Are Biodegradable Pollutants As Great as you think

Do Biodegradable Pollutants Cause Environmental Problems?

Biodegradable Pollutants in a landfill
Alan Levine

Since I have been trying to focus more on the environment and how the products I am using affect it. I have been looking into how Biodegradable products could help and possibly harm the environment.

At first, I thought that many of the problems would get addressed by switching to biodegradable products. I was surprised to find how many different additional issues these products have been causing.

How are Biodegradable Pollutants Defined?

For something to get classified as a biodegradable pollutant, it has to get broken down in a short time frame into natural components that will not harm the environment.

A biodegradable pollutant can get decomposed by natural agents. These agents are things like water, oxygen, ultraviolet rays, bacteria, and microorganisms.

Many different biodegradable pollutants benefit from getting used to create energy, biogas, manure, and compost.

Biodegradable Waste Video

Are Biodegradable Pollutants Bad For People?

It depends on how these biodegradable products are getting disposed of to determine if they are bad for us.

When these items get sent to landfills, they break down and can release greenhouse gasses.

If these gases do not get collected onsite, they can contribute to climate change by trapping heat.

Greenhouse gas also contributes to respiratory disease in people by increasing smog and air pollution.

But when it gets composted on a site that can collect the gas, we can capture the methane and convert it into a fuel source.

Other times biodegradable pollutants like food waste and sewage can cause people problems while not harming the environment.

If someone were to spend all their time around items like raw sewage without proper protection, there are many different health problems they will encounter. From gastrointestinal illness respiratory problems to infections of the eyes, ears, nose, and throat

But when treated and used on farming fields. It can increase the nutritional value of the soil. And reduce the need for chemical fertilizers.

  • Examples of Biodegradable Pollutants

    Biodegradable Pollutants List

  • 1. Raw Sewage
    • Fecal Matter
    • Urine
  • 2. Paper
  • 3. Wood
  • 4. Clothing
  • 5. Animal Flesh
  • 6. Bones
  • 7. Blood
  • 8. Egg Shells
  • 9. Wool
  • 10. Cotton
  • 11. leather
  • 12. Plant Matter
    • Stalks
    • Stems
    • Leaves
    • Seed Pods
    • Discarded Fruit and Vegetables
  • 13. Plant-based Plastics
  • 14. Some oil and petroleum products

Can Biodegradable Pollutants Cause Environmental Problems

Biodegradable materials, such as disposable cups and utensils, are broken down in landfills by microorganisms that then produce methane," says Dr. Morton Barlaz, NC State's Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering. North Carolina State University Dr. Morton Barlaz, Biodegradable products may be bad for the environment

While we do have technology that can capture methane, allowing us to use it as an energy source.

Unfortunately, the technology is not as available as I assumed it would be.

Problems come when these materials get sent to landfills. There they begin to decompose. While decomposing, methane gas gets created and gets released into our air.

If not captured, the greenhouse gas gets trapped by our atmosphere. Remember, methane gas is a potent greenhouse gas.

It is estimated that 31percent of these landfills allow the gases to go directly into our air. Another 34 percent of landfills burn the methane onsite, leaving only 35 percent that gets captured for energy use.[3]

Over time as more landfills get methane capturing systems, it will lower the amount of methane these items are releasing into our air. Many scientists believe that the FCC is allowing this technology to get rolled out too slowly.

Biodegradable Plastics

Bioplastics, plastics built using plant materials, come in three kinds: degradable, biodegradable and compostable. Over time all plastics will slowly degrade. Depending on the type, this can take a few years to decades or longer.

Degrading traditional plastic will separate into smaller and smaller pieces as time passes. But the ecological harm from these particles is getting significantly worse.

Biodegradable plastics can get broken down by bacteria and microorganisms, slowly breaking down into nontoxic water, carbon dioxide, and biomass.

Compostable plastics decay into manure heaps, separating into nontoxic water, carbon dioxide, inorganic compounds/biomass.

While these bioplastics were invented to help reduce the problems of traditional plastics. We are finding that they have their own set of environmental issues.

Our current recycling systems are designed with petroleum-based plastics in mind. And bioplastics must be separated from their petroleum counterparts.

If bioplastics are not separated and mixed with traditional plastic, they cause problems for recycling. When this happens, the recycled plastics needs to get thrown away.

Another problem is that many cities do not even have the industrial composters required to break down bioplastics.

Not having industrial composters results in the plastics getting redirected to our landfills, contributing to ozone depletion and methane emissions.

There is also the added pollution from making these plant-based plastics. Large amounts of fertilizers and pesticides are needed to grow the corn used. And extensive sections of land are required to produce the corn.

While using biodegradable materials is a step in the right direction. We need to remember it will not eliminate the environmental problems we are currently facing.

Biodegradable Water Pollutants

Many bioplastics like shopping bags will find their way into the ocean.

The ocean does not have the conditions that allow them to breakdown and decompose as intended.[4]

These products also tend to sink deep into the waters. When there, the UV light from the sun will not reach them.

Many of these products are designed to breakdown by UV light over time. But at the depths they are known to sink to, this is highly unlikely.[5]

On a positive side, as long as we use actual biodegradable plastics. Do not get fooled by oxo-biodegradable plastics since these do not decompose.

True bioplastics from plant matter like Nuatan, are safe for fish to eat. Nuatan degrades in a human or fishes body and has shown to be harmless to living creatures[10].

But if it is oxo-biodegradable bags, these will not truly decompose. They will break apart into smaller pieces on land and in the oceans, still forming microplastics in the water.[9]


When we hear that a product is biodegradable, we assume that it will not be harmful to the environment, or at least I did.

Even worse, it gives many people the false impression that they can toss these products anywhere, and they will naturally decompose.

On the plus side, there are also many benefits that we can get from using biodegradable products.

As more cities use methane capture technology, we will reduce the emissions from these products and get additional energy production.

Many biodegradable can also get composted and made into biosolids, improving our farming crops' nutritional value while reducing the need for chemical fertilizers.

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