Biodegradable Trash Bags: Useful or Marketing Ploy?

You've likely come across numerous biodegradable trash bags and may be considering their environmental impact. However, the answer might not be as straightforward as it seems, especially when compared to recyclable tote bags. Explore this topic in depth, and discover our recommended biodegradable bags on Amazon along with the reasons behind these choices.

Table of Contents

Introduction 📜

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Have you ever wondered if biodegradable trash bags are truly beneficial for the planet? 🤔

Despite becoming a staple for consumers in recent years, there's more to explore behind the intention of offering a sustainable solution for waste management. What does "biodegradable" truly mean, and is the term being used appropriately?

Waste management solutions are becoming increasingly crucial as the world grapples with rising waste numbers. That's why biodegradable trash bags are particularly handy in this market niche.

In this article, we will delve into these questions to better understand the environmental impact of biodegradable trash bags..

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1. Unpacking the Complexity Behind the Overused Term: Biodegradable

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1.1 Biodegradable Materials: Nature's Consumers

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Biodegradable materials possess the innate ability to be naturally consumed by living organisms in a natural environment.

While paper, apples, cardboard, and certain plastics fall into this category, metals, glass, and most plastics do not.

However, in practical terms, landfill conditions (the oldest waste disposal management) impede the natural degradation process due to a lack of essential elements such as air flow, moisture, and access to organisms.

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Dictionary of Energy (1st Edition)

Dictionary of Energy (1st Edition)

Dictionary of Energy

Short Summary

Find out other about other great concepts such as 'biodegradability' in the Dictionary of Energy, a comprehensive reference co-edited by Cutler J. Cleveland and Christopher Morris. This singular volume encapsulates over 8,000 definitions across 40 scientific disciplines, providing an in-depth exploration of the multifaceted landscape of energy. With 100+ 'window essays' authored by experts and enriched by 150+ illustrations, the dictionary is designed to serve as a valuable resource for researchers, students, and professionals seeking a nuanced understanding of energy in the 21st century.

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1.2 Compostable Materials: Speeding Up the Breakdown

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Compostable materials go beyond biodegradability. They can break down efficiently in a controlled environment like a compost heap or pile, where factors like airflow, heat, and moisture are regulated. This creates an ideal habitat for microorganisms, speeding up the decomposition process. For instance, a newspaper can turn into "dirt" within weeks or months.

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Biodegradable Plastics

Biodegradable Plastics (Green Dot)

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1.3 Industrial Compostability: A Specialized Approach

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Industrial compostability mirrors the principles of compostability, but it requires a designated industrial compost pile professionally managed to facilitate the intended decay.

To put it simply, home composting is like a small-scale recycling project. You collect kitchen and yard waste in a bin, and with time, it transforms into nutrient-rich soil for your plants.

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It's not just about using eco-labeled products; it's about making informed decisions that align with responsible environmental practices.

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Industrial composting, on the other hand is the large-scale version. In big facilities, they use advanced methods to quickly turn a ton of organic waste into useful compost. Both methods turn trash into plant food, just on different scales.

Some plastics labeled as "compostable" necessitate these specialized composting facilities, distinct from regular backyard compost heaps.

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2. Eco-Friendly Options for Garbage Bags: How Friendly?

2.1 Reuse Over Biodegradable?

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When it comes to garbage bags, reusing everyday bags like those from grocery shopping proves to be a more (arguably the most?) environmentally friendly option, especially for everyday shopping where plastic bags are less necessary. It's important to note that for trash bags, the situation is more challenging, making it difficult to substitute with paper or reusable options. Biodegradable bags, if not processed in a proper compost facility, may decompose improperly in landfills, emitting methane—a potent greenhouse gas. Biodegradable elements are usually broken down without oxygen, and in the process, they release two powerful greenhouse gases: methane and carbon dioxide. While carbon dioxide typically remains in the landfill’s ground, methane is released into the atmosphere and contributes to global warming. Methane is also much more potent than carbon dioxide.

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Biodegradable Plastics

Projected Waste Generation, By Region, In Millions of Tonne, 2016-2050)

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2.2 💡 Global Warming Potentials : Quantifying The Environmental Impact of A Product

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As summarised by the EPA, Global Warming Potentials are crucial when considering the impact of certain gases on our planet. These are regularly updated by the IPCC and the latest assessment report dates from this year (AR6). Having been a part of Climatiq a company that quantifies greenhouse gas emissions, science is always pushing things further in terms of lifecycle assessment of products using different methodologies. Not all products currently have a granular enough quantification (indirect emissions, Scope 3). 

