Is garbage biodegradable? (3 categories of garbage)

This article will address the question of the biodegradability of garbage.

It will also cover other related topics such as:

  • Types of garbage.
  • The effects of garbage on the environment.
  • The biodegradation process.

Is garbage biodegradable?

Yes, the garbage that is derived from plants and animal products is biodegradable while garbage derived from synthetic compounds such as pesticides, plastics, glass, and metal is non-biodegradable.

There are a lot of compounds in our ecosystem that make different types of garbage. Each type of garbage has its level of biodegradability, some being completely biodegradable, some partially biodegradable, and others being completely non-biodegradable.

The process of biodegradation is dependent on several factors that are described in the next section.

What is biodegradation?

Biodegradation is the breakdown of organic matter by microorganisms, such as bacteria and fungi into the water, carbon dioxide, methane, and minerals. Heat energy is produced in the process.

Biodegradation occurs in three distinct stages: biodeterioration, bio-fragmentation, and assimilation.

Biodeterioration is the first stage of biodegradation that involves abiotic factors such as light, UV radiation, and water to help in the weakening of the structure of organic substances.

Bio-fragmentation is the second stage that involves the physical breakdown of organic matter into small particles, this is due to the biodeterioration of the organic matter in the first stage.

Assimilation is the last stage of biodegradation. It involves the bacteria and the fungi taking up the minerals and small biomass produced by the previous two stages into their biological systems.

The minerals are used as a source of energy and carbon for the synthesis of cells and tissues.

Biodegradation can occur in the presence or absence of oxygen. When biodegradation involves the microorganisms using oxygen, the process is called aerobic biodegradation.

Aerobic biodegradation produces carbon dioxide, water, and small biomass. Heat energy is also produced in the process. Aerobic biodegradation occurs very fast but it is not very efficient.

When biodegradation occurs in the absence of oxygen, it is called anaerobic biodegradation. The products of anaerobic biodegradation include water, carbon dioxide, and small biomass. In addition to these products, methane gas is also produced. Heat energy is released during the breakdown. 

Anaerobic biodegradation occurs slowly but is more efficient than aerobic biodegradation.

Biodegradation can be affected by several factors such as water, light, temperatures, the bioavailability of a molecule, and pH.

Water helps in the biodeterioration and mechanical fragmentation of substances, increasing the surface area for microbial degradation.

Light emits radiations that help in the biodeterioration and bio-fragmentation of organic matter. UV radiation is the most effective radiation. 

Temperature affects the rate of biodegradation. Some microorganisms are very active in high temperatures while others are active in low temperatures. The optimum temperatures for the microorganisms increase the rate of biodegradation.

Bioavailability is the availability of an organic substance to microorganisms. Highly concentrated organic matter has high bioavailability and this increases the rate of biodegradation.

pH is the measure of acidity or basicity of a substance. Some microorganisms are very active in acidic pH while others are active in neutral or alkaline pH. Optimum pH increases the rate of biodegradation.

What is garbage?

Garbage, also called trash, rubbish, or refuse is a collection of waste matter that is discarded by human beings in their daily activities.

Garbage consists of materials and substances that are perceived by people to be useless. The term garbage covers mostly solid waste, and no human or animal waste.

Garbage can be classified according to its origin, its content, or the form in which it occurs.

The following are types of garbage.

  • Household garbage: This is garbage that is made up of unused materials or substances in homes. 

Household garbage can contain different substances such as food waste, rags, unused clothes, plastic bags and bottles, styrofoam cups and plates, glassware such as window panes and glass cups, and many more.

Household garbage can be collected in trash bins, trash bags, or trash pits. 

  • Hospital garbage: These are waste products that are no longer used in hospitals. The garbage contains wastes such as plastic gloves, bandages, rags, plastic bottles, glassware, masks, respirators, and syringes.

Hospital waste is not a very safe waste and should be handled with a lot of care. It contains contaminated equipment such as gloves, syringes, cotton wool, bandages, and many more.

  • Industrial garbage: This is garbage derived from industrial solid wastes. Unused industrial equipment can be trashed in bins or pits to form garbage.

Industrial garbage mostly consists of plastic papers, plastic bottles, rags, dust coats, glassware such as panes and cups, styrofoam, and aluminum materials.

What is the classification of garbage?

Waste products can be categorized depending on whether they are biodegradable or not, recyclable or not, and compostable or not.

Biodegradable garbage.

Garbage can be classified based on whether it is biodegradable or non-biodegradable. 

Biodegradable garbage contains wastes that can be broken down by microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi into small particles, carbon dioxide, methane gas, and water.

Biodegradable wastes are considered eco-friendly because they do not pollute the environment. 

