Is glycerin biodegradable? (9 properties of glycerin)

This blog article shall answer the question of the biodegradability of glycerin.

It shall also address other areas such as:

  • The biodegradation process.
  • The properties of glycerin.
  • The applications of glycerin.
  • The eco-friendliness of glycerin.

Is glycerin biodegradable?

Yes, glycerin is biodegradable. Glycerin is a naturally occurring, organic substance that is readily broken down by the enzymatic machinery of fungi and bacteria in the process of biodegradation.

Biodegradation is a natural process that occurs to different waste matters, with organic substances having the highest rate of biodegradation.

For a comprehensive understanding of the biodegradation process, let’s have a look at how the process comes about.

What is biodegradation?

Biodegradation is the process by which microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi break down organic tissue into small biomass, producing carbon dioxide, water, or methane.

Heat is also produced during the process of biodegradation and is lost to the environment. 

The main agents of biodegradation are bacteria and fungi. They break organic materials, using them as a source of carbon to make food and energy.

Microbes can use either oxygen or other chemical compounds to break down organic matter. When they use oxygen, the process is called aerobic biodegradation.

When microorganisms use any other chemical to break down organic matter instead of oxygen, the process is called anaerobic biodegradation.

The products of aerobic biodegradation are carbon dioxide and water. The products of anaerobic biodegradation are carbon dioxide and methane.

The biodegradation process occurs in three distinct stages: biodeterioration, bio-fragmentation, and finally 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.

The last stage involves the fungi and the bacteria breaking down the small particles into even smaller biomass, producing heat, water, carbon dioxide, and methane, with the products depending on the type of biodegradation; whether aerobic or anaerobic.

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 glycerin?

Glycerin is a natural compound that is found in lipids. It is also referred to as glycerol.

Glycerin is a primary structure of the types of lipids called triglycerides. It is connected with several fatty acid molecules to form triglyceride molecules.

Glycerin can be obtained by the process of hydrolysis, transesterification, or saponification of triglycerides molecules. The processes release glycerol together with fatty acids.

Properties of glycerin.

The following are the properties of glycerin.

  • It is a colorless, odorless, and viscous liquid.
  • It contains a sweet taste.
  • It contains antimicrobial and antiviral properties.
  • It is hygroscopic.
  • It is miscible with water.
  • It has a melting point of 17.9⁰ Celsius and a boiling point of 290⁰ Celsius.
  • It is insoluble in volatile oils.
  • It forms neutral solutions.
  • It is miscible in alcohol.

Applications of glycerin.

Glycerin is one of the most used natural compounds. It is produced by plants and animals and can be retrieved from fats and lipids through chemical reactions such as saponification and hydrolysis.

It contains the following applications:

  • It contains antimicrobial and antiviral properties and as a result, it is used to treat wounds and burns.
  • It is used as a medium to culture bacteria.
  • It is used as a marker in liver function tests.
  • Due to its sweet taste, it is used as a sweetener for food products.
  • It is used as a moisturizer in the manufacturing of cosmetics.
  • It is used as a humectant in pharmaceutical products.
  • It is used as a solvent and a preservative in food and beverages.
  • It is used as a filler for low-fat food products.
  • It is used as a thickening agent in liqueurs.
  • It is used as a sugar substitute in some foods. This helps in dental health as it is not eaten up by the bacteria that form dental plaque, which causes dental diseases such as periodontitis and dental cavities.
  • It is used as a laxative to ease constipation.
  • It is used as a humectant and thickener in cough curiosity, expectorants, mouthwashes, toothpaste, skin, and hair cares, and immunotherapeutics.
  • It is used to make glycerin soaps.
  • It can be used to temporarily decrease the internal pressure of the eye, this is important in the treatment of elevated eye pressure.
  • It is incorporated in the bio-inks and used for bio-prints.
  • It is used in tinctures to prevent the precipitation of tannins in the alcohol extract.
  • It is used alongside propylene glycol as a component of e-liquid, a solution used in electronic cigarettes.
  • It is used as an antifreeze for automotive applications.
  • It is used as a solvent to store enzyme-containing reagents in the laboratory.
  • It is used to produce nitroglycerin, which is an important component of explosives.
  • It is used as a fill component for pressure gauges to damp vibrations.

What is triacetin?

Triacetin is a triple ester of glycerin that is produced through an esterification reaction with acetic acid and is therefore a glycerine acetate molecule.

Properties of triacetin.

The following are the properties of triacetin.

  • It is a triglyceride, that is it contains three glycerol molecules.
  • It is a colorless liquid.
  • It is viscous and odorless.
  • It has a high boiling point and a low melting point.
  • It has a mild sweet taste but may be bitter at higher concentrations.

Applications of triacetin.

The following are the uses of triacetin.

  • It is used as a solvent in food flavorings.
  • It is used as a humectant in some products.
  • It is used in pharmaceuticals as an excipient.
  • It is used as a plasticizer for plastics.
  • It has been used in the synthesis of phospholipid gel systems for the administration of paclitaxel cancer drugs.
  • It can be used as a fuel additive to act as an antiknock agent, this helps in reducing engine knocking.
  • It is considered a source of food in artificial food regeneration systems during space missions.

Is glycerin eco-friendly?

Yes, glycerin is a natural, eco-friendly product that has no negative impact on the environment. 

It is a biodegradable product and J’s therefore broken down by microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi into small biomass. 

Glycerin is a thick, greasy substance. When it gets its way into water systems, it may reduce the concentration of oxygen in water, affecting aquatic plants and animals.

Is glycerin toxic?

Yes, glycerin contains some degree of toxicity to humans. High concentrations of glycerin are said to cause skin and eye irritations.

According to a study, when glycerin is used in high concentrations, glycerin comes into contact with cells and organs and draws water from them because of its hygroscopic nature, this may cause dehydration in the person.


This article has addressed the question of the biodegradability of glycerin.

It has also covered other areas such as:

  • The properties of glycerin.
  • The applications of glycerin
  • The properties and applications of triacetin, an ester compound of glycerin.
  • The eco-friendliness of glycerin.
  • The toxicity of glycerin.

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

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): is glycerin biodegradable?

Is glycerin natural?

Yes, glycerin is natural. Glycerin is naturally produced by plants and animals. It is the backbone of fats and lipids, and upon saponification or hydrolysis, fats and lipids release glycerol.

Is vegetable glycerin biodegradable?

Yes, vegetable glycerin is highly biodegradable. It is highly susceptible to microbial breakdown since it is an organic compound.

What does glycerin do to bioplastics?

Glycerin is used as a plasticizer in the processing of bioplastics. A plasticizer is a substance that is used to lubricate or make plastics soft and more durable.


Kristeen Cherney. ( March 8, 2019). Everything You Need to Know About Glycerin Soap. An article on Healthline.

Retrieved from:

Dams, Rosemeri I.; Viana, Michael B.; Guilherme, Alexandre A.; Silva, Camila M.; Dos Santos, André B.; Angenent, Largus T.; Santaella, Sandra T.; Leitão, Renato C. (2018). “Production of medium-chain carboxylic acids by anaerobic fermentation of glycerol using a bioaugmented open culture”. Biomass and Bioenergy. 118: 1–7. doi:10.1016/j.biombioe.2018.07.023. 

San Kong, Pei; Kheireddine Aroua, Mohamed; Ashri Wan Daud, Wan Mohd (2016). “Conversion of crude and pure glycerol into derivatives: A feasibility evaluation”. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews. 63: 533–555. doi:10.1016/j.rser.2016.05.054.

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