Everything around us, from the things we use to the things we eat, can be categorized into two groups- biodegradable and non-biodegradable. Natural products like paper, vegetable peels, wool, certain plastics, etc. are biodegradable products which mean they can be consumed by the microorganisms and returned to nature. Or in simpler words we can say that biodegradable products are the ones who can decompose in a small amount of time without polluting the environment. On the other hand, products like glass, synthetic rubber and steel come under the category of non-biodegradable. These things do not get decomposed by the action of microorganisms, and they stay in our environment for hundreds of years polluting our land and the whole ecosystem.
How non-biodegradable substances harm the environment?
The modern times have seen the advancement of science and technology where even stronger materials are being synthesized which can withstand extreme temperatures and harsh conditions without breaking down into simpler molecules. These artificially synthesized materials are much tougher than their natural counterparts. Where a normal paper can decompose in a moist fill in 2-3 weeks, a thicker paper like an ivory sheet or a cartridge takes longer to decompose or dissolve. Plastic bags can take up to 10-20 years while an Aluminium can doesn’t go away until 350 years. Even worse is a plastic soda bottle that takes 450 years to get decomposed. Other inorganic matter like computer hardware, synthetics and plastics are also difficult for the environment. These materials sure make our life easy and convenient, but their being non-biodegradable poses some serious threats to the environment and the organisms living around.
It accumulates on the land and causes pollution
Non-biodegradable materials and non-biodegradable waste affect our environment in more than one way.When non-biodegradable waste is thrown outside without proper treatment, it accumulates on the limited amount of land we have on our planet. The waste can make it into landfills or can keep lying in parks, fields and forests. This ruins the habitat of living organisms and also causes pollution. The non-biodegradable waste piled up on the land creates other environmental problems too. It results in the release of synthetic chemicals and noxious gases into the atmosphere that can be very harmful and even fatal to the living organisms, humans and animals alike. A large number of street animals die every year due to choking caused by polyethene lying on the roads. These materials also enter water bodies like seas and oceans and harm the marine life. Non-biodegradable materials, specifically plastic, when ingested by the animals, land or aquatic, can block their respiratory and digestive tracts which become fatal.
Emission of toxins
When synthetic materials like plastic come in long-term exposure to air, water and sunlight, highly toxic pollutants are released which stay in our atmosphere and cause threats to the living organisms. Plastic upon constant exposure to sunlight emits many harmful fumes. These toxins can harm the metabolism of living organisms after they are absorbed by them.
They can enter food chain
Coming into the food chain and consequentially leading to serious health hazards is a typical ill effect of non-biodegradable materials. For example, if a large amount of electronic waste is dumped in open, the wires from it will oxidize and give out poisonous copper salt. This will not only pollute the land but will also contaminate ground water and through which it will enter the food chain. High exposure to copper causes health issues like nausea, dizziness, headache and diarrhea. One such situation popped up around the time of World War II when the use of a pesticide DDT was quite extensive. It was being used for killing the pest, but the substance was found to be toxic to a broad range of living organisms. This eventually led to a ban on its use. Once such a substance enters the food chain, it can become life threatening for a large number of species including Homo sapiens.
How to tackle the problem?
Once we have recognized the harm non-biodegradable products are prompting on our planet, we need to find smart solutions to address these problems. We certainly cannot banish the production and use of such materials completely, but alternate methods can be adopted to help the planet. The very first step has to be:-
The simplest and smartest way to reduce the amount of non-biodegradable waste being generated by us every day is to separate the waste in our homes itself. At some places, we can spot two different colored dustbins- one blue and one green, put up for use. Those are kept to keep the biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste separated from each other. The blue bins are meant for all the non-decomposable waste like metals scraps, metal cans and plastics. Note that these things are non-biodegradable, but they are recyclable and can be profitably converted into new articles without using insane amounts of energy and resources. The green bins are usually used for waste such as kitchen waste, paper products, cardboard or boxboard. These items decompose in a small span of time and do not pose a serious threat to the environment like synthetic materials. One shall start putting up two dustbins in their house too to keep the waste from each other.