Brief Overview Of GHG Global Warming potential
Gas Description
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Basic Pollution 😕
GWP of 1 over 100 years.
Variable Lifetime
Methane (CH4) The Bad Stuff 😨
GWP of 27-30 over 100 years.
Shorter lifetime (about a decade) compared to CO2.
Absorbs more energy than CO2.
Net effect on GWP considers shorter lifespan and higher energy absorption.
Accounts for indirect effects, such as being a precursor to ozone.
Nitrous Oxide (N2O) The Really Bad Stuff 😰
GWP 273 times that of CO2 over a 100-year timescale.
Remains in the atmosphere for more than 100 years on average.
High-GWP Gases (CFCs, HFCs, HCFCs, PFCs, SF6) The Really, Really Bad Stuff 😱
Sometimes called high-GWP gases.
Trap substantially more heat than CO2 for a given mass.
GWPs for these gases can be in the thousands or tens of thousands.

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2.3 The Methane Menace

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Environmental science emphasizes the importance of oxygen incorporation in composting.

Landfills lack the necessary oxygenation process, leading to anaerobic digestion, a process that produces methane.

This underscores the potential drawbacks of using biodegradable products in landfills, making their environmental benefits questionable.

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Global Warming Potentials

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2.4 Heat As the Main Culprit?

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Compostable bags, crafted from plant-based materials, may not fully break down in home composting setups due to insufficient heat.  Municipal or commercial composting facilities, with their controlled conditions, are better suited for the decomposition of these bags. 

However, regulations and capabilities of such facilities vary, complicating the disposal process.

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2.5 Practical Solutions: Reuse and Confirm Guidelines

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Experts suggest reusing paper bags for composting or relying on existing grocery bags for trash.

Municipal collection guidelines should be consulted to determine if compostable bags are accepted.

If permitted, choosing bags certified by the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) ensures adherence to compostability standards. If you purchase one from Amazon, it is handy to look for the Climate Pledge Friendly label. The reason being that often a partnership has been established between the selling brand and a climate-geared governmental or non-governmental organisation like Climate Partners. 

For other products with a potentially low carbon footprint, it's crucial to check for certifications. Understanding the materials used is essential since various plastics degrade at different rates. When uncertain, choosing a reusable bag like a tote bag for shopping is a reliable option compared to plastic bags. However, replicating this practice in a home waste management system poses challenges.

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Reusable Tote Bag

For everyday shopping, reusable (Tote is a popular option) remains the safe choice

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3. Compostable Bags: More Harm Than Good?

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Compostable bags, though seemingly eco-friendly, may pose challenges.

The composition of these bags may not align with the conditions of all composting systems.

Municipal or commercial composting facilities, rather than home setups, are better equipped to facilitate complete decomposition.

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3.1 Selective Acceptance and Certification

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The acceptance of compostable bags varies among composting systems. Municipal guidelines dictate what materials are permissible. BPI certification stands as a reliable standard for compostability, ensuring that items break down swiftly and completely in well-managed facilities while prohibiting harmful substances.

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3.2 Home Composting Challenges

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Home composting systems, lacking the requisite heat levels, may not effectively decompose compostable bags. Reverting to brown paper bags or freezing food scraps to mitigate odor is suggested. At-home composting remains a more challenging environment for the breakdown of certain materials.

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3.3 Biodegradable vs. Compostable vs. Landfills

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Understanding the nuances between biodegradable and compostable is crucial. Biodegradable plastics labeled as such may not necessarily be suitable for composting and can persist in landfills for extended periods, contributing to environmental issues.

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4. Sustainable Practices: Keeping the Kitchen Tidy Without Compromising the Environment

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4.1 Paper Bag Alternatives

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Cities may recommend brown paper bags as liners for food-scrap containers, offering a sustainable alternative. However, confirmation of paper bag acceptance in off-site composting programs is essential.

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Opting for paper or reusable bags is a better choice, especially considering that 'biodegradable bags,' despite their labelling, may release methane into the atmosphere—a gas much more potent than carbon dioxide. However, this is not frequently possible with waste management. 

