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What Biodegradable Really Means

You must have seen the word biodegradable being thrown about in just each and every product in the supermarket today. It is also certainly one of those words that makes you pause and think that maybe you should choose this product or thing over its competitors or make you more inclined to opt for buying something. 

What Biodegradable Really Means 

Of course, this is a natural reaction from you because who would not want to help the environment and that is exactly what the subtext of adding ‘biodegradable' to things is supposed to make you think. But what does biodegradable even mean? 

What Is The Definition Of Biodegradable? 

The term biodegradable can be loosely defined as any substance or thing that can be broken down into its simplest molecules or components by fungi or bacteria in certain conditions. These basic blocks of the product or thing can then be absorbed back into the Earth becoming a part of the natural crust.  

Further, it is also understood that usually biodegradable things will not release or become toxic to the environment when they are broken down by bacteria or fungi like this. 

What Is The Difference Between Artificially Biodegradable And Naturally Biodegradable Things? 

Things like plants and food are what you would call naturally biodegradable things, which means things that are formed using building blocks that are found naturally in the environment and on Earth. 

Artificially biodegradable things are those that are made from man-made building blocks like plastics and resin. These building blocks do not exist naturally in the environment, but they can be broken down into the natural building blocks that were combined or manipulated to create the new man-made building block. 

What Biodegradable Really Means

Now reading that you can understand why it is that your avocados rot and go bad so quickly while your plastic wrap stays as it is for time unknown! 

It is because avocados are naturally biodegradable. After all, they are made of things found inherently in nature. Meanwhile, plastic wrap is made of things that do not exist in the natural world, so it will first have to break down to the natural blocks, and then those will be broken down further to be reabsorbed. 


Are Biodegradable Things Good For The Environment? 

The answer to this is complicated because the fact of the matter is that everything on Earth will eventually break down, just the time it will take to do that differs depending on the material and the conditions it is in. 

Like it was mentioned before, artificially biodegradable things and naturally biodegradable things break down at different speeds. 

While the natural ones like wood and food would break down in a few weeks or a few years, artificially biodegradable things will need centuries if not thousands of years to break down and be reabsorbed into the Earth. 

So the things you might be thinking will not add to landfills or ocean trash may actually be doing just that. Also, to consider is the process of biodegrading itself; oftentimes these materials end up harmful or toxic gases when they are broken down by bacteria or microbes. 

Natural products and plastics, both biodegrade to form the two dreaded greenhouse gases, methane and carbon dioxide. Biodegradable plastic is the leading cause of methane production in landfills followed by office paper and then food waste, according to this 2011 study. 

The problem is not just with the biodegradable plastics, even natural products can end up contributing to the landfill and can be bad for the environment. If the naturally biodegradable items are buried in landfill heaps without getting exposed to the bacteria or weather conditions needed for them to deteriorate, they are just going to be sitting there like plastics. 

Some governments are trying to control the problem of methane production in landfills and are trying to harness the methane to use it for energy generation. However, the efficiency of these efforts is not high and often greenhouse gases end up leaking into the atmosphere. 

So What Can You Do? 

There are still many things you can do to help out the environment and do your bit, also you are not alone in this endeavour. Scientists and innovators from around the world are trying to address this issue and have identified a few things that can help. 

Use Bioplastics Or Compostable Plastics 

Compostable plastics or bioplastics are materials that are created using only plant materials rather than fossil fuels like other plastics. Commonly made from things such as starch and algae, these bioplastics do exactly as they claim and break down to form natural things like water, compost and oxygen. 

What Biodegradable Really Means

They are being pushed for use in food packaging like sandwich wraps or vegetable packaging and even for compost liners. Since these compostable plastics break down in a similar manner to food itself, they can be disposed of alongside food waste without any issues. 

There is a concern with using these bioplastics, however, that most of these plastics cannot be composted or added to the compost pile at your home. Most of these compostable plastics need to be broken down in industrial-strength composters that reach the higher humidity and heat levels needed to break them down. 

So if you do not have those facilities in your neighborhood or in your local area, these plastics are also going to end up going to the landfill where they can also further contaminate recyclable plastics, making them unfit for traditional recycling

Use Less And Buy Less 

The best thing to do on an individual level is to avoid using single-use plastic as much as possible. Avoid buying things like water bottles, snack foods, tongue cleaners, makeup wipes and so on that are of the use-and-throw model. 

Another thing to do is to avoid food waste as much as possible. Buy food and groceries in smaller amounts and use everything you buy or donate the things you can't finish rather than throwing them away. Starting a compost point at your home is also another great alternative for throwing away food.