Biodegradable materials are the best alternative to non-biodegradable substances.
They help reduce environmental footprint as microbes act upon, breaking them into simpler, safer units.
But can biodegradable waste be harmful? Yes, biodegradable waste can be harmful to the environment and human health.
According to research conducted by the North Carolina State University, biodegradable wastes release methane when they break down.
Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that is bad for the environment.
Biodegradable waste may also carry disease-causing pathogens, which cause various diseases that lead to the death of humans.
Here’s our detailed guide to help you understand how biodegradable waste can be harmful.
Can Biodegradable Waste be Harmful?
Biodegradable waste is a substance that degrades naturally.
They decompose with the help of natural factors such as microorganisms, water, sunlight, etc.
These factors convert biodegradable waste into harmless organic manure.
That’s why this type of waste receives all the praises for reducing environmental footprint.
But switching from non-biodegradable to biodegradable waste doesn’t fix pollution problems completely.
The waste can be harmful to both the environment and humans who come into contact with them.
The three major categories of biodegradable pollutants are:
- Human and animal waste
- Plant products (e.g., paper, food waste, wood, grass clippings, and leaves)
- Dead organisms’ bodies and body parts
These wastes can cause pollution in two ways:
1. Point Source Pollution
This is where the waste gets accessed by humans or the environment. It includes dumpsites, landfills, garbage collection sites, etc.
Here, it’s easier to capture and treat biodegradable waste as it exists at strategic sites.
2. Non-point Source Pollution
Here, biodegradable pollution occurs due to runoff from fields, streets, and yards. Capturing and treating this type of biodegradable pollution is tricky.
Non-point source biodegradable pollution includes organic substances washed down into water bodies when it rains.
- Animal waste
- Petroleum products such as oil and gasoline
In short, biodegradable waste is harmful. It can cause pollution to the environment differently than you can imagine.
How is Biodegradable Waste Harmful to the Environment?
Biodegradable waste can cause harmful environmental effects in various ways depending on its source.
Let’s look at how biodegradable waste can cause environmental effects:
Animal Remains, Waste, and Fertilizers
Biodegradable pollutants like animal remains, animal waste, and fertilizers get deposited into rivers, lakes, oceans, etc.
These water bodies are home to algae, fish, and other aquatic organisms.
Animal wastes, animal remains, and fertilizers are rich sources of nutrients for algae.
Many algae will consume oxygen in massive quantities, resulting in oxygen depletion.
This kills many fish, including other organisms living in the aquatic environment.
High algae population also leads to toxin emissions that affect humans, fish, and whales.
Over 8776 square miles of the Gulf of Mexico has been a “dead zone” since 1985 because of a lack of dissolved oxygen.
Decomposition of organic plant materials leads to methane emission, a powerful greenhouse gas.
The microorganisms that act on plant materials, including animal waste, releases methane.
When the gas gets released into the atmosphere, it becomes an environmental hazard.
Methane can trap up to 25 times more heat energy in the atmosphere than CO2.
That makes methane a more dangerous GHG than carbon dioxide.
Methane released by biodegradable waste decomposing in landfills can be a valuable energy source.
That’s only possible in places with gas collecting systems. Such systems help capture methane, reducing emissions into the environment.
According to EPA estimates, around 35% of municipal solid waste gets disposed of in landfills to trap methane for energy generation.
Another 34% of landfills trap and burn methane on site. And 31% let methane escape into the atmosphere.
So biodegradable waste isn’t more environmentally friendly when thrown in landfills.
Bioplastics are plastics made using plant materials. They exist in three types:
These plastics degrade, meaning that they can break down into tiny pieces.
When disposed of, these particles cause environmental impact, which is increasingly clear.
Bioplastics can get broken completely by microbes, decomposing them in water and compost.
Compostable plastics can decompose in compost pits or containers, releasing carbon dioxide, toxic-free water, biomass, and inorganic compounds.
Production of biodegradables also comes with various environmental effects.
When bioplastics land in landfills, they lead to methane emissions when they decompose.
How is Biodegradable Waste Harmful to your Health?
Biodegradable waste can also cause serious health problems to human beings.
Animal remains, waste, pesticides, and fertilizers carry bacteria and other disease-causing pathogens, which lead to water contamination in water bodies.
These bacteria are dangerous as they may cause a wide range of diseases like:
- Typhoid fever
If not treated in time, these diseases may cause death. About 1.8 million people died after consuming contaminated water in 2015.
Contaminated water makes around 1 billion people sick each year.
In the U.S, about 3.5 million people suffer from respiratory problems, hepatitis, skin rashes, or develop pink eye due to coastal waters contaminated by sewage.
Biodegradable waste in landfills can also generate lots of microbial flora.
These microbes may cause various contagious diseases not just in humans but also in animals and plants.
When these wastes accumulate in a place for some time, they release an unpleasant odor.
Even when burnt, biodegradable wastes release certain toxic gasses like carbon dioxide, affecting human health when inhaled.
Heaps formed by bio-wastes are excellent breeding grounds for disease carriers.
They’re also home to vectors such as mice and rats that can spread various contagious diseases.
How Can You Handle Biodegradable Waste?
Now that we know how harmful biodegradable waste can be, it’s important to know how best
to handle them.
Biodegradable wastes found in landfills may cause harmful methane.
So it is better to throw the waste into commercial compost peat.
If you live in a region with recycling centers, consider taking your biodegradable waste there.
Check if there’s a biogas plant that relies on biodegradable waste to source methane for electricity production.
Can biodegradable waste be harmful? Yes. Poor handling of biodegradable waste can cause harmful effects to humans and the environment at large.
Biodegradable waste in landfills decomposes, releasing methane which causes serious global warming effects.
That’s if there are no gas collection systems set in place.
They may also carry disease-causing bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other pathogens that cause severe health problems.