Biodegradable materials are supposed to be environmentally friendly but sometimes this expectation isn’t entirely true.

What Is Biodegradable?

In order for a product to be classified as a biodegradable product, it must be able to be broken down into its constituent natural elements and be absorbed by the environment. Real biodegradable material will often break down into:

Simple organisms
Carbon
Hydrogen
Bacteria
Fungi
Oxygen – Carbon dioxide Co2 and water H2O

Because a product is advertised as biodegradable it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is good for the environment. No guidelines exist with which to aid buyers of products which are advertised as biodegradable. These products may actually be biodegradable since they eventually break down into their natural elements but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are safe for the environment.

Being Biodegradable Isn’t Always Safe

Different biodegradable elements tend to break down into natural elements over a certain period of time. Some of them break down into natural elements which may be harmful to the health of both flora and fauna alike. One such element is nonylphenolethoxylate otherwise known as NDE; this element is a constituent part of many cleaning supplies we use today. The natural elements that make up NDE include carbon, hydrogen as well as oxygen, thus most people assume that when it is broken down it should break down into these same elements. However this is not the case, NDE actually breaks down to become a harmful benzene compound that is damaging to female reproductive organs.

How Long It Takes Is another Factor

Something else that is of importance and considerable concern is the period that a product takes to break down into its constituent parts. Something like a loaf of bread is totally biodegradable. It can actually break down into simple sugars in a mere matter of days. Paper on the other hand may take up to 5 months to degrade into its proper constituent elements.

One other problem is the disposal methods that are used to get rid of the products we wish to dispose of. A natural compost pile makes it easy for normal food to degrade easily. If waste on the other hand is placed among other forms of garbage natural and unnatural alike, it may take months to or even years to decompose. Researchers have found apple cores that were more than two decades old in garbage landfills. If you seek out better ways to dispose of biodegradable material, you can help speed up the degrading process and make the resultant products safer.

This is are average indicators of the period of time that it takes to breakdown a biodegradable product completely

Paper: 2-5 weeks
Banana peel: 3-5 weeks
Orange peels: 6 months
Cotton rags 1-5 months
Cigarette butts: 1-12 years
Plastic or cardboard milk carton: 5 years

Returning To Nature

Any products that come from nature such as plants, minerals and animals will eventually return to their natural states over time. Products that are man-made such as petrochemical products cannot be broken down by microorganisms into natural elements. They will simply remain non-degradable and will continue to litter the earth for centuries.

Darren Williger is an over-caffeinated, low carbohydrate eating, winemaking enthusiast who writes for NetworkSecurity.WS, EcoSection.com, and MixtureCars.com.