Biodegradable waste is usually made up of substances derived from plants and animal products.

Biodegradable garbage contains:

  • Vegetable wastes.
  • Clothes and rags are made from natural fibers such as silk, cotton, hemp, sisal, wool, and fur.
  • Substances made from bioplastics.

Non-biodegradable garbage

This type of garbage contains materials that are resistant to microbial degradation. 

Most of these materials are synthesized from petrochemicals. Microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi lack enzymatic machinery to break down these materials.

Non-biodegradable materials are considered eco-friendly because if disposed of without enough care, they accumulate in the landfills and water bodies, polluting water and soil. 

The material also is oxidized by UV radiations to produce toxic gases such as chlorine, hydrogen sulfide, methane, sulfur dioxide, and carbon dioxide which affect the ozone, resulting in global warming.

Non-biodegradable garbage is made up of:

  • Plastic bottles and bags.
  • Metallic equipment.
  • Glassware such as cups, beakers, window panes, and broken mirrors.
  • Styrofoam cups and plates.
  • Plastic tubes and pipes.
  • Vehicle tires.

What are the methods of garbage management?

Garbage can be handled in various ways to reduce the rate of pollution in the environment.

The following are how garbage waste can be managed.


Composting is the process by which waste matter undergoes enhanced decaying. Waste products such as vegetable wastes and food leftovers are sliced and arranged in piles in a pit where degradation occurs.

The waste is turned occasionally to allow good aeration which enhances aerobic degradation.

Composting is similar to biodegradation, with the difference being biodegradation is a natural process while composting is an enhanced method of degradation.

According to a study, compostable waste can be used as manure, fertilizers, or biofuel.


Mulching is the covering of gardens using waste products such as vegetables or garden waste.

Mulching can also be done using plastic papers and therefore plastic paper wastes can be used on-farm for mulching.

Mulching helps the soil to retain its moisture, and decaying mulch provides the crops with mineral elements.


Incineration is the burning of waste in a controlled chamber called an incinerator. Incineration is best for industrial and hospital garbage.

Used bandages, syringes, gloves, and clothes are burnt in an incinerator to prevent them from polluting the environment, as well as spreading nosocomial diseases.

Recycling and reusing.

Garbage waste containing materials such as plastic bags, plastic bottles, glasses, metals, and styrofoam can be recycled or reused.

Recycling is the process by which waste product is used as raw material to come up with a new product. Plastics and glasses can be recycled to form new plastics and glasses.

Reusing involves using the same material several times or using it for a different purpose. Plastic bags can be reused several times if they are still in good condition.

Cellulose papers can be burned to provide warmth in homes.

Is garbage eco-friendly?

The garbage made of biodegradable and compostable waste is eco-friendly because it can be broken down into non-toxic particles.

Some plastic wastes can be recycled or reused and therefore reducing pollution.

Garbage waste can be harmful to the environment if left to accumulate in water systems and landfills. Microplastics can leach into the water bodies and cause effects on aquatic life and reach humans through the food chain.

Some wastes emit toxic fumes into the environment that irritate the eyes, skin, and respiratory system. The fumes can also interfere with the nervous system, endocrine system, or DNA machinery, causing mutations and cancer.


This article has answered the question of the biodegradability of garbage.

It has also covered other areas such as:

  • Types of garbage.
  • Methods of garbage management.
  • Biodegradation process.
  • Eco-friendliness of garbage.

For any questions or comments please use the comment section below.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): is garbage biodegradable?

Which waste is not biodegradable?

Non-biodegradable wastes include materials such as plastics, metals, toxic chemicals, paints, aluminum cans, and tires.

What is biodegradable waste with an example?

Biodegradable waste is that which can be broken down by microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi into small biomass.

They include waste such as vegetable wastes, animal wastes, and kitchen refuse.

Is plastic biodegradable?

Synthetic plastics such as polyester and polyethylene are non-biodegradable while plastics made from animal and plant extracts like polyhydroxybutyrate and plasmid 11 bioplastics are biodegradable.


Carl A. Zimring, William L. Rathje, eds., Encyclopedia of Consumption and Waste: The Social Science of Garbage (2012), p. 657

Simon Davis, “By their garbage shall they be known”, New Scientist (November 17, 1983), p. 506-515.

Reuters Staff (2013-09-11). “A third of food is wasted, making it the third-biggest carbon emitter, U.N. says”. Reuters. Retrieved 2021-06-07.

Domingo, J. L.; Nadal, M. (August 2012). “Domestic waste composting facilities: a review of human health risks”. Environment International. 35 (2): 382–9. doi:10.1016/j.envint.2008.07.004. 

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