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4.2 Freezing for Odor Control

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Storing food scraps in the freezer, in reusable containers, is an effective method for odor control. This eliminates the need for countertop bins, promoting a cleaner and more sustainable approach.

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4.3 Charcoal Filters for Odor Reduction

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Countertop containers equipped with charcoal filters aid in reducing odors. Regular maintenance and rinsing of bins after each use prevent the buildup of unpleasant smells.

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5. Best Biodegradable Trash Bags on Amazon 🌿 🛒


Here are a couple of good options you can find on Amazon. Always be mindful of the fact that 'biodegradable' or plant-based does not necessarily mean sustainable or something that is 100% good for the planet. These materials present advantages over traditional plastic bags, but they are not void of plastic; thus, they still contribute to GHG emissions. Different grades of plastic have different impacts.

When making a choice for any product, it is important to consider the carbon footprint and associated emissions, as well as the quality of plastic being used.

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1. SUPERBIO Compostable Bags

1. SUPERBIO Compostable Handle Tie Bag

biodegradable trash bag

Product Information

Size: 1.6 gallon (6L), 16.1 in x 19.3 in x 0.63 mil
2.6 gallon (9.84 L) 16.3 in x 22.0 in x 0.67 mil
13 gallons (49.2L) 22.8 in x 29.3 in x 0.87 mils
Quantity: 30, 50, 60, 80, or 100 bags per roll, handle tie
Package: Does not include a compost bin

Product Review

Pros

✔️ Leak-Free and Sturdy - Unlike other brands that may leak, these bags are sturdy and prevent leaks, providing a reliable solution for containing spoiling food.
✔️ Compostable - Being compostable aligns with environmental regulations, contributing to efforts to reduce landfill waste and benefit the planet.
✔️ Effective Separation - The bags effectively facilitate the separation of food and produce waste, complying with the Sanitation Department's requirements for green bins.

Cons

❌ Impractical Size and Shape - Some users find the size and shape impractical for general household use, especially when compared to traditional plastic bags from grocery stores.
❌ Wet Bottom Issue - Users observed that the bags tend to be wet at the bottom when transferred to a larger bin, possibly due to the biodegradable bag's interaction with food scraps.

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2. Emily's Choice Heavy Duty Biodegradable Bags

2. Emily's Choice Heavy Duty Biodegradable Bags

biodegradable trash bag

Product Information

Size: Q = 17 gallons
CB50 = 18 Gallons
M = 12 Gallons
Quantity: 50 bags
Material High Performance LDPE or High Density Polyethylene

Product Review

Pros

✔️ Eco-Friendly Alternative - Users appreciate these bags as eco-friendly alternatives to standard options, contributing to environmental sustainability while fitting Simple Human trash cans seamlessly.
✔️ Durable and Large Capacity - Described as durable and large, these bags offer a robust solution for households with significant trash disposal needs, providing ample space for waste.
✔️ Convenient Overlap for Easy Handling - The extra length of the bags allows for easy tying and handling of additional trash when the can is full, adding convenience to the disposal process.

Cons

❌ Seam Issues with Drawstring - Some users report issues with the seam at the top ripping when cinching up the handles, potentially affecting the overall usability and reliability of the drawstring feature.
❌ Narrow Drawstring Top - One user notes that the top with the drawstring is too narrow, requiring modification to fit their trash can properly, which could be considered a drawback in terms of design and usability.

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Amazon Climate Pledge-Friendly Badge

Look out for Amazon's Climate Pledge-Friendly Badge, which certifies the limited environmental impact of a product

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3. Yheel Small Trash Bags

3. Yheel Small Trash Bags

yheel eco-friednly trashbags

Product Information

Size: Available in 1.2, 2.6, 4,8 and 13 Gallon
Quantity Comes in 120 or 150 Count
Material Plastarch Material + Polyolefin
Colors Green, Blue, Multicolored or Transparent

Product Review

Pros

✔️ Biodegradable Material - YHEEL bathroom garbage bags are made of 100% biodegradable eco-friendly materials, contributing to environmental sustainability.

✔️ Durable and Leak-Resistant - With a capacity of 10 litres, these small trash bags are designed to resist leaks and have excellent tensile strength, reducing the risk of tears or rips.

