Is everything biodegradable? (5 advantages and 3 disadvantages of biodegradation).

This article shall answer the question of whether everything is biodegradable.

It shall also cover other areas such as:

  • Biodegradation process.
  • Types of biodegradation.
  • Types of degradable materials.
  • Types of non-degradable materials.
  • Advantages and disadvantages of biodegradation.

Is everything biodegradable?

Scientifically, everything is biodegradable, the only difference is the time it takes for the biodegradation to happen.

But in actual reality, not everything is biodegradable.

Science can classify something as biodegradable but the time taken for its biodegradation can range from 500 to 1000 or even a million years.

A person’s average lifetime is 70 years. And so, anything that is disposed of and takes even more than 10 years to degrade should be considered non-biodegradable because we are trying to conserve our environment, so why would we consider a material that will outlive us as biodegradable?

What is biodegradation?

Biodegradation is the process by which natural organic materials are broken down into small particles, water, and carbon dioxide by microorganisms.

Some microorganisms produce methane instead of carbon dioxide, depending on the material broken down or their biological machinery.

The agents of biodegradation include:

  • Water.
  • Sunlight.
  • Temperature.
  • Bacteria.
  • Fungi.

Water.

This causes biodegradation by carrying the materials and causing mechanical breakdown.

Sunlight.

Some light wavelengths cause the mechanical breakdown of organic materials into smaller particles.

Temperature.

Temperature causes the expansion and contraction of organic materials.

This causes the material to experience stress which in return results in mechanical breakdown.

Bacteria.

Bacteria break down organic material through the process of respiration to form small particles which they use to acquire energy.

The most common and active bacteria include:

  • Pseudomonas.
  • Bacillus.
  • Mycobacteria.
  • Aspergillus.

Fungi.

They break down organic matter into small particles which they then assimilate into their body systems.

They include:

  • Yeasts.
  • Mushrooms
  • Molds.
  • Mildew.
  • Lichens.

Types of biodegradation.

Types of biodegradation include:

Aerobic biodegradation.

This entails bacteria and fungi breaking down organic matter by the use of oxygen.

The end products include water, carbon dioxide, small particles( small biomass), and energy.

This process is faster than anaerobic biodegradation.

Anaerobic biodegradation.

This entails the bacteria breaking down organic matter in the absence of oxygen.

The end products include water, methane gas, small particles ( small biomass), and energy.

This process is slower as compared to aerobic biodegradation although it is more efficient.

Steps of biodegradation.

Biodegradation occurs in three distinct steps:

  • Biodeterioration.
  • Bio-fragmentation.
  • Assimilation.

Biodeterioration.

This is the first stage of biodegradation.

Organic materials are mechanically broken down by light, water, and temperature into smaller particles that are easily acted upon by bacteria and fungi.

Bio-fragmentation.

This is the second stage of biodegradation.

Organic matter is broken down by bacteria and fungi, either aerobically or anaerobically.

Water, carbon dioxide, methane gas, energy, and small biomass are produced depending on the type of process.

Assimilation.

It’s the last stage of biodegradation.

Involves the uptake of biomass produced into the body system of the bacteria or fungi to be used in various biological processes.

Types of biodegradable wastes.

The following are the materials that can undergo biodegradation.

  • Food wastes.
  • Human waste.
  • Paper waste.
  • Animal waste.
  • Dead animals.
  • Dead plants.
  • Waxes and oils 
  • Organic alcohol.
  • Organic acids.
  • Natural rubbers.

Types of non-biodegradable wastes.

There are several types of non-biodegradable materials which include the following:

  • Glass.
  • Metal.
  • Batteries.
  • Plastic bottles.
  • Tetra Packs.
  • Medical wastes.
  • Carbon paper 
  • Plastic carpets.
  • Polyethylene papers.
  • Styrofoam.
  • Aluminum cans 
  • Tires.
  • Paints and inks.
  • Polystyrene.
  • Fibers.
  • Antibiotics.

Advantages of biodegradation.

Biodegradation has several advantages which include the following:

  • It cleans the environment of the wastes.
  • Applicable to a wide range of products.
  • It can be triggered through composting
  • It is cost-effective.
  • Results to soil enrichment with nutrients.
  • Used to produce bioenergy.
  • Biodegradation through fermentation has led to the manufacturing of drugs.
  • It leads to the production of organic acids and alcohol.

Disadvantages of biodegradation.

Biodegradation has several disadvantages which include:

  • It leads to wear and tear of organic-based materials such as clothes.
  • It takes a very long time to degrade waste.
  • When used to produce bioenergy, it requires a lot of biomass.
  • It is easily affected by contaminants such as oil and antibiotics.
  • It is only limited to organic matter

What is the effect of biodegradation on the environment?

