What are the problems caused by non-biodegradable waste? (11 examples of non-biodegradable waste) 

In this article, the problems caused by non-biodegradable waste will be assessed. A number of other topics would also be covered including:

  • What is non-biodegradable waste?
  • What are the problems caused by non-biodegradable waste?
  • What is biodegradation?
  • Are there any effects of biodegradable waste?
  • FAQs

What are the problems caused by non-biodegradable waste?

There are a number of environmental problems and anomalies caused by non-biodegradable waste. The effects of non-biodegradable waste are not just limited to the environment but life, in general, is also affected by non-biodegradable waste. 

Based on biodegradability, waste can either be biodegradable or non-biodegradable. While a clear stance on the effects of non-biodegradable materials has been built, there is equivocality when it comes to the effect of biodegradable waste. 

Literature analysis has revealed that although biodegradable waste has a number of advantages over non-biodegradable waste, there are still negative effects of biodegradable waste including land misuse, use of agrochemicals, and unsustainable waste generation. 

What is non-biodegradable waste? (11 examples of non-biodegradable waste) 

In order to understand the problems caused by non-biodegradable waste, it is essential to know what non-biodegradable waste is in the first place. 

Non-biodegradable waste is a type of waste which can not be degraded by the action of microbes. Such waste may remain in the environment for hundreds of years and may cause environmental and health-related problems. 

Common examples of non-biodegradable waste may include synthetic resins, epoxies, synthetic fibres, synthetic fabrics, and synthetic polymers. As it may be guessed, these materials can not degrade because they are synthesised in the lab. 

The microbes that are generally responsible for the degradation process are unable to break down the structures of non-biodegradable waste and that is why these wastes may remain in the environment for a long duration of time. 

It is not just about staying in the environment, it is also about the problems that are caused by non-biodegradable waste.

Non-biodegradable waste is known to cause a lot of problems to the people and the planet that may include global warming, deforestation, soil erosion, loss of habitats, and destruction of ecosystems. 

Non-biodegradable waste may also stem a huge number of problems that may affect human health. These may include skin issues, cancer, lung problems, neuro complications, reproductive problems, and psychological issues. 

Let us explore some common examples of non-biodegradable waste:

  • HDPE 
  • PET
  • Dyneema
  • Epoxies
  • Synthetic fabrics 
  • Nylon 
  • Common packaging material 
  • Synthetic polymers
  • Nuclear waste 
  • Electronic waste
  • Hazardous waste 

These are some common examples of non-biodegradable waste that may cause a number of complications for humans and also the planet. 

What are the problems caused by non-biodegradable waste?

The non-biodegradable waste has a lot of negative impacts on the environment. Since these materials can not be degraded readily, they remain in the system for hundreds of years and affect the life and environment nearby greatly. 

The non-biodegradable waste, on land, exploits the property or characteristics of the medium that they are a part of. For example, if non-biodegradable wastes are part of a landfill, they may release toxic gases that can impact the soil, flora and fauna. 

Non-biodegradable waste may also lead to leaching and toxication of the soil making it hazardous for nearby plant life. They may also change the pH by the release of gases and chemicals. 

An example can be that e-wastes present in landfill release volatile gases and other greenhouse gases such as methane, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide. These gases are not only toxic but also lead to many detrimental phenomena like global warming. 

In water, non-biodegradable wastes affect aquatic and plant life and result in the death of millions of fishes due to countless different reasons– all arising from non-biodegradable wastes. For example, many animals eat plastic confusing it with their prey and resultantly, they die. 

Non-biodegradable waste is known to affect as many as 800 species of the world. This waste may remain for up to a thousand years and cause a plethora of negative impacts on the environment and life. These may be: 

  • Pollution
  • Global warming
  • GHG emissions
  • Rise in temperature
  • A rise in sea levels
  • Melting glaciers
  • More floods
  • Abnormality
  • Reproductive complications
  • Hormonal issues
  • Damage to foetus
  • Necrosis
  • Skin damage
  • Eye allergies
  • Organ defects
  • Cancer
  • Mutation
  • Psychological complication
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Neuro-toxicity
  • Neurological complications
  • Frequent droughts
  • Unprecedented weather patterns
  • Insects attacks
  • Land degradation
  • Food shortage
  • Food security concerns
  • Species endangerment 
  • Infiltration into the food chains
  • Loss of aquatic life

What is biodegradation?

Biodegradability is the process through which waste is broken down by the action of microbes so that it can become a part of nature again. The microbes that are responsible for this breakdown may be bacteria, fungi, algae, protozoa, yeast, and decomposers. Below are some examples of such organisms: 

  • Pseudomonas fluorescens
  • Bacillus vallismortis bt-dsce01
  • Klebsiella pneumoniae CH001
  • Aspergillus oryzae strain A5
  • Sphingobacterium sp
  • Bacillus sp.
  • Xanthomonas sp.

Microbes are, therefore, involved in the reduction of waste. It is added in the basic code of mother nature to avoid waste formation and accumulation because mother nature knows that if waste is generated and accumulated, there will be great problems to deal with. 

