What is meant by biodegradable waste?

The article will explain the meaning of biodegradable waste and will also shed light on related topics such as:

  • Is biodegradable waste also eco-friendly?
  • Is biodegradable waste compostable?
  • Can biodegradable waste be recycled?
  • What is the best way to deal with biodegradable waste?

What is meant by biodegradable waste?

Biodegradable waste is the type of waste that can be degraded by the action of microbes such as bacteria, fungi, or other decomposers. 

For a waste to be biodegradable, it should have the following properties:

  • It should be natural 
  • It should be organic 
  • It should be environmentally-friendly 

These are some of the key features that discern biodegradable waste from non-biodegradable waste. Examples of biodegradable waste include:

  • Food waste
  • Plant waste
  • Animal waste
  • Natural fibres 
  • Natural textiles 
  • Bioplastics 

All these examples adhere to the standards necessary for waste to be called biodegradable. Therefore, it can be stated that when something is called biodegradable, it means that it will be degraded by the action of microbes in about 180 days or so. 

Is biodegradable waste also eco-friendly?

Although there is no rigid rule of thumb here, on a generalised level, it can be said that biodegradable waste is usually eco-friendly, at least much more than non-biodegradable waste. 

However, as said, this is not a rigid rule. There are many examples where a substance is biodegradable but also toxic to the environment. 

For example, let us take the example of drywall mud. This mud is considered to be biodegradable but when it is degraded by microbes, there is a release of harmful gases such as hydrogen sulphide and more. 

These gases contribute to environmental problems and toxicities. Another example is bioplastics. Bioplastics are also considered biodegradable as they are made from plant-derived materials. However, some research indicates that bioplastics may have toxic effects on the environment. 

Is biodegradable waste compostable too?

The terms biodegradation and composting usually go hand in hand. If something is biodegradable, chances are it will be compostable as well. 

Before we dig into that, let us explore what composting is in the first place. Composting can be explained as a process in which waste is converted to compost which can be used as a natural fertiliser. 

There are certain conditions necessary for composting such as the material should be natural and organic and should not emit hazardous by-products or fumes in any way. 

This is because the main purpose of composting is to increase the organic content of the soil so that the quality of plants may be improved. 

Therefore, while this may be a possibility, it is not necessary that biodegradable waste can be composted as well. In order to make sure that your biodegradable waste can be composted, you need to check on websites such as the Environmental Protection Agency

Once you have ensured that your biodegradable waste can be composted, you may opt for either:

  • Composting facilities
  • Composting at home

Composting facilities

You may have the biodegradable waste composted at the composting sites. For this, you do not really need to do much. All you have to do is to pile up all the compostable waste and drop it at the nearest composting facility. 

Composting at home

Another option that can be pursued is composting done at home. This is a fun way and can serve as a great hobby and aid to the environment as well because the compost can be used to improve the organic content of the soil. 

Composting at home can be done through the following steps:

  • Select a suitable place for composting 
  • The place should be a bit distant from your home but should also be accessible
  • Shred compostable material into smaller pieces (if required) 
  • Make a heap of compostable material 
  • You may either do it openly or prefer a composting bin (which is usually preferred in the case of hot composting) 
  • While making the heap, be careful of the green-to-brown ratio. Green material means nitrogen-rich material such as leaves whereas brown material means carbon-rich material such as cardboard boxes
  • Make alternate layers of green and brown. After each duo, add a thin layer of soil. Keep up until you have 4 feet of the heap. 
  • Continuously mix (every 4-5 days) the heap and be sure to provide the right external conditions which include aeration, shade and appropriate temperature
  • Once the compost is ready, use it resourcefully and wisely 

Can biodegradable waste be recycled?

Yes, biodegradable waste can be recycled. In fact, many studies claim that the recycling of biodegradable waste is more feasible as compared to non-biodegradable waste. This way also, you save the biodegradable waste from ending up in landfills. 

When biodegradable waste is recycled, it is modified to be reused as if it were new material. This is considered green because when biodegradable waste is recycled, there is no need to extract the raw materials which basically means the cutting of trees. 

Therefore, let us discuss what you can do to have your biodegradable waste recycled. 

  • Disposing of in recycling bins
  • Transporting biodegradable waste in recycling facilities
  • Having the nearby recycling centres pick up your biodegradable waste and other recyclable material via appointment 

What is the best way to deal with biodegradable waste?

The best way to deal with biodegradable waste depends on the type of waste. If biodegradable waste can be reused or repurposed, it is better to opt for that because when waste is reused or repurposed, there is no expense of energy at all. 

However, if the biodegradable waste cannot be reused or repurposed, it can then opt for either recycling or composting. Both are sustainable options because in these cases, there is negligible waste generation. 

However, composting can be stated as better because it requires less use of energy and decreased attention while in the case of recycling, there is an expenditure of energy and resources. 

But, composting is also way more peculiar too. If your waste can not be composted, then you can go for recycling it. 

However, disposing of waste in regular trash cans is the least preferred option because then the biodegradable waste will be mixed up with non-biodegradable waste and there would be no advantage of having biodegradable waste in the first place. 

When biodegradable waste is disposed of in trash cans, its fate would either be incineration or landfill. Both options are not regarded as eco-friendly. 

Conclusion 

It is concluded that biodegradable waste means waste that can be degraded by the action of microbes. Common examples include plant waste, animal waste, natural fibres et cetera. 

Biodegradable waste can be said to be more sustainable because it contributes less to the waste problems and will be degraded readily (as compared to non-biodegradable waste).

The article discussed the disposal options for biodegradable waste that included reuse, recycling, composting, and disposal in regular trash cans. Composting and recycling were said to be more revered as compared to other options available. 

References 

  • Sonesson, U., Björklund, A., Carlsson, M., & Dalemo, M. (2000). Environmental and economic analysis of management systems for biodegradable waste. Resources, conservation and recycling, 28(1-2), 29-53.
  • 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).
  • Velvizhi, G., Shanthakumar, S., Das, B., Pugazhendhi, A., Priya, T. S., Ashok, B., … & Karthick, C. (2020). Biodegradable and non-biodegradable fraction of municipal solid waste for multifaceted applications through a closed loop integrated refinery platform: Paving a path towards the circular economy. Science of the Total Environment, 731, 138049.
  • (November 01, 2022). Biodegradable and Non-biodegradable. Retrieved from: https://www.geeksforgeeks.org/biodegradable-and-non-biodegradable/
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Retrieved from: https://www.epa.gov

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