Biodegradation is the driving force toward a clean and healthy ecosystem.

Biodegradation is the process that balances the ecosystem. Without biodegradation, life in the universe would have long been depleted.

In the ecosystem, there are different classifications of organisms depending on their mode of nutrition.

The broadest category is the organotrophs which consist of living organisms that acquire energy from organic substances.

Organotropism is the basis of biodegradation. Organic substances are oxidized and broken down for organotropic organisms to get energy.

Living organisms making up this category include animals, fungi, and most prokaryotic organisms such as bacteria.

Fungi and bacteria are the most important creatures in this category.

When an organism such as plants or animals dies, they undergo the process of decomposition. Decomposition isbas the result of microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi breaking down the complex matter into small biomass and in the process carbon dioxide and water are released.

Carbon dioxide and water released through decomposition are taken up by plants which use carbon dioxide to make carbohydrates and as a source of carbon to make other biomolecules such as fats and lipids, proteins, and vitamins.

Water produced is broken down by plants in a process called photolysis to produce hydrogen atoms and oxygen. Oxygen is used in respiration by plants to make energy. That energy is used in photosynthesis to make food by using the previously mentioned carbon dioxide.

So in a nutshell, there is a lifecycle. 

  • First plants make food using carbon dioxide and water as a source of oxygen.
  • Then the animals consume the plants.
  • The animals produce waste which is broken down by bacteria and fungi.
  • Also when animals and plants die, they are broken by bacteria and fungi into carbon dioxide and water.
  • The carbon dioxide and water produced are absorbed by plants and used to make other food.

So it is clear that microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi are the ones that help in the recycling of energy in the form of carbon dioxide and water.

Without them, plants would be experiencing a deficiency of water and carbon dioxide and therefore no photosynthesis.

In addition, as biodegradation (decomposition) is taking place, lipids, protein, fatty acids, and vitamins are also broken down into simple elements like nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur, and carbon which are used by plants in photosynthesis.

What is environmental pollution?

Environmental pollution can also be referred to as environmental toxicity.

This is the process through which harmful or toxic substances are released into the environment making it non-conducive for plants and animals.

The degree of environmental pollution depends on the chemicals or compounds used or disposed of in the environment.

Biodegradable compounds do not pollute the environment because they are broken down into small non-toxic particles.

However, some biodegradable materials can take a longer time to break down and lead to landfills, which is a form of environmental pollution.

According to a report, Non-biodegradable wastes pollute the environment the most. They don’t break down and therefore they lead to landfills.

They also emit fumes such as hydrogen sulfide, chlorofluorocarbons, and sulfur dioxide which lead to acid rain and therefore corroding surfaces and intoxicating plants and animals.

They also release harmful chemicals which pose several threats to humans.

They can release compounds which are:

  • Carcinogenic.
  • Which affects the reproductive system.
  • Which affects the respiratory system.
  • Which affects the nervous system.
  • Which affects growth and development.

Conclusion.

This article has answered the question of whether everything is biodegradable.

It has also covered other areas such as.

  • Biodegradation process.
  • Types of biodegradable wastes.
  • Types of non-biodegradable materials.
  • Advantages and disadvantages of biodegradation.
  • Effects of non-biodegradable materials on the environment

For questions or comments please use the comment section below.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): is everything biodegradable?

What can not biodegrade?

Materials that are not naturally organic can not undergo biodegradation.

They include plastics, metals, glasses, aluminum, and fibers.

Is toilet paper biodegradable?

Yes, toilet paper is made from wood which is an organic material from plants, and therefore it is susceptible to microbial biodegradation.

Is glass biodegradable?

No, glass is non-organic and is not susceptible to microbial degradation.

Glass is one of the materials that take the longest time to decompose in the environment.

Citations.

Haider T, Völker C, Kramm J, Landfester K, Wurm FR (July 2018). “Plastics of the future? The impact of biodegradable polymers on the environment and society”. Angewandte Chemie International Edition in English. 58 (1): 50–62. doi:10.1002/anie.201805766. 

Hueck, Hans (January 1966). “The biodeterioration of materials as part of hydrobiology”. Material and Organismen. 1: 5–34 – via ISSN 00255270.

Cole, Matthew; Lindeque, Pennie; Fileman, Elaine; Halsband, Claudia; Goodhead, Rhys; Moger, Julian; Galloway, Tamara S. (18 June 2013). “Microplastic Ingestion by Zooplankton” (PDF). Environmental Science & Technology. 47 (12): 6646–6655.

doi:10.1021/es400663f. hdl:10871/19651

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