✔️ Multipurpose and Convenient: - The 2.6-gallon size makes them suitable for various locations such as offices, washrooms, bathrooms, countertops, or for loading dirty diapers. Their clear design allows easy identification of contents.

Cons

❌ Thinner Material - There is a reported change in the material, resulting in thinner bags. This change may impact the bags' durability and strength, raising concerns about their effectiveness.

❌ Defective Rolls - Some customers have experienced issues with defective rolls, where the bottoms of the bags were not properly closed. This manufacturing defect renders the entire roll unusable, potentially causing inconvenience to users..

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4. Aklyaiap Trash Bags

4. Aklyaiap Trash Bags

yheel eco-friednly trashbags

Product Information

Size: Available in 1.2, 4 and 13 Gallon
Quantity: Comes in 110, 50, 75 and 180 Counts
Material: Scent Free, Fragrance Free, Compostable, Biodegradable, Recyclable, Plant Based
Colors: Green

Product Review

Pros

✔️ Biodegradable Material - These trash bags are made of eco-friendly materials, ensuring they can naturally decompose in the environment without causing harm.
✔️ Durable and Leak-Resistant - The bags are reported to be durable with good toughness, offering strength and resistance to tears or leaks. The thickness and design contribute to their sturdiness.
✔️ Convenient Perforations - The bags feature nice perforations, making it easy to tear off individual bags from the roll. The presence of a thumb hole along the perforations enhances ease of use.

Cons

❌ Thinner Material - There is a reported change in the material, resulting in thinner bags. This change may impact the bags' durability and strength, raising concerns about their effectiveness.
❌ Defective Rolls - Some customers have experienced issues with defective rolls, where the bottoms of the bags were not properly closed. This manufacturing defect renders the entire roll unusable, potentially causing inconvenience to users..

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5. Plant Based - Hippo Sak Tall Kitchen Bags (With Handles)

5. Plant Based - Hippo Sak Tall Kitchen Bags (With Handles)

yheel eco-friednly trashbags

Product Information

Size: Available 13 Gallon
Quantity: Comes in 45 or 90 Counts
Material: Plant Based
Colors: White

Product Review

Pros

✔️ Eco-Friendly Material - These bags are made with less plastic and from post-consumer recyclables, making them a more environmentally friendly choice.
✔️ Sturdy and Capacious - Users praise the bags for being incredibly sturdy, handling liquid waste without worries of spillage. They are also capacious, providing ample room for various uses, including intensive cleaning.
✔️ Convenient Handles - The inclusion of handles makes these bags easy to tie, carry, and transport, offering a practical and comfortable solution for users.

Cons

❌ Perforation at Handle Connection - The perforation at the point where handles meet the bottom of the next bag on the roll is mentioned as a potential weak spot. Users express extra caution at this spot to prevent any issues.
❌ Biodegradability Misleading -Despite being described as plant-based, the bags are not biodegradable. This might be misleading to consumers looking for a plastic-free and biodegradable alternative. The lack of clarity on this aspect is a drawback, especially given the higher cost compared to plastic bags.

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6. Techshare Biodegradable Bags

6. Techshare Biodegradable Bags

Techshare biodegradable trashbags

Product Information

Size: Available 1.2, 5, 6 or 8 Gallons
Quantity: Comes in 60, 80 or 100 Counts
Material:Biodegradable Plastarch Material
Colors: Green, Black or White

Product Review

Pros

✔️ Environmentally Friendly - These trash bags are made from starch extracted from corn and other environmentally friendly materials, contributing to a reduction in plastic pollution.
They are biodegradable, compostable, and 100% recyclable, promoting a green and sustainable lifestyle.
✔️ Durable and Leak-Proof - The bags are designed with a breakpoint to prevent tearing when taking them out. They are strong, waterproof, and can handle a variety of household waste, including food waste. The durability is demonstrated by their ability to hold items like durian, pineapple, and water without leaking.
✔️ Versatile Usage - Suitable for various settings, these bags can be used in kitchens, bedrooms, living rooms, bathrooms, offices, and any other small trash bins of 4-6 gallons. They are also recommended for cleaning up pet waste, adding to their versatility.