Once the waste is separated, one can go through all the items in the blue bin and look for possible recycling methods. For example, aluminium cans and soda bottles can be creatively used at home for some DIY projects such as for making pen stands, craft supply organizers, etc. If you cannot recycle some materials at your home, then you can consult your local garbage collection organization and recycling programs. In recycling plants, the old metal scraps are used to produce new materials using much less energy as compared to what is required for the production of new metal articles.
Adopt greener and more eco-friendly ways of living
When it comes to reducing the using of non-biodegradable materials, we all need to make a few little changes in our lifestyle that can go a long way in preserving the environment from deteriorating. Here are a few such things.
Avoid using polybags and go for paper of cloth bags
It is a well-established fact that polyethene is not at all good for the environment, and when it ends up littering the streets, it can become very harmful to the environment as well as the organisms living here. Therefore, the use of polybags shall be limited to as less as possible. Paper bags can be a smarter choice, or an even better choice is cloth bags that can be used again and again. Get into the habit of carrying your cloth bag while going for shopping so that you don’t need to take a plastic bag or a paper bag from there. Not only will it save you a few bucks but will also save the environment from some serious troubles.
Reduce the waste going into the landfills
Most of us put our biodegradable waste in the general bin that gets collected by the waste management company and put into the landfills. Now these landfills are not only difficult to build and maintain, but they are also not very healthy for the environment. The garbage piled up in a landfill produces methane that is a greenhouse gas. We already know the ill effects of greenhouse gases and how they are deteriorating our planet causing global warming and other environmental issues. Instead, one can treat their biodegradable waste in a compost. Now these composts can be made at home and waste like metal scraps, kitchen scraps, eggshells, etc. can be put inside of it. These composts help in reducing the waste going to the landfills, and they also help in enriching and nourishing the soil by providing essential nutrients and making it fertile.
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As we become more technologically advanced, we produce materials that can withstand extreme temperatures, are durable and easy to use. Plastic bags, synthetics, plastic bottles, tin cans, and computer hardware- these are some of the things that make life easy for us.
But what we forget is that these advanced products do not break down naturally. When we dispose them in a garbage pile, the air, moisture, climate, or soil cannot break them down naturally to be dissolved with the surrounding land. They are not biodegradable. However natural waste and products made from nature break down easily when they are disposed as waste.
But as more and more biodegradable materials pile up, there is increased threat to the environment. Visit the sites mentioned below to know about what is biodegradable and what is not and to understand how non-biodegradable materials affect the environment.
This site is one of the best introductions to what is biodegradable and non-biodegradable material and recycling. Especially the three Rs: reuse, reduce and recycle. Study this decomposition chart and you will may be surprised at how long and if common things like glass bottles take to decompose!
For some good definitions of the related terms used in this field, visit this site.
To understand the seriousness of the problem caused by non-biodegradable waste, you can read about what's happening to particular places where plastic and other materials are used for almost everything.
One of the most common household waste is polythene- mostly used as polythese bags for shopping and carrying light things. Since they are cheap, they are used by almost everyone- from the local vegetable seller to the supermarket bread shelf.
The hazard that polythene causes to the environment is very serious. This site is a research study undertaken by students about waste management in Uganda. But it has some interest information on what polythene waste does to the environment and what measures we can take to help stop this kind of pollution.
On the other hand, biodegradable waste also has some effect on the environment. To understand how biodegradable waste is a factor in greenhouse effect visit the site. The problems it describes are common to all regions where there is the greenhouse effect.
Keeping in mind the potential hazard of biodegradable waste, it is important for you to know in what way you can help to make sure that less non-biodegradable material is left on the planet. Become an environment friendly consumer by following the everyday tips at on how we can contribute to less non-biodegradable materials.