What is produced when biodegradable materials are allowed to decompose without access to air? (13 materials that can be composted) 

In this article, the process of composting will be detailed. Other covered topics would be: 

  • What is composting?
  • Why is it used?
  • What are the applications of composting?
  • What is biodegradability?
  • Is composting the same as biodegradability?
  • FAQs

What is produced when biodegradable materials are allowed to decompose without access to air?

When biodegradable materials are allowed to decompose without access to air, the process is called composting and the end product is termed compost. 

Composting is the breakdown of waste under anaerobic conditions. The end result (compost) is known to have a lot of applications and advantages. 

Compost may be used as a natural fertiliser. It may also improve soil water retention profiles leading to better water management and water conservation. Composting may also lead to reduced waste generation because waste is reused when it is composted. 

What is composting?

Composting is the process of recycling organic matter into valuable fertilisers. Compost is simply decaying organic matter which can be used for a number of reasons and applications. 

There are three types of composting: aerobic, anaerobic and vermicomposting. In this article, we shall be dealing with anaerobic composting which is done without access to air. 

One of the most prominent uses of compost is to be used as a natural fertiliser. This is because compost can improve the organic content of the soil leading to better growth of plants and increased water retention profiles. 

Compost is also a great way to deal with waste generation. When biodegradable waste is composted, it is in a way, reused and therefore, the overall waste generation is lessened. 

Composting is usually confused with biodegradability because there is a lot of similarity between biodegradability and composting. However, due to some reasons, the two terms can not be interchanged. 

This is mainly because biodegradable material may be toxic as well. A good example will be drywall mud. Drywall mud is biodegradable but its degradation leads to the release of harmful gases like sulphur dioxide and hydrogen sulphide. 

Another example can be bioplastics. Bioplastics are also biodegradable because they are made from biodegradable, plant-based materials. However, it is studied that bioplastics may also be toxic to the environment.

It is mandatory that the materials used for composting are not toxic in any way because, in this way, we will deliberately be introducing pollution to soil and plants. 

What is compost and why is it used? (13 materials that can be composted) 

Compost is usually defined as dead organic matter. There are some conditions that are essential for the composting process. First, the materials that have to be composted must have a good amount of organic content in them. 

Secondly, the materials to be composted must not be toxic or harmful to the environment in any way. 

This is because compost is used as a natural fertiliser to improve soil quality. There are also other various benefits of compost which will be covered shortly. 

Here is a list of some materials that can be composted: 

  • Nutshells 
  • Leaves
  • House plants
  • Hair 
  • Eggshells
  • Fruits 
  • Vegetables
  • Grass clippings
  • Paper
  • Tea bags
  • Newspapers
  • Fur
  • Fireplace ashes 

As stated, there are various applications and uses of composting. In a nutshell, the benefits of composting can be summarised in the following key points: 

  • Reduced waste
  • Reduced greenhouse gas emissions
  • Water conservation
  • Improvement of soil quality
  • Better water retention profile
  • Reduced personal food waste
  • Reduced soil and water pollution 

What are the applications of composting?

The most prominent application of composting is that it leads to reduced waste generation. The current waste generation is already at grave thresholds. 

It is estimated that the average waste generation per year is about 2 billion tons. This is rendering waste management incapable leading to fervent environmental problems. 

Another important application of composting is that the compost produced can be used as a natural fertiliser. This is also very important because the conventional agrochemicals used to improve soil quality are made from harmful chemicals. 

These chemicals may leach out into the soil and water bodies and may cause all sorts of degradation. The soil and aquatic species are affected, there is pollution, and through animals, these chemicals enter the food chains eventually ending up in our bellies. 

If compost is used as a natural fertiliser, then all these problems can be overcome in a sustainable manner while also ensuring that there is less waste generation. 

Another great advantage of composting is that it results in less water consumption by plants. That is because it is studied that high organic contents in the soil lead to better water retention. 

If water is retained more, it will be conserved more. And compost is nothing but decaying organic matter. If compost is added to soil, the organic contents of the soil are increased which leads to better water retention. 

It is studied that if there is an increase of 1% soil organic content, then it may lead to better water retention of more than 20,000 gallons per acre. These figures are beyond encouraging. 

