Is Metal Biodegradable?

  • By: greenorb
  • Date: August 11, 2021
  • Time to read: 5 min.

As the world starts caring more and more about taking care of the Earth, a common question that comes up is whether or not certain materials are biodegradable or not. 

One of the most commonly asked about materials is metal. 

Metal is a part of so many different objects these days, but what happens to the material when we throw it away?

Metal is not biodegradable, so when we throw it away, it goes into the landfill and does not decompose or break down. 

This is because the microorganisms in landfills don’t consume metal particles as a form of nutrition. 

This means that the metal will remain in the landfill forever.

There are potentially some metals that will biodegrade over time. 

This mainly refers to small pieces of a tin can that starts to rust and disintegrate from exposure to oxygen. 

The environment also plays a role in whether these small pieces of metal will biodegrade over time. 

What Does Biodegradable Mean?

The word biodegradable is used to describe a material that can be broken down into just its base elements by just microorganisms and time. 

It is a biological process that returns the base elements to nature as they break down.

Is Metal Biodegradable?

There are some metals that are biodegradable, but not all metals are. 

If they can be broken down by their surrounding environment, they are considered biodegradable. 

An example of a biodegradable metal is iron because it can be broken down into rust by oxygen.

Some metals can successfully biodegrade in sea water, but it takes an incredibly long time. 

For example, a tin can would take at least 50 years to biodegrade, but it would take an aluminum can at least 200 years to do the same thing.

As these metals break down, they release chemicals into the water and soil that can potentially be harmful to wildlife and humans. 

Only small metals, such as cans or tiny bits of metal, will biodegrade over time. 

Larger pieces of metal will stay in landfills forever and will not break down.

Is Metal Harmful to the Environment?

Although metal is harvested from the Earth, that doesn’t mean it is good for the environment. 

There are several reasons that metal can be harmful to the environment that start with the mining process.

Metal is harmful to both soil and water when disposed of improperly. 

If metals are thrown into landfills or just dumped somewhere, there is a high chance that the chemicals of the metal will soak into the dirt or find its way into a water supply.

There is also the potential of the metal being absorbed by plants and animals, causing effects to them that are detrimental. 

The animals can experience poison and the plants will likely grow improperly.

How to Properly Dispose of Metal

The best way to dispose of metal is to recycle it. 

In fact, metal is one of the most valuable materials that can be recycled. 

It not only keeps these materials that are not biodegradable out of our landfills, but there is also the potential to make some extra money.


You will need to be sure you prepare your metal before you recycle it. 

You will need to determine how much of the product is actually made of metal. 

If more than 50 percent of the product is made of metal, you can recycle it. 

If the product only has a small amount of metal, but the metal can be easily removed, separate the metal from the product. A great example of this would be a three-ring binder. 

The majority of the product is plastic, but you can remove the metal rings for recycling.

You will also need to determine if the metal is ferrous or nonferrous. 

Ferrous metals include steel and iron, while nonferrous metals include aluminum, tin, copper, zinc, and lead. You can test the metal with a magnet. If it sticks to the magnet, it is a ferrous metal.

Recycling Process

The first step of the process is collection. 

This is when the metal arrives at the recycling facility. Next is the sorting process. 

This is when the metal is separated inside the facility to make sure each piece ends up in the correct place.

After sorting, the metals are processed. 

This involves shredding the metals to make the melting process easier. 

When the metals are in tiny pieces, the melting process will require less energy to complete. 

Next comes the melting. 

The shredded pieces of metal are put into a furnace specifically designed for each different type of metal. 

While this takes a decent amount of energy, it is still less than what is required to produce new metals. This process can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. 

When the melting process is finished, there is the purification process to ensure that all of the metals are free from contaminants and are high quality with Electrolysis. 

Finally, the melted metals are solidified and used for the manufacturing of other products. 

Why Recycle Metal?

There are so many reasons why it is beneficial to recycle metal. 

First, it is one of just a few products that you can recycle and make money on. 

You will usually get paid per pound of metal, but even if you don’t have a pound, it is still worth recycling.

Recycling metal makes it easier for us to preserve our natural resources with less energy needed to process new materials. 

The recycling of metals also reduces the carbon dioxide and harmful gasses that are emitted to the environment as manufacturing companies don’t need to generate whole new metal products.


To preserve our Earth the best we can, more people are beginning to wonder what type of materials are biodegradable. 

Metal, unfortunately, is not one of those materials. 

You should avoid throwing metals into a landfill because they will not break down and decompose over time.

The best thing to do with metal is recycle it when you are finished. 

Not only is it better for the environment, but there is also the potential of making a little money from the process. 

Recycling metal is incredibly easy and makes a difference.

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