Our daily consumption and the resulting waste materials can be either biodegradable or non-biodegradable. What are biodegradable wastes? Biodegradable waste material is that which can be degraded and recycled in nature for sustaining life. It, therefore, does not pile up and gets decomposed in soil. These things are available or produced in nature. Examples of biodegradable materials are domestic waste like leftover food, waste food materials from vegetables and fruits, wood, leather, etc. What are non-biodegradable wastes? A non-biodegradable material is that which does not decompose and piles up on land or in the sea. The resulting pile of waste material can lead to pollution and affect nature. These materials are usually synthetically made. Examples of non-biodegradable materials are plastic, toxic chemicals, glass, metal items (note: metals are found in nature in ore forms; the factory-made solid form is non-biodegradable.)
The best way to differentiate between biodegradable and non-biodegradable materials is by understanding how the decomposition process works. Even hard materials like wood and leather do take a very long time to disintegrate in the soil completely. Metals, plastics, and glass, however, do not disintegrate with microbial actions.
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‘Biodegradability and non-biodegradability’ is one of the most hotly debated topics along with ‘Forestation and deforestation’ amongst environmentalists. The concern is raised because non-biodegradable materials are hazardous to the environment. The non-biodegradable materials are either buried in soil, disposed of in river or sea, or burnt. In either case, there is some negative impact on nature.
Burning: Burning of plastic, such as PVC, releases carbon monoxide, which is a greenhouse gas which causes the environment to heat up by trapping the heat from sun rays.
Burying: Burying the non-biodegradable waste causes soil pollution, the piled-up pieces of plastics, glass and metals can make the land less favourable for farming.
Disposing: Disposing of the non-biodegradable materials in rivers, ponds, and seas can cause the water bodies to clog up with these things. It can be hazardous to the marine flora and fauna. It can eventually lead to an ecological imbalance leading to the extinction of several species that form a vital part of the ecosystem.
There are various proposed resolutions to reduce the impact on the environment due to the non-biodegradable waste. These are retrograde and anterograde measures. In the retrograde measures, there are steps taken to reverse the impact that has already been done to nature. In the anterograde measures, there are steps taken to reduce further damage to nature. They are as follows:
Reduction or complete discontinuation of non-biodegradable material: Biodegradable materials have more practical advantages over the biodegradable materials. They are stronger, more durable, more resistant to most elements of nature like water, heat, etc. Discontinuation of such materials may seem like a radical idea, especially because some of their applications and features are unique. However, although their lower destructibility makes them indispensable, it is their very nature that makes them imperishable. Hence, the reduction of their use is the best option.
Recycling: Recycling the non-biodegradable waste is one of the best ways of getting rid of them; the materials that have piled up and have created landfills and rubble in the seas can be reused in two ways. First, we can repurpose some of the components without subjecting them to any chemical, electrical, and heating procedures. Second, we can regenerate the material by some chemical and physical processes. Therefore, by changing them in shape, size, colour, and texture, we can make them useful for us.
Reuse: Reusing some domestic and industrial waste materials means using them for alternative purposes can help us reduce the landfill. Things like polythene bags, plastic and glass bottles, and jars, can be reused instead of casting them off in rubbish.
Alternative Arrangements: Even if we take measures like reusing some of our domestic waste, we will still have some non-biodegradable waste on a daily basis. We can make some arrangements like separate the waste into biodegradable and non-biodegradable; this way, we can throw away the biodegradable waste and put non-biodegradable waste in recycling bins. Another thing we can do is make use of carry bags made up of cloth to avoid taking polythene bags.
Question 1: What is the difference between biodegradable and non-biodegradable materials?
Answer: We use a lot of materials on a daily basis, some of the materials directly produce waste materials; whereas, some waste materials are produced as a result of wear and tear of the household, industrial and other commodities. The waste materials that are a result of food waste like vegetables, fruit, etc. waste are biodegradable materials. Other materials from domestic waste can be either biodegradable or non-biodegradable. Things like paper, wood, cloth made up of natural fibre are biodegradable. Things like polythene bags, razors, etc. are non-biodegradable. The best way to differentiate between the two is by understanding how the degradation process works; degradable items are affected by microbial action of decomposition; whereas, non-degradable materials are not.
Question 2: How to reduce non-biodegradable material deposition?
Answer: The non-biodegradable materials do not get disintegrated by microbial actions. Their deposition in soil, burning them, or throwing them in the sea or river can have hazardous effects on the environment. Therefore, the best way to reduce their deposition is by recycling them from the landfills and sea depositions. We can also repurpose them; i.e., without making them go through any chemical or physical procedures. Alternative arrangements like not throwing non-biodegradable materials in the waste and using cloth carry bags can be useful.