The consumption of water in agricultural and crop-related activities is already a big concern. In some states, more than 80% of the available water is used for agriculture. Water is a limited resource which is further scarce in developing countries. 

What is biodegradability?

Biodegradability can be explained as a process in which complex waste is broken down into simpler waste so that it may become a part of nature again. 

Biodegradability is important because if waste is not broken down, it will accumulate and will pollute our environment. 

These effects will also be reciprocated in life and human health. Therefore, it is incumbent to ensure that waste does not stay for long because it will lead to complications and obstructions. 

You may wonder what are the factors and agents responsible for the process of biodegradation. The most important agent for biodegradation is microbes. These microbes may include bacteria, fungi, algae, decomposers, protozoa, and yeast. 

Other than these microbes, there are external agents that also play an important role in the biodegradation process. These agents may be temperature, pressure, humidity, aeration, compaction, and sunlight. 

Based on biodegradability, there is a classification of waste. Waste may either be biodegradable or non-biodegradable. 

This is because not all waste can be degraded by the action of microbes. Most of the waste that is from synthetic materials produced at the expense of chemicals and human innovation is not biodegradable. 

It may take hundreds of years for such waste to degrade and therefore, it is termed non-biodegradable waste. Examples of non-biodegradable waste may include:

  • Epoxy resin
  • PET
  • LDPE
  • Nylon
  • Dyneema
  • Acrylic fabric
  • Synthetic resins

These materials may take from a few hundred years to a thousand years to degrade. While they persist, they cause a plethora of problems to the environment and life. Some of them are: 

  • Global warming
  • Pollution
  • Soil erosion
  • Deforestation
  • Weather anomalies
  • Pest attacks
  • Loss of life
  • Species endangerment 
  • Disruption of ecosystems
  • Alteration of food chains and food webs

Is biodegradable the same as compost?

There are a lot of similarities between biodegradability and composting and because of this, the two terms are often used interchangeably. 

However, the real question is: Is biodegradability the same as compost? The answer is no. 

Although there are a lot of similarities between the two processes because there is breakdown and degradation involved in both the processes, some factors create an unbridgeable rift between the two processes. 

If this rift were to be explained in a one-liner, it would be, “All compostable material is biodegradable but all biodegradable material is not compostable.” 

This is chiefly because for composting there is an even specific checklist because compost is directly added to soil as a natural fertiliser. It is incumbent to ensure that there is no risk associated with this process. 

Another difference between biodegradability and composting is that biodegradability may happen at any place and there is no certain set of conditions required for the process. 

However, composting is not like that. For composting, we need specific conditions of microbes, aeration, temperature et cetera to make the desired compost. 

Conclusion 

It is concluded that when biodegradable materials are allowed to decompose without access to air, the process is called composting and the end product is termed compost. 

Composting is the breakdown of waste under anaerobic conditions. The end result (compost) is known to have a lot of applications and advantages. 

Compost may be used as a natural fertiliser. It may also improve soil water retention profiles leading to better water management and water conservation. Composting may also lead to reduced waste generation because waste is reused when it is composted. 

Composting is regarded as similar to biodegradability but there is a difference between the two which is unbridgeable. Biodegradability may happen at any condition but composting requires specific conditions. Further, the end result of composting is always of good value and non-toxic. 

Frequently Asked Questions: What is produced when biodegradable materials are allowed to decompose without access to air?

What are the three types of composting? 

The three types of composting are aerobic, anaerobic and vermicomposting. 

Can you compost at home?

Yes, you can compost at home by following the set procedures

References

  • Benjawan, L., Sihawong, S., Chayaprasert, W., & Liamlaem, W. (2015). Composting of biodegradable organic waste from Thai households in a semi-continuous composter. Compost science & utilization, 23(1), 11-17.
  • Bastioli, C. (1998, December). Biodegradable materials—present situation and future perspectives. In Macromolecular Symposia (Vol. 135, No. 1, pp. 193-204). Weinheim, Germany: WILEY‐VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA.
  • Bryant, Lara. (May 27, 2015). Organic Matter Can Improve Your Soil’s Water Holding Capacity. Retrieved from: https://www.nrdc.org/experts/lara-bryant/organic-matter-can-improve-your-soils-water-holding-capacity

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