What does biodegradable mean? Non-biodegradable and biodegradable meanings explained

A young girl and boy discussing what is biodegradable out of the foods they're putting in their food waste bin

Whenever we talk about environmental awareness, biodegradable and non-biodegradable materials always come up. But what is biodegradable? And what does biodegradable mean? 

It’s ok not to know it inside-out yet, let us explain what biodegradable materials are (and what they are not) and how choosing the right biodegradable products could help you reduce your waste at home long-term.

What does biodegradable mean?

If something is biodegradable, it means it can decay naturally, in a non-harmful way. Put simply, it’s organic matter that can be decomposed of by bacteria or other living organisms.

Biodegradable is easily confused with ‘compostable’, as they both mean that a material is technically able to degrade. However, compostable means that (given the right conditions), the material can break down completely into non-toxic components that will not harm the environment – like a garden compost heap. If you’re interested in finding out more about composting, we’ve got a handy guide that breaks down how composting works and how it helps the planet.

There are some great environmental benefits to biodegradable and compostable materials that break down quickly in environments such industrial composting and well-managed home composting. Landfill is the least favourable option, but if the gas from degraded materials is captured, then the negative impact is reduced.

What are biodegradable materials?

Even with a clear definition, it can be tricky to figure out exactly what is biodegradable material, and what isn’t. Here are some typically biodegradable materials:

·       Food waste (learn to live more sustainably with our helpful guide)

·       Human waste

·       Animal waste

·       Plant products

·       Paper

·       Kitchen paper e.g., Plenty

·       Natural wood

·       Grass clippings

·       Leaves

By learning what is biodegradable material you can have a better idea on how to dispose of any of your waste.

Is kitchen roll biodegradable?

Yes, Plenty kitchen paper is biodegradable and compostable at home. This makes it an eco-friendly cleaning product, whilst also being a powerhouse for cleaning. You will still be able to compost it even if you’ve used it to clean general food mess, as long as it’s not saturated with it.

However, it’s important to note that if any chemicals are added to the paper or if it is used to clean anything that you wouldn’t compost (like meat, cat litter or oil) then you won’t be able to compost it anymore. This happens because if any of these items are added onto Plenty’s paper then it won’t be able to break down as easily.

What’s the difference between biodegradable and non-biodegradable?

We’ve got to grips with what is biodegradable, but what about the difference between biodegradable and non-biodegradable materials?

As we’ve seen, renewable and biodegradable things break down into natural materials in the soil. Providing they don’t contain harmful chemicals, there will be no toxins left behind that could damage the environment.

What is non-biodegradable? 

So that’s the definition and differences sorted, but in terms of real-world stuff, what is non-biodegradable? Nonbiodegradable wastes include:

·       Plastics – such as tires, bags, bottles etc.

·       Man-made fibres – such as nylon

·       Certain construction waste – such as concrete and metal

·       Electrical hardware – such as cables, wires, DVDs, mobile phones etc.

·       Any material with a lot of chemicals would be difficult to degrade in safe way

And remember, being eco-friendly takes care of the planet for a generation of loved ones you haven’t even met yet!

Now that you know the difference between non-biodegradable and biodegradable materials, why not take a look at our family life articles? From how to make recycling fun to easy ways to reduce your carbon footprint, we’ve got tons of inspirational guides for you to choose from.


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