January 19, 2023


Biodegradability is the process by which various microorganisms break down organic materials. An important concept for reducing our environmental impact.

What is meant by biodegradable?

A biodegradable substance is a material that can be broken down into its naturally occurring components, such as water and carbon. The breaking down process can be done naturally over time with the help of wind and water or by living organisms, such as bacteria and fungi. This process is known as biodegradation and is increasingly used to reduce the environmental harm caused by excessive waste from over-consumption.

What is a biodegradable example?

Biodegradable materials include certain types of paper, cornstarch, cardboard, food scraps, and wood. These materials are used in packagings such as takeaway coffee cups, containers and cardboard straws. 

How does biodegradable plastic break down?

Biodegradable plastics break down through a process called photodegradation, which occurs when the material is exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun. UV light breaks the molecular bonds in the molecules that hold the plastic together so that the plastic is broken down into smaller pieces. These smaller pieces can now be further broken down by bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms. According to the Ministry of Environment to fully break down, biodegradable plastics require the right environment, which usually means commercial processing. If biodegradable plastic is left to break down in a natural environment – such as in landfills or the sea – it often only breaks down into micro-plastics. These micro-plastics can create ‘plastic smog’ in parts of the ocean and accumulate in soils.

How long is the biodegradability process?

The length of biodegradability significantly varies and depends on the specific material, size, the environment it’s being broken down in, and the types of microbes that break the material down. Generally, biodegradability can take anywhere from weeks to years to complete.

What are the benefits of biodegradable plastic?

Reduced chemical pollution: The risk of chemical reduction is reduced as biodegradable plastics do not contain the same harmful chemicals as traditional plastics. 

Safer for wildlife: Biodegradable plastic breaks down much faster than traditional plastic, minimising the risk of ingestion and entanglement for wildlife. Furthermore, as they do not contain toxic chemicals, accidental consumption is not as harmful.

Reduction of carbon footprint: Biodegradable plastics reduce GHG emissions as they decrease the number of toxic materials released into the environment. 

Renewability: Biodegradable plastics are made from infinite resources such as vegetable oils, starches, and other plant-based materials that will not be depleted. 

Reduced waste: We have a huge waste problem that is continuing to pile with the continuation of plastics being used and thrown away. Biodegradable plastics are broken down naturally and more quickly, reducing the waste sent to landfills. The more we replace plastics with biodegradable materials and packaging, the less waste pile up there will be.

Reduced pollution: Biodegradable plastics are not made with petroleum, so they do not produce excessive amounts of air pollution that traditional plastics do.

Is biodegradable better than plastic?

Yes, as previously mentioned, biodegradable materials are way better for the environment than traditional plastic. As biodegradable materials can be broken down faster, they are the more sustainable option for our planet. In contrast, traditional plastics, made from non-renewable materials, take centuries to degrade, create a risk to wildlife and increase our carbon footprint.

According to an article published by the Columbia Climate School, a 2017 study determined that switching from traditional plastic to corn-based PLA would cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent. The study also concluded that if traditional plastics were produced using renewable energy sources, greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced 50 to 75 percent.

Is biodegradable plastic more expensive than traditional plastic?

Biodegradable plastic is typically more expensive than traditional plastic, but prices vary greatly depending on the type of plastic and its purpose. They are usually more costly due to the additional materials and processes involved in production.

Is biodegradable better than recycling?

Biodegradable and recycling are different processes, so they should not compete with one another. Biodegradable means that natural processes can break down the material into simpler components. Recycling is taking something that has been used and turning it into something else. Recycling products are reused when thrown away, while biodegradable products dissolve once thrown away. Both approaches reduce waste and conserve resources.

Is biodegradable the same as sustainable?

No, biodegradable and sustainable are not the same. Biodegradable means something broken down by natural processes such as bacteria or fungi. Sustainable means something that can be maintained for an extended time without compromising quality. Although the biodegradable’s goal is to create a sustainable world by reducing waste, the products themselves are not sustainable and are made to deteriorate. In a way, they have opposite outcomes while having the same goal to improve the environment. 

What types of biodegradable plastics are available? 

Biodegradable plastics are made from renewable resources such as corn, potato, sugarcane, and even some types of algae. The most common types of biodegradable plastics are polylactic acid (PLA), polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA), and polybutylene succinate (PBS). These materials are used to make cups, food containers, packaging and utensils. 

Are biodegradable plastics compostable?

Yes, biodegradable plastics are compostable and should be put in a compost bin along with food so that they can be broken down by microorganisms as well. 


In conclusion, biodegradability is an essential solution to consider in our current society. Waste is a huge issue facing our world, and it is critical factor we do something to reduce our waste levels. Biodegradable is the perfect solution, with materials becoming more widely available. Furthermore, using compostable materials can reduce the need for energy-intensive recycling processes and even provide beneficial nutrients for our soil. This shift towards more eco-friendly materials is integral to our journey towards a more sustainable future.