Duct tape is a useful item in our lives. From wrapping package crafts to gifts to fixing punctured tires and leaky pipes, duct tape is here to bind things together.
When it’s no longer used, it becomes a waste.
So what can you do with duct tape? Is duct tape biodegradable? The answer depends on a litany of factors, mostly the materials used to make the duct tape.
Biodegradable tapes contain natural materials that decompose over a short period.
Most traditional tapes are crafted with synthetic materials that take hundreds of years to biodegrade.
Today I’ll walk you through some of the things you need to know about duct tape.
What is Duct Tape Made Of?
Duct tape refers to a cloth tape coated with a sticky rubber-based adhesive on one side and a polyethylene resin on the other.
Like most tapes, duct tape has a fabric backing which gives it strength while making it easy to tear.
The tape comes from four primary raw materials that make duct tape functional. They include:
- Adhesive coating: Forms the sticky part that binds surfaces or items together.
- Polyethylene resin. It’s what gives duct tape its strength.
- Scrim fibers. Give the duct tape’s fabric screen structure.
- Cardboard roll. Provides surface for wrapping the tape.
Is Duct Tape Biodegradable?
Yes, duct tape is biodegradable. Most of the materials used to make duct tape come from natural sources, meaning it will decompose over time.
It’s important to, however, note that not all materials that make-up duct tape are biodegradable. Natural-based materials are more biodegradable than synthetic duct tape materials.
The same also applies to the duct tape type, determined by the material composition.
Biodegradable duct tapes consist of natural materials such as cotton, natural rubber, and paper. Such materials are friendly to decomposers like fungi and bacteria.
To better understand the biodegradability of duct tape, you need to examine the materials forming the tape’s various parts:
Traditional duct tape may contain either rubber-based or synthetic adhesives:
- Rubber-Based Adhesives
Rubber-based adhesives, especially those made from natural rubber, are biodegradable. Microbes such as bacteria and fungi will break the material to form simpler organic matter.
Duct tape adhesives made from synthetic rubber are non-biodegradable.
That’s because they contain toxic chemicals which inhibit breakdown by microbes. Even if they could biodegrade, they may take a long time to break down.
- Synthetic Adhesives
Some duct tape may contain synthetic adhesives which are not readily biodegradable. Just like plastic, duct tape made of synthetic adhesives are non-biodegradable.
It will take hundreds of years to biodegrade completely.
Synthetic adhesives may get processed at the tape manufacturing plant or get bought. Some of the common synthetic adhesives used to make duct tape include:
Scrim is another vital part of duct tape. It forms the fabric part of the tape, giving it a screen and strong structure. This part may also have natural or synthetic materials. It’s often made from:
- A mixture of both
Cotton is a natural and decomposable material, meaning duct tape made of cotton fabrics is biodegradable.
Unlike cotton scrim, the polyester scrim is a synthetic material that doesn’t easily break down by the action of microbes.
Duct tape scrim made of a blend of cotton and polyester material will degrade at different rates. The cotton part will decompose much faster, leaving the polyester part, which takes longer to decay fully.
Polyester fiber is usually made by reacting alcohol (ethylene glycol) with an acid (dimethyl terephthalate), forming a monomer.
This monomer reacts with terephthalic acid and is spun into ribbons to form its stripes.
Besides alcohol and acid, polyester processing depends on:
The acid used to make polyester fabric for duct tape makes the material non-biodegradable. It kills microbes before they start acting on the material.
Polyethylene is yet another synthetic material forming duct tape’s plastic layer, which is also non-biodegradable. Its thin material gives duct tape its famous, relatively tensile quality.
The thermoplastic nature of polyethylene is what makes it recyclable. Recycling a duct tape strip requires the correct resources for excellent results.
Burning duct tape strips may also damage the scrim and adhesives, giving undesired results.
The cardboard tube is the last component of duct tape. It’s the solid part or tube around which the duct tape wraps.
The main raw material of the cardboard is paper sourced from wood pulp, hence biodegradable.
Some duct tapes, however, may have plastic or metal rolls, which are non-biodegradable.
The materials making up duct tape ultimately affect its biodegradability. Tapes made of purely natural materials are biodegradable, but those containing synthetic materials are not.
They instead stay in landfills longer, impacting the environment negatively.
How Long Does Duct Tape Take to Biodegrade?
Duct tape can take anywhere between 1-3 months or more to decompose completely.
The biodegradation rate of duct tape varies depending on factors such as:
- Type of duct tape. Biodegradable tape will decompose faster than synthetic tape.
- Availability of moisture. Decomposition rate is often higher when there’s adequate moisture/water.
- Presence of decomposers. Duct tape breaks down faster when microbes such as fungi and bacteria are in a larger population.
- Favorable temperature. Duct tape decomposes faster in warmer temperatures than in cooler ones.
Can You Compost Duct Tape?
Yes, you can compost a duct tape made of compostable materials. Compostable tapes contain natural biodegradable materials like cotton, paper, and natural rubber.
These materials can break down naturally by the action of microbes.
Since they’re safe for fungi and bacteria to digest, such materials will decompose faster than non-biodegradable synthetic materials.
Upon decomposition, they will form organic matter that enriches the soil with nutrients.
It’s advisable to look for biodegradable or compostable duct tape for your compost.
Is Biodegrading Duct Tape Harmful to the Environment?
The answer depends on the duct tape materials. Biodegrading duct tape made from natural materials doesn’t cause significant harm to the environment.
Microbes break them down into simple organic compounds that return to the environment.
Decomposing duct tape may result in little or no greenhouse gas emissions, posing little to no environmental threat.
Plastic or synthetic duct tape materials emit toxic chemicals, affecting the environment.
Now you already know that duct tape will break down over time.
As evident, Most duct tapes have natural materials, making them biodegradable.
Some may entirely have biodegradable materials, a great option to use today. Others will have certain parts made of synthetic material, which take longer to decay.