Cons

❌ No Drawstring - Unlike some traditional plastic bags, these biodegradable bags do not come with a drawstring.
Users need to be mindful not to overstuff the bags, and tying them securely may require some effort.
❌ Biodegradability Misleading - To maintain their biodegradability, these bags need to be stored in a cool and dry place when not in use.
Overheating can accelerate degradation, so users need to be cautious about the storage conditions.

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Closing Thoughts 💭

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In the quest for sustainable practices, understanding the complexities of biodegradability, compostability, and their applications is paramount. Practical choices, such as reusing existing bags and adhering to municipal guidelines, contribute to a greener future. Opting for paper or reusable bags is a better choice, especially considering that 'biodegradable bags,' despite their labeling, may release methane into the atmosphere—a gas much more potent than carbon dioxide.

It's not just about using eco-labeled products; it's about making informed decisions that align with responsible environmental practices!

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FAQs❓

1. Are Biodegradable Bags Really Biodegradable?

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Biodegradable bags, like compostable bags, can break down over time, but the term "biodegradable" lacks specific regulations.
Unlike compostable bags made of natural plant starch, biodegradable bags are often plastic with added microorganisms.
Decomposition time for biodegradable plastics varies and is not standardized, posing potential environmental risks.
Additionally, compostable products may not effectively biodegrade in landfills due to the absence of oxygen.

2. How Long Do Biodegradable Bags Take To Decompose?

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Biodegradable bags typically usually take three to six months to decompose fully.
This process is significantly faster than the decomposition of synthetic counterparts, which can take several hundred years.
The exact timeframe depends on factors such as temperature and moisture levels.
Biodegradable and degradable bags break down when exposed to sunlight and heat, with the key difference lying in the material and the speed of the breakdown process.

3. What Is Difference Between Biodegradable And Compostable?

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Biodegradable materials break down over an unspecified period, potentially leaving residue.
Compostable items decompose into natural elements within a specific timeframe, needing industrial composting conditions.
While biodegradable items may not provide nutrients, compostable products create humus, beneficial for plants.
In summary, compostable items are a specific type of biodegradable product with added benefits.

4. Do Biodegradable Bags Dissolve In Water?

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Yes, some biodegradable bags, like Solubag, dissolve in water within about five minutes, as they are made from plastic-free materials.
However, not all biodegradable bags dissolve quickly; some may take months, even if they decompose faster in the sea than other waste.
Terrasol® is an example of water-soluble and biodegradable plastic, based on polyvinyl alcohol (PVOH), which breaks down over time and can be dissolved in water, reducing environmental risks.

5. How Long Do Biodegradable Materials Last?

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Biodegradable plastics typically take three to six months to fully decompose, a significantly shorter time compared to traditional plastics that can last hundreds of years.
The decomposition process involves the material breaking down through environmental elements and microorganisms, leading to changes in both appearance and chemical structure.
The exact duration for a biodegradable bag to decompose varies based on factors like temperature and moisture levels.

6. How Does Biodegradable Help The Environment?

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Biodegradable products contribute to environmental health by naturally breaking down and becoming integrated into soil and natural components.
Unlike traditional plastics, the manufacturing of biodegradable plastics typically requires less energy, resulting in reduced dependence on fossil fuels and fewer greenhouse gas emissions.
The decomposition of biodegradable waste is a rapid process, preventing accumulation and allowing it to be quickly utilized in biogeochemical cycles.
This efficient breakdown can produce valuable resources such as bio-energy, manure, fertilizers, compost, and other substances.
Overall, biodegradable materials support sustainable waste management and minimize environmental pollution.

7. What Is Required For Something To Be Biodegradable?

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For something to be biodegradable, it must have the capacity to naturally break down into smaller components by bacteria, fungi, or microbes, allowing reabsorption by the surrounding environment without causing pollution.
In simple terms, biodegradability involves the material breaking down into natural elements like sugars and gases through the action of microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi.
To earn a biodegradable label, products and materials need to undergo rapid decomposition, typically within a timeframe of six to nine months, as defined by third-party certifiers.

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References 💡

  1. Avoiding Methane Production in Composting
  2. Why Biodegradables Won't Solve the Plastic Crisis
  3. Do You Need Compostable Bags?
  4. Biodegradable Containers: What You Need to Know
  5. How Long Do Biodegradable Bags Take To Decompose
  6. 7 Benefits Of Biodegradable Bags
  7. What ‘Biodegradable’ Really Means