down into simpler substances by the action of microbes. The microbes can be fungi, bacteria and other decomposers. 

This degradation is important because it is the Earth’s natural way of dealing with waste. The simpler substances produced as a result of the biodegradation process become a part of nature again, hence, leaving away no waste. 

Biodegradability can be analogised as the Earth’s dustbin because this is how waste is discarded in nature. 

The general approach related to biodegradability is that natural materials are readily biodegradable within a few months and hence cause no harm to the environment. 

Examples of such substances can be cotton, rubber, animal-based material, or plant-based material. The inner structure of these substances gel well with the degradative nature of microbes and hence simplifying complex substances to become a part of nature again. 

Whereas natural substances are easily biodegradable, man-made substances are linked to being not compatible with nature’s way of discarding waste. This is because the inner structure of such material at the molecular level makes them unfit for microbes to degrade. 

An example of such materials can be plastics. These plastics are polymers that are man-made. Their complex structures do not gel well with nature’s degradative capacity and hence they remain in the environment for a very long time. 

Why should duct tape be biodegradable?

You must be wondering why duct tape should be biodegradable. As an answer to this, consider the following analogy. 

Imagine that you live in a residential building. The waste of this building is collected daily by the waste management authority. For some reason, the waste truck does not come for a few days. What do you think will happen? 

The waste bins will get flooded with waste and will pollute the environment nearby. Now consider that the waste trucks do not come for more than 400 hundred years. The place will become non-livable, right? 

The same is the case for the earth and biodegradability. If the non-biodegradable waste is accumulated in unsustainable amounts, it will pollute the earth beyond saving and reversion making it inhabitable not only for humans but other species as well.

Therefore, this check of whether a material is biodegradable or not is essential not only for the present but also for the future, given the pretext of sustainability. 

If a material, let’s say duct tape, is not biodegradable it will not only cause harm to the environment but also to life in general. The effects of non-biodegradable material stretch far off to countless aspects of life and the environment. 

A good example can be that of plastics. Plastics are non-biodegradable materials that cause many effects on the environment such as pollution, species endangerment, loss of life and deterioration of natural resources. 

Among the health impacts, there are skin and eye irritation, neurological complexities, reproductive dysfunctions and even cancers. 

Is duct tape biodegradable? 

Given the pretext of what duct tape is and a fair introduction to the science of biodegradability, let us move to the major question that is whether duct tape is biodegradable or not. 

It has been explored that major raw materials used to make duct tapes are adhesives, fibres, resins and cardboard roll. These substances are linked to individual roles of duct tape. 

It is explored through literature that these substances can be obtained from both natural and synthetic sources. We already know that natural materials are biodegradable whereas, synthetic materials are not biodegradable. 

Given this, it can be asserted and proposed that duct tapes can be both biodegradable and non-biodegradable given the source they are made from. 

If duct tapes are made from a natural material, they are biodegradable and will degrade in a matter of months. 

Whereas, if duct tapes are made from synthetic materials, these materials will not be compatible with the natural system of degradation and hence, these duct tapes will persist in the environment for many years causing harm to life and the environment. 

What are the various sources of materials used for duct tape?

In this section, the raw materials used for the making of duct tapes will be assessed. A particular focus will be done on the natural and non-natural sources of these raw materials. 

Starting off with adhesives, these may source from plant-based materials like rubber or may also source from synthetic materials like isoprene, styrene et cetera. 

These synthetic sources of adhesives are made in laboratories and industries and are not biodegradable and may take many years to biodegrade. Even after that, they may cause the release of toxic material and gases to the environment. 

Next, we have scrim fibres. These fibres can also source from both natural and non-natural sources. Natural sources may include plant-based materials like cotton. It is known that cotton is a naturally occurring plant-based material which can be degraded in a few months. 

However, the fibres can also be made from polyester which is not natural but rather man-made. These fibres are known to persist in environments for longer durations of time. 

In some cases, duct tape can also be made from a mixture of cotton and polyester. In other words a blend of natural and synthetic to achieve the desired qualities. In this case, the natural part (cotton) will degrade earlier leaving behind the non-natural part which will persist. 

Polyethylene resin is a synthetic material that is non-biodegradable. Polyethylene resin is responsible for providing strength and character to duct tapes so that they can be used as multipurpose adhesive tapes. 

However, despite being of good functional value, these resins are not of good environmental value. This is because they are non-biodegradable and will persist in the environment for a long time. 

Lastly, we have cardboard rolls. This roll is made from naturally occurring materials including paper pulp. Since it is natural, cardboard roll is biodegradable and will not cause any harm to the environment. 

Is duct tape harmful to the environment?

After covering the biodegradability aspect of duct tapes, let us focus on whether duct tapes are harmful to the environment or not. 

It has already been established that duct tapes can be made from both natural and non-natural sources. It is logical to proceed that duct tapes made from natural sources such as plants will not be harmful to the environment. 

Whereas, on the other hand, duct tapes made from non-natural sources such as polymers et cetera will cause harm to life and the environment. 

Besides that, the polyethylene resin used in duct tape is made from synthetic material and is non-biodegradable, regardless.

Therefore, it is more a question of which source is more used to make duct tape (natural or non-natural) 

As per research, it is excavated that the non-natural sources are more used to make duct tapes leading us to the final conclusion that duct tapes are indeed harmful to the environment. 

Conclusion: 

It is concluded that duct tapes can be made from both natural and non-natural sources. Mostly, non-natural sources are employed and hence duct tapes are usually non-biodegradable. 

The various sources of duct tapes were also discussed and the role of duct tape in the environment was also concluded. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Is duct tape biodegradable?

How long does it take for duct tape to biodegrade?

If duct tape is sourced from a natural material, it will biodegrade in a few months (1-3). Otherwise, it will take many years for duct tape to degrade leading to stress on the environment. 

Can duct tape be recycled?

Duct tape is made from 4 raw materials. These raw materials in isolation may be recyclable (for example polyethylene resin can be recycled) but once duct tape is made it is not possible to isolate the raw materials. Hence, duct tape is not recyclable. 

References

  • Isidore, Chris. “U.S. Stuck on Duct Tape.” CNNMoney, Cable News Network, 13 Feb. 2003, money.cnn.com/2003/02/12/news/companies/ducttape/.
  • “Forensic Analysis and Discrimination of Duct Tapes.” Journal of the American Society of Trace Evidence Examiners, vol. 3, no. 1.
  • Mehltretter, Andria H., et al. “Variation in Duct Tape Products over Time: Physical Measurements and Adhesive Compositional Analysis by Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy.” Forensic Chemistry, vol. 4, June 2017, pp. 1–8., doi:10.1016/j.forc.2017.02.002.
  • (June 28, 2020). Is duct tape bad for the environment? Retrieved from: https://sageadvices.com/is-duct-tape-bad-for-environment/

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