biodegradable definition

Biodegradable (Plastic) Definition

Last modified on 21thJanuary 2020

Biodegradable Official Definition

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, biodegradable is the ability to decay naturally and in a way that is not harmful to the environment.

A Simple Definition Of What Biodegradable Means

“Biodegradable” refers to the ability of things to get disintegrated (decomposed) by the action of micro-organisms such as bacteria or fungi biological (with or without oxygen) while getting assimilated into the natural environment. There’s no ecological harm during the process. We can either speak of biodegradable solids (also called compostable) or liquids that biodegrade into water.

What Encompasses Biodegradable Waste According To The European Commission?

The European Commission considers bio-waste to encompass biodegradable garden and park waste, food and kitchen waste from households, restaurants, caterers and retail premises, and comparable waste from food processing plants. It does not include forestry or agricultural residues, manure, sewage sludge, or other biodegradable waste such as natural textiles, paper or processed wood. It also excludes those by-products of food production that never become waste

The Environmental Impacts Of Biodegradable Waste

Waste decomposing in landfills produces harmful methane, a gas that’s 100-120 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at the time of emission. That’s why reducing municipalities’ biodegradable waste is important.

What Is Biodegradable Plastic?

Biodegradable plastic is plastic that’s designed to break up when exposed to the presence of microorganisms, it is usually made from natural byproducts, and follows rigorously controlled conditions of temperature and humidity in industrial environments. Most biodegradable and compostable plastics are called bioplastic and they are generally made from plants (such as bamboo or sugarcane) rather than fossil fuels. For these bioplastics to be fairly and effectively biodegradable, their compostability needs to be confirmed according to international standards to make sure they can be handled in industrial composting plants.

One of the most recognized standards regarding biodegradability is the European EN 13432. According to NaturePlast’s literature review of standards on this subject, for something to be considered biodegradable it needs to:

  • 1) Have a minimum volatile rate of 50%;
  • 2) Be able to fragment at least 10% of its initial weight above a 2mm sieve after 12 weeks after being first composted;
  • 3) Get at least 90% biodegraded (compared to the maximum disintegration of a reference substance) in no more than 6 months;
  • 4) Also, according to OCDE 208, when it comes to toxicity, the resulting compost needs to perform at least 90% compared to the corresponding reference compost.

[Image credits to plastic on Shutterstock]

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