What is Biodegradable?


Biodegradable refers to materials that can naturally decompose through the action of bacteria or other organisms without contributing to pollution.

It includes materials that can break down naturally due to factors like microbes (such as bacteria and fungi) and non-living elements like temperature, UV light, and oxygen. Examples of such waste include food scraps, kitchen refuse, and other organic materials. Microorganisms and environmental factors work together to convert complex substances into simpler organic matter, which eventually becomes part of the soil. This entire process is natural and can occur at varying rates. As a result, biodegradable waste poses minimal environmental concerns and risks.

Types of Biodegradable Waste

1. Green waste:

Green waste is also known as biological waste and includes compostable organic materials like garden refuse (leaves, grass clippings) and kitchen waste. It’s rich in nitrogen, unlike brown wastes (e.g., pine, hay, dried leaves), which are carbon-rich. Green waste enhances composting and supports local nutrient cycles when added to soil. Many UK communities have green waste recycling programs to reduce landfill biodegradable materials.

2. Food Waste:

Food and biodegradable waste management (FBWM) is a growing concern, notably in Japan due to raw food preferences. Increased fresh fruit consumption challenges FBWM logistics and contributes to landfill methane production.

3. Paper Waste:

Office and industrial paper waste can make up to 70% of total waste. It includes printing errors, billing documents, junk mail, and packaging. Recycling paper, vital for pollution reduction, involves separation, cleaning, and cellulose breakdown through heat and chemicals.

4. Biodegradable Plastics:

These plastics decompose through microorganism action into CO2, water, and biomass. Two types exist: oxo-biodegradable (OBP) and hydro-biodegradable (HBP). OBP degrades via oxidation, while HBP undergoes hydrolysis, emitting methane and being non-recyclable. They find applications in various products.

In summary, green waste, food waste, paper waste, and biodegradable plastics all require responsible management to minimize environmental impact.

Also See: What is Municipal Waste?

Biodegradable Waste Management

1. Waste Handling and Transport:

This involves the storage, collection, transportation, treatment, processing, or disposal of solid waste. Methods vary worldwide, but priority is given to managing municipal solid waste (MSW) to avoid environmental harm and health risks.

2. Segregation/Separation of Wastes:

Waste can be classified as biodegradable or non-biodegradable. Two bins, one for each type, facilitate sorting and recycling. Biodegradable waste, like food scraps and vegetable peels, can be composted or vermicomposted to create nutrient-rich manure.

3. Composting:

Organic waste is buried in compost pits, where microbial action turns it into a rich soil amendment. Composting decreases waste sent to landfills and stabilizes carbon and nutrients. Red worms assist in the decomposition process.

4. Vermicomposting:

Earthworms break down organic matter into nutrient-rich vermicast, a potent soil conditioner, and organic fertilizer. Vermicomposting is a quick process, yielding loose soil-like material.

5. Landfills:

Sanitary landfills are used to dispose of non-hazardous solid waste safely. While landfills are cost-effective, reducing waste through recycling programs can extend their lifespan. Some regions charge for garbage collection based on container size to promote recycling and awareness.

Biodegradable waste management is crucial, particularly in densely populated areas like India, where land space is limited. Recycling and waste reduction are essential strategies to ensure sustainable waste management.

Negative Effects of Biodegradable Waste

This waste can have the following harmful environmental impacts:

  • Microbial Growth: Promotes diseases due to increased microbial growth.
  • Odor: Burning biodegradable waste emits foul odors.
  • Disease Vectors: Poor waste management attracts disease-carrying pests.
  • Climate Impact: Mismanagement leads to methane emissions and landfill gas production, affecting the climate.

Must Read: What is E-Waste?

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