What is biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste? (7 examples)

In this article, biodegradable and nonbiodegradable waste will be explained. Other aspects that will be shed light on are: 

  • What is biodegradability?
  • What are the types of waste based on biodegradability?
  • What are examples of biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste?
  • What are the trends in waste production?
  • What is the effect of non-biodegradable waste?
  • What is the effect of biodegradable waste?
  • FAQs

What is biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste?

Biodegradability is the breakdown process of waste by microbes. Based on biodegradability, waste can either be biodegradable or non-biodegradable. 

It is seen that there are environmental and health-related impacts of both types of waste but the effects of non-biodegradable waste are far worse than compared of biodegradable waste. 

What is biodegradability? 

Biodegradability can be explained as a process through which complex waste is broken down into simple waste. This conversion is brought about by the action of microbes. These microbes can be bacteria, fungi, algae, protozoa, and yeast. 

These microbes break down complex waste into simpler materials so that these simple materials may become a part of nature again. Therefore, it can be said that biodegradability is nature’s way to ensure that there is no waste production and accumulation. 

This is important because if there is waste accumulation, there will be dirt and pollution everywhere. Imagine if there is no dustbin in your house and you have no place to dispose of your waste. 

What do you think will happen? Your house will get dirty, right? The same is the case with our planet earth. Biodegradability can be stated as nature’s dustbin, and if there is no dustbin, there will be dirt and pollution. 

Now, proceeding with the analogy, consider that you are not able to dispose of waste from your house for a hundred years. You may assume that not being able to do so simply means that your house will become unlivable. 

The same is the case if there is no biodegradability. No biodegradability means that waste accumulated will persist for many hundred years and this will make our Earth unlivable. It will steal the Earth’s capacity to sustain and support life, pushing all the species towards the vicinity of extinction. 

What are the types of waste based on biodegradability? 

Based on the concept and edifice of biodegradability, wastes can largely be classified into two classes. One type of waste is that which can be degraded while the second type is that which can not be degraded. 

The general understanding related to this concept is that natural products are easily and readily degraded within a short span of time. That is because they contain no artificial or synthetic materials. 

Whereas, synthetic or artificial materials, which usually are man-made, can not be degraded readily and hence may require hundreds of years to degrade in the environment. This increased duration causes strain on the environment which affects life nearby. 

The tragedy today is that non-biodegradable wastes despite being dangerous to the environment and life nearby are preferred by the consumer because of their benefits and convenience of use. 

A common example can be the use of plastic bags in consumer markets. The world was introduced to the detrimental effects of plastic bags a long time ago yet even after that, plastic bags are still used because they are cheap and of good use. 

However, the situation is slowly changing. There is an increasing trend toward biodegradable wastes by consumers, especially in developed regions. 

Other than that, many laws and policies are also being created and implemented to lessen the use of non-biodegradable wastes. 

Technological advances are also advocating in favour of biodegradable wastes by creating products from natural materials. A good example can be biodegradable bags or perhaps biodegradable packaging materials. 

What are some examples of biodegradable wastes? 

Examples of biodegradable wastes may include: 

  • Food waste
  • Human waste 
  • Manure Sewage 
  • Hospital waste 
  • Dead animals & Plants 
  • Waste from slaughterhouse 
  • Toilet paper

What are some examples of non-biodegradable wastes? 

Examples of non-biodegradable waste may include: 

  • Plastics 
  • Hazardous substances
  • Pesticides
  • Fertilisers
  • E-wastes
  • Rubbers
  • Polymers
  • Shopping bags 
  • Packaging materials
  • Plastic bottles 
  • Nuclear Wastes

What are the trends in waste production? 

It is cited that the world at large generates about 2 billion tons of solid waste and this waste is expected to surge up to 3.5 billion tons by 2050. The per person waste generated worldwide is around 0.7 kgs. 

As per the research conducted by word bank, low-income areas create more waste as compared to high-income areas. In terms of future trajectory, waste production in low-income areas is expected to rise by 40% but in high-income areas by 19%. 

In terms of the composition of waste produced, it is seen in global trends that around 50% of the waste produced is organic while the remaining mostly is non-biodegradable. 

In regard to the processing of global wastes, it is seen that the majority of waste (both biodegradable and non-biodegradable) is simply dumped without any treatment (around 33%) while the remaining is subjected to recycling (13.5%) and then to sanitary landfills (11%). 

What is the effect of non-biodegradable waste on the environment? 

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. Some of them are pointed out below: 

  • 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 the effect of biodegradable waste on the environment? 

While the impact of non-biodegradable waste is extensively well-established in the literature, the effects of biodegradable waste on the environment are a question of increased curiosity. 

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 is concluded that biodegradability is the breakdown process of waste by microbes. Based on biodegradability, waste can either be biodegradable or non-biodegradable. 

It is seen that there are environmental and health-related impacts of both types of waste but the effects of non-biodegradable waste are far worse than compared of biodegradable waste. 

Frequently Asked Questions: What are biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste? 

Why is non-biodegradable waste not degraded?

It is because microbes are unable to break down the structures of non-biodegradable waste. 

Can non-biodegradable waste be converted to biodegradable?

If non-biodegradable materials are made from natural materials instead of synthetic polymers then they can be made biodegradable. A good example can be bioplastics which are made from sugarcane and corn starch. 

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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