Biodegradable products are often marketed as being better for the environment. Is that true, though?
Does biodegradable really mean that the product is going to have a limited impact on the environment?
Let’s take a look.
What Are Biodegradable Products?
Biodegradable products are, mostly, made of plant matter i.e. something that can break down easily.
This includes untreated wood and paper.
Technically, while metals and some plastics are biodegradable, they will take a long time to biodegrade.
This can mean decades or even hundreds of years.
This is why some plastics are labeled as biodegradable, even if they take a long time to break down.
Biodegradable products are supposed to break down naturally, normally through bacteria eating them.
The process may take a while. However, eventually the product will break down into a combination of gases and organic material.
Does Biodegradable Mean Environmentally Safe?
While biodegradable products are often marketed as environmentally safe, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are.
In fact, their environmental safety depends less on the product, but more on the way in which the landfill processes them.
As we said before, biodegradable products break down into natural compounds:
- Carbon dioxide
- Water vapor
- Various organic compounds.
How long they take to break down will depend on the amount of air they are exposed to.
This is because they need bacteria to munch on the material.
This is where we run into issues.
Lack of oxygen
When biodegradable products are buried deep in a landfill, they are not going to have access to oxygen.
This means that the bacteria that is required to break them down quickly cannot survive.
Right away, this means that the breakdown of the biodegradable products is immediately slower.
These biodegradable products are likely going to be filling up the landfill a lot longer than you may anticipate.
Because there are no bacteria to break down the biodegradable product, a different process has to take place. We don’t want to get scientific here.
All you really need to know is that this slightly different process produces a lot of methane.
Damage caused by methane to the environment
You probably don’t need us to tell you how bad methane is for the environment, but we will tell you anyway.
We just want to make it abundantly clear that biodegradable products are absolutely not safe for the environment.
This is a particularly awful gas that you now have trapped underground.
This is going to be leaking into the surrounding soil and water sources.
This can render those sources undrinkable and it can ensure that nothing is able to thrive on the land.
While your one item probably isn’t going to be having that much of an impact on the environment, think about all of those biodegradable products shoved underground.
All of them produce methane.
This methane isn’t going to remain trapped underground, though.
Oh no. As those gases start to build up, the methane is going to be released from the landfill and be sent into the air.
Unless the landfill catches the methane at this point, and some do, the methane is just going to keep floating upward. It is going to be pulling carbon from the air.
Methane is actually a key contributor to global warming.
This actually surprises a lot of people. Many believe that buying biodegradable products can help to cut down on global warming.
However, it tends to have the opposite effect.
It ends up making it a whole lot worse.
Can You Put Biodegradable Products in the Compost?
Unless the biodegradable product explicitly says that it is compostable, then it should not be placed in the compost.
While a biodegradable product will eventually break down, it certainly isn’t going to break down quickly enough for compost.
The methane issue with biodegradable products wouldn’t be a huge issue for compost.
Compost is going to produce methane anyway.
So, if you run a compost heap, you will probably want to look into ways to reduce your methane production.
Is Eco-Friendly the Same as Biodegradable?
The problem with making this comparison is that eco-friendly isn’t a legal term.
It is a marketing term.
This means that there isn’t going to be a fixed definition of eco-friendly.
Most people agree that eco-friendly means products that are produced sustainably with little to no impact on the environment.
Eco-friendly products are normally sourced from renewable sources.
This does mean that not all products marked as biodegradable are going to be eco-friendly.
Some biodegradable products require a whopping number of resources to produce.
Some are not even sourced from renewable sources.
This means that all eco-friendly products are biodegradable products, but not all biodegradable products are eco-friendly.
What is the Safest Way to Dispose of Biodegradable Products?
While you will not be able to put the biodegradable products into your own compost heap, this doesn’t mean that they can’t end up in another compost heap.
Most major towns and cities will run a commercial compost heap where the biodegradable products can be taken.
These compost heaps will have their airflow controlled to ensure that the build-up of methane is kept to the absolute minimum.
Any methane that is produced is captured and burned off. In some cases, it can also be used in the production of electricity.
There are special processes for disposing of your biodegradable products in the trash in some towns and cities.
These products will be sent to power generation facilities where they can be used for creating electricity.
In some cases, biodegradable products can also be used to power vehicles.
Both of these are going to be far, far better options than letting the products languish in the landfill.
Biodegradable products can be bad for the environment when they are disposed of incorrectly.
The last thing you want is to have biodegradable products sent to the landfill as this can contribute to global warming and it can help to ruin the land surrounding the landfill.
For your biodegradable products to have the minimum amount of impact on the environment, you will want to look for recycling facilities in your local area.