Biodegradable is used to describe any type of waste that can be broken down by other organisms. This distinction is very important in waste management because it determines the best method to safely dispose of the waste. Mixing biodegradable waste together with non-biodegradable waste leads to a situation where the non-biodegradable waste can linger in the environment long after the biodegradable waste has decomposed. The EPA reports that Americans produced about 4.3 pounds of waste daily per person, in 2009. Knowing how to properly manage this huge volume of waste is crucial to the health and well-being of people and the environment.
Classification as biodegradable and non-biodegradable is a system of waste management where wastes are labeled for proper disposal. Improperly classified waste leads to a lack of proper management, consequential health hazards and unappealing eyesores. The main determining factors for the classification of both types of wastes are whether they can decompose and their rate of decomposition.
Non-biodegradable wastes are those kinds of waste that cannot decompose easily. Examples of non-biodegradable waste include electronics, plastic, glass, metal and batteries. The EPA States that Americans generated about 11.8 million tons of glass alone in 2009. One of the methods of reducing non-biodegradable wastes is by recycling. For instance, the EPA also advises people to use rechargeable batteries to reduce the amount of waste batteries generated.
Types and Uses of Biodegradable Waste
The EPA refers to biodegradable wastes as organic wastes. This type of waste includes food waste, yard trimmings and wood waste. Yard trimmings include different types of vegetation, like clippings from grasses, trees and bushes. Yard trimmings can be used for composting. Composting is the process of using certain organic materials as manure for growing plants. Food waste includes all discarded cooked or raw food materials. They are usually the byproduct of storing, preparing, handling or eating food. Food scraps can also be used for making animal feed. Wood waste includes all wood and wood-based waste, including paper. Wood waste can be recycled to extend their lifecycle. Other sources of biodegradable waste include bodily waste and animal dung.
Environmental Effects of Waste
Another way of classifying non-biodegradable and biodegradable waste is by their effect on the environment. Biodegradable wastes release methane during decomposition, which is a gas that is three times as potent as carbon dioxide in contributing to the greenhouse effect. Most non-biodegradable wastes also contain toxic substances. For instance, fluorescent bulbs contain mercury, a chemical that is harmful to human, animal and ecological health.
- Environmental Protection Agency: Batteries
- Environmental Protection Agency: Municipal Solid Waste
- Environmental Protection Agency: Composting
- Renewable Lubricants: Understanding Biobased/Biodegradable and the Industry's Standardized Tests and Definitions
- World Wildlife Fund: Biodegradable and Non-biodegradable materials
- Waste Online: After its Been Binned
- Photo Credit Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images
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