What is the effect of biodegradable waste on the Environment? (7 examples of biodegradable waste) 

In this article, the effects of biodegradable waste on the environment shall be discussed and deliberated. Other than that, the following related topics shall also be explored and elucidated: 

  • What is biodegradability?
  • What are the types of waste?
  • Examples of biodegradable wastes.
  • Examples of non-biodegradable wastes.
  • What are the trends in waste production? 
  • Why should non-biodegradable waste be avoided: A case of plastic.
  • What are the effects of biodegradable waste?
  • FAQs

What is the effect of biodegradable waste on the Environment?

The effects of biodegradable waste on the environment can be harmful if it is not disposed of properly and produced in excess. 

Further, the use of material that makes up biodegradable waste should also be sustainable to make sure that the environment is not affected. 

If biodegradable waste is not disposed of properly, it can still cause serious issues despite being biodegradable. For example, some biodegradable wastes release harmful gases during degradation and hence, if they are not disposed of properly, they will harm the environment. 

What is biodegradability? 

Biodegradability is the process through which complex substances are broken down into simpler substances by various drivers such as moisture, microbes et cetera. It is the natural process of the Earth to deal with waste. 

The main drivers of this process are microbes that include bacteria, fungi and various other decomposers. They decompose the natural products within months leaving negligible strain on the environment. 

However, as man advanced his understanding of nature and the various phenomena that edifice nature, he came up with many synthetic products as well under the guise of scientific revolutions and discoveries. 

These synthetic products, however, do not gel well with the Earth’s natural system of disposing of wastes and hence as a result, man-made products are not degraded for hundreds of years and are termed as non-biodegradable. 

However, it is not a rigid rule of thumb that man-made products are not biodegradable. Over the course of scientific evolution and understanding, man has created many products that can be degraded just like natural substances like eggshells et cetera. 

Examples of man-made substances that can be degraded easily may include biodegradable plastics or biodegradable packing peanuts. These substances are made from natural material and hence contain no synthetic elements in them. 

It may also be deliberated that these man-made biodegradable products may be degraded in a controlled setup with provided conditions of temperature, pressure and microbes so that any unwanted scenarios are avoided and no harm is caused to life and the environment nearby. 

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 the 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%). 

Why non-biodegradable waste should be avoided: A case of plastics.

Plastic is a very important example of non-biodegradable waste and perhaps the most significant too. The issue of plastic contamination and plastic accumulation has taken the entire world into its grip.

The use of plastic dates back to the start of the 20th century; however, the use was increased by manifolds after the second world war. The world recognised the importance of plastic as its uses ranged in all fields and all sciences. 

With increased consumerism, more plastic started to be used or perhaps misused. It is cited that a single plastic bag may be used for a span of some minutes to several hours yet it takes almost forever to degrade it. 

Regardless of the negative impacts of plastic, it is still used in many parts of the world largely because it is cheap and is of good use. Statistics reveal that single-use plastics amount to almost half of the total plastics production. 

As per the stats, the production of plastic is expected to rise to up to 1000 million tons by as early as 2050. However, this production figure was less than 3 million back in the 1950s. This exemplifies the extreme misuse of plastic. 

This increased use does a lot of harm to the environment at all levels. Much plastic (around 8 million tons every year) ends up in the oceans which leads to the death of millions of aquatic animals and thus disrupts the food chains. 

The plastic that ends up in the seas and oceans is converted to microplastic by sunlight, wind and water waves. This microplastic is accumulated in literally every corner of the world. It may be reiterated that plastics may take more than 400 years to break down. 

It is reported that as many as 700 species have been affected by plastic either through consumption or entanglement. The consumption of plastic results in the death of animals. The consumption of plastics also causes liver damage and reproductive complications in animals.  

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 is 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 material. 

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 source 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 a 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 lead to the release of hydrogen sulphide and sulphur dioxide. These gases are toxic to life and the environment causing acid rain, deforestation, lungs dysfunctions, 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 biodegradable waste, despite being degradable, can still cause harmful effects on life and the environment if it is produced in excess and not disposed of properly. 

Examples of such cases were given where biodegradable waste lead to detrimental impacts on life and the environment. Non-biodegradable waste and why it should be avoided were also discussed. 

Frequently Asked Questions: What is the effect of biodegradable waste on the environment? 

Is biodegradable waste eco-friendly? 

Biodegradable waste can be eco-friendly if it is disposed of properly. Otherwise, it will cause harm to the environment and life. In this way, it will not be considered eco-friendly. 

Can synthetic material be biodegradable? 

Yes, synthetic materials can be biodegradable if they are made from natural sources. Examples include biodegradable plastics or bio-based fibres. 

References

  • 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 circular economy. Science of the Total Environment, 731, 138049.
  • Demirbas, A. (2011). Waste management, waste resource facilities and waste conversion processes. Energy Conversion and Management, 52(2), 1280-1287.
  • Greenorb. (October 2, 2021). How Biodegradable Substances Affect the Environment. Retrieved from: https://www.thinkingsustainably.com/biodegradable-substances/
  • Hoornweg, D., & Bhada-Tata, P. (2012). What a waste: a global review of solid waste management.

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