how long are various non biodegradable expected to last in our environment?
Rubbish, garbage, trash, junk, litter, refuse; we throw stuff out every day and nearly every aspect of our modern life creates some form of waste. We throw waste in the bin and we wash waste products down our drains when bathing and cleaning. But, we live on a finite planet and all the waste we are creating is having a very real and negative impact on the Earth.
Our waste can be recognised as either biodegradable or non-biodegradable and this can be a useful distinction when we consider our product choices and our waste disposal.
Biodegradable matter is generally material from an organic origin that when disposed of will decompose by a natural process. This means it will breakdown and decay into simpler forms of matter.
The process of decomposition is essential within the natural environment for new growth and development of living organisms; it is the way nature is able to recycle the finite matter of the living world. When organic matter breaks down it returns energy and materials used by nature to generate more energy and organic materials. This is the process by which the planet is able to sustain life.
Biodegradable matter is any food scraps, garden waste, or materials or products made from plant or animal derived substances or artificial/man-made materials that are similar enough to organic matter and thus can still be broken down by a natural process.
Non-biodegradable material is in-organic or man-made matter that will not decompose. Any material that is non-biodegradable does not decay or breakdown into simpler forms of matter.
This means that when disposed of by us, nature cannot reuse these materials to fuel the cycle of life and it will remain as pollution in the environment. It also means, all the resources and energy used to make the material in the first place, are trapped within the waste. Because nature cannot breakdown the material the matter and energy cannot be reclaimed and reused by the environment to generate more organic matter and energy.
Relying on non-biodegradable materials and ingredients is an unsustainable and polluting practice. It traps resources and energy that can not be re-claimed in materials that cannot be broken down. Resulting in masses of polluting substances and rubbish that cannot every truly be digested by the planet.
Fortunately we are able to recycle some non-biodegradable waste. Meaning the materials can be reused to make new products and materials. This saves natural resources and reduces the impact of the vast amounts of in-organic waste ending up as landfill and pollution throughout the world.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle : Get More out of Recycling
Recycling is for Everybody
Reduce, reuse, recycle; golden rules for the modern age and something most modern people try to obey. It makes perfect sense that if there are materials already extracted and available then why not continue to reuse these rather than rely on the earth to continually supply our every increasing need for raw materials.
The move towards recycling has been a great step towards a more sustainable and positive future. It conserves natural resources and in turn reduces the negative effects of mining, quarrying and logging and saves precious energy. Even when taking into account transport and refining cost of recycled materials; less energy is used than in the extraction, transport and production of raw materials. And of course recycling reduces landfill, reducing the amount of consumer by-products ending up as pollution in our soil, air and waterways.
It is wonderful that we are able to participate with recycling projects easily and effectively in many aspects of our daily life. Throughout parts of the world many homes are provided by their city council, with a recycling program on their doorstep. The council will collect rubbish for landfill, but also recycling to be remanufactured into a variety or new materials and products. All that’s required is to insure the glass, plastic and cardboard is put in a separate bin and its’ ‘taken care of’.
But, there are many more ways to contribute to the broad positive and sustaining impact of a society that reduces reuses and recycles.
So many materials and consumer products can be reduce, reused or recycled; with a little care, dedication and forethought it can become a very sustaining, far reaching and positive action. To be truly effect recycling needs to be considered in all aspects of a consumer lifestyle; not simply at the ‘throwing away’ stage.
Think about the following:
- Reduce consumption by purchasing less ’stuff’ and avoiding unnecessary and impulsive buying.
- Reduce packaging by assessing product choices. Up to as much as 16% of the price of an item is to pay for the packaging and this just goes straight in the bin; looking for products that contain minimum packaging or recycled packaging is a great idea.
- Reduce waste by assessing what goes into the rubbish bin, can it be composted, reused or recycled? Everything thrown straight into the garbage ends up as polluting landfill.
- Reuse packaging by rinsing out and storing glass containers and some plastic containers. These can be used for food storage in the pantry, in the home office, car, garage or garden. There are so many uses for packaging that is often just thrown away.
- Reuse instead of replace by repairing or making do with what you already have.
- Reuse and refill by purchasing products that offer refillable containers or by utilising other reusable containers.
- Recycle everything that is recyclable by taking a little extra time and care and not just throwing it in the rubbish because it is easier and less hassle.
- Buy Recycled; look for products and packaging made from recycled materials. There is no benefit of recycling if people are not buying recycled products. This is everything from toilet tissue and office supplies; to pre-loved clothing and building materials.
- Think Recycle and we can alter the way we all think about rubbish and waste. Consider that everything thrown away ends up somewhere and it can either have a positive or negative impact.
Recycling is an accessible, affordable and easy way to have a positive and sustaining impact on the environment. Keep an eye out for the Recycle symbol and think about what you throw away and asses your product choices. For more information on what materials are recycled in your area contact your local council.
Okay, we don’t really know whether a glass bottle takes a million years, two million years, or a million years and one day to degrade since no one has been monitoring them for that long. But suffice it to say, when a glass bottle isn’t recycled, it sticks around for a really, really long time. Glass is primarily of composed of silica—the same material as sand—and doesn’t break down even under the harshest environments. Given the relatively inert conditions of a landfill, it’s likely the bottle of beer our forefathers sipped is still at large.
Plastic bags also have a hard time decomposing; estimates range from ten to twenty years when exposed to air to 500–1,000 years in a landfill. Since microbes don’t recognize polyethylene—the major component of plastic bags—as food, breakdown rates by this means in landfills is virtually nil. Though plastic bags can photodegrade, sunlight in landfills is scarce. Made with petroleum and rarely recycled, many cities have banned them in order to curb consumption and prevent their long-lasting presence in litter (e.g., the Great Pacific Garbage Patch—an island you don’t want to visit).
Bottles face the same problem as plastic bags. Most soda and water bottles are composed of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a petroleum-based product that tends to last a long time in a landfill. Even newer bottles that claim to be biodegradable or photodegradable may take much longer than advertised. According to the Air and Waste Association, biodegradable plastics made with the addition of starch may just simply disintegrate into smaller non-degradable pieces: they don’t break down; they break up.
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