That is why biodegradability is so protected and highly regarded. It is very essential because it ensures that the waste produced gets back to the system in a cyclical fashion and does not cause any anomalies. 

However, man is notoriously known to corrupt the basic codes of nature. For example, the environmental problems that man brought outweigh all the anomalies that have happened until now, however, man’s arrival on this planet as a species is very short. 

 It is regarded that most of the man-made materials which are synthesised in the lab can not degrade by the action of microbes. This is because microbes are unable to break down the inner structures of complex waste. 

Result? The waste created by man may remain in the environment for many hundred years. If waste remains this long, environmental and human problems are sure to come. 

Are there any effects of biodegradable waste?

It is commonly perceived that as there are negative impacts of non-biodegradable waste explored in the previous sections; biodegradable waste will not have any harmful effects on the environment and people and that biodegradable waste generation is safe. 

However, it is known that this perception is actually a misconception. The story is not like this. Although, there are a number of advantages of biodegradable waste over non-biodegradable waste that does give the latter an edge. 

First in line is that biodegradable waste can degrade in a short span of time and will not require hundreds of years as is the case with non-biodegradable waste. 

Further, biodegradable waste is mostly made from natural materials, unlike non-biodegradable materials. The use of natural materials to make biodegradable materials is another testimony that biodegradable materials are better off in comparison to non-biodegradable materials. 

However, based on that, it is inapt to assume that there are no impacts of biodegradable waste on the environment and people. 

While the world at large knows that non-biodegradable waste is really harmful to life and the environment, it is questioned that does that mean biodegradable waste is safe and more importantly, eco-friendly.

The answer is no. The production of waste itself is a big challenge for man and more waste means greater problems. If biodegradable waste is produced in excess and not disposed of properly, it will not be eco-friendly.

There can be two sources that could form the accumulation of biodegradable waste. The degradable waste can be sourced from natural materials as well as man-made materials. 

The examples of biodegradable waste from natural sources have already been given in the previous sections. Examples of biodegradable waste that are from man-made sources can be epoxy resin or biodegradable plastics. 

While the impact of biodegradable waste that is sourced from nature is better understood (as it can degrade in some months), the case for biodegradable waste from synthetic sources is open to a lot of controversies. 

Regardless, the effects of biodegradable waste can also be harmful to the environment and life if the waste is not used and disposed of in balanced amounts and right ways. 

For example, cotton is biodegradable waste. However, if cotton is produced in really large quantities, this means that the handling of cotton waste would become difficult causing strain on the waste management authorities. 

More cotton production will also cause unsustainable stress on land used for cotton cultivation. The use of agrochemicals and other harmful fertilisers would also increase.  

Another example can be that of biodegradable drywall mud. Joint compound (drywall mud) can be degraded but this process releases harmful gases which are toxic to life and the environment. 

The sulphur in drywall mud leads to the release of hydrogen sulphide and sulphur dioxide. These gases are toxic to life and the environment causing acid rain, deforestation, lung dysfunctions, and eye irritation– to name a few. 

This example asserts that biodegradable waste can be harmful if not disposed of properly because it will still cause harm despite being biodegradable. 

Conclusion

It can be concluded that there are a number of environmental problems and anomalies caused by non-biodegradable waste. The effects of non-biodegradable waste are not just limited to the environment but life, in general, is also affected by non-biodegradable waste. 

Based on biodegradability, waste can either be biodegradable or non-biodegradable. While a clear stance on the effects of non-biodegradable materials has been built, there is equivocality when it comes to the effect of biodegradable waste. 

Literature analysis has revealed that although biodegradable waste has a number of advantages over non-biodegradable waste, there are still negative effects of biodegradable waste including land misuse, use of agrochemicals, and unsustainable waste generation. 

Frequently Asked Question: What are the problems caused by non-biodegradable waste?

How long can non-biodegradable waste take to degrade?

The duration may vary based on external conditions and the type of material to be degraded. It may take from 200 to 1000 years for non-biodegradable materials to degrade. 

Can non-biodegradable materials be recycled?

Yes, almost all non-biodegradable materials can be recycled and reused. A common example can be the reuse of plastic bottles. 

References

  • Hoornweg, D., & Bhada-Tata, P. (2012). What a waste: a global review of solid waste management.
  • Demirbas, A. (2011). Waste management, waste resource facilities and waste conversion processes. Energy Conversion and Management, 52(2), 1280-1287.
  • Bulkeley, H., & Askins, K. (2009). Waste interfaces: biodegradable waste, municipal policy and everyday practice. Geographical Journal, 175(4), 251-260.
  • Bharadwaj, A., Yadav, D., & Varshney, S. (2015). Non-biodegradable waste–its impact & safe disposal. Int. J. Adv. Technol. Eng. Sci, 3(1).
  • Innocenti, F. D. (2003). Biodegradability and compostability. In Biodegradable polymers and plastics (pp. 33-45). Springer, Boston, MA.

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