What are Biodegradable and Non-Biodegradable Materials? – Differences


When it comes to waste management and environmental sustainability, understanding the difference between biodegradable and non-biodegradable materials is crucial. These terms are often thrown around, but what exactly do they mean? In this article, we will delve into the definitions, examples, and effects of biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste. By highlighting the disparities between the two, we hope to shed light on the importance of making conscious choices in our daily lives. 

What is Biodegradable?

Biodegradability refers to the ability of a material to break down and decompose naturally through the action of microorganisms, such as bacteria or fungi. This process occurs over a relatively short period, typically within months or years, and results in the formation of simpler, non-harmful compounds. Unlike their non-biodegradable counterparts, biodegradable materials do not persist in the environment for extended periods. 

Definition of Biodegradable Waste

Biodegradable waste encompasses organic materials that can undergo biological decomposition, including food scraps, yard waste, paper products, and certain types of packaging. These materials are derived from natural sources and can be broken down by microorganisms into simpler substances without causing harm to the ecosystem. 

Biodegradable Material Examples

The following are a few examples of Biodegradable materials,

  • Food Waste: Leftover fruits, vegetables, grains, and other organic matter from our kitchens can be considered biodegradable waste. When properly managed, food waste can be composted to create nutrient-rich soil. 
  • Paper Products: Newspapers, cardboard boxes, and paper towels are examples of biodegradable materials. These can be recycled or composted to reduce the strain on landfills. 
  • Yard Waste: Fallen leaves, grass clippings, and pruned branches are all biodegradable materials. These can be composted or used as mulch to enrich soil and promote plant growth. 

What is non-biodegradable?

Non-biodegradable materials, in contrast to their biodegradable counterparts, do not undergo natural decomposition easily or within a reasonable time frame. They persist in the environment for years, sometimes even centuries, causing long-term environmental damage. 

Define Non-Biodegradable Waste

Non-biodegradable waste refers to materials that cannot be broken down by natural processes and accumulate in the environment. These materials often come from synthetic sources and pose significant challenges to waste management and environmental preservation. 

Examples of non-biodegradable

A few examples to non-biodegradable materials are given below,

  • Plastics: Plastic bags, bottles, and other synthetic polymers are notorious for their non-biodegradable nature. They can take hundreds of years to degrade, causing immense harm to marine life and ecosystems. 
  • Styrofoam: Commonly used in packaging and food containers, Styrofoam poses a significant challenge as it is virtually non-biodegradable. It can litter landfills and impact wildlife for an incredibly long time. 
  • Metals: Materials such as aluminum and steel do not biodegrade naturally. While they can be recycled and repurposed, if these metals end up in landfills, they can persist for an extended period. 

Difference Between Biodegradable and Non-Biodegradable

To better understand the disparities between biodegradable and non-biodegradable materials, here is a breakdown of their differences: 

Aspect  Biodegradable  Non-Biodegradable 
Decomposition Process  Decompose through the action of microorganisms.  Do not decompose easily, resistant to microbial action. 
Time Frame for Decomposition  Break down relatively quickly (weeks or months).  Persist for an extended period, often centuries. 
Environmental Impact  Minimal impact returns to the natural nutrient cycle.  Significant impact can lead to pollution and habitat destruction. 
Examples  Food waste, certain types of paper, natural wood.  Plastics, metals, synthetic chemicals. 

Effects of Biodegradable and Non-Biodegradable Waste

The impact of biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste on the environment differs significantly. 

Biodegradable waste, when properly managed, can be a valuable resource. Through composting, it can be converted into nutrient-rich soil, reducing the need for chemical fertilizers. However, improper disposal of biodegradable waste can lead to the production of methane gas in landfills, contributing to climate change and air pollution. 

On the other hand, non-biodegradable waste has severe consequences. Plastics, for instance, find their way into oceans and waterways, endangering marine life and disrupting ecosystems. The accumulation of non-biodegradable waste in landfills poses a long-lasting threat to soil and water quality. 

Biodegradable and Non-Biodegradable Waste Treatments

To mitigate the negative impacts of both biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste, various treatment methods are employed. 

Biodegradable Waste Treatments

The major Biodegradable waste treatments are,

  1. Composting: One of the most effective ways to manage biodegradable waste is through composting. This process allows organic matter to naturally decompose into nutrient-rich compost that can be used to enrich soil in gardens and agriculture. 
  2. Anaerobic Digestion: In some cases, biodegradable waste is processed through anaerobic digestion. This method utilizes microorganisms in the absence of oxygen to break down organic matter and produce biogas, which can be used to generate renewable energy. 

Non-Biodegradable Waste Treatments

Similarly, here are a few treatments for non-biodegradable waste.

  1. Recycling: Non-biodegradable materials like plastics and metals can often be recycled. Recycling helps to conserve valuable resources, reduces the production of new materials, and alleviates the burden on landfills. 
  2. Waste-to-Energy Conversion: Some Non-Biodegradable waste can be converted into energy through processes such as incineration or pyrolysis. While this reduces the volume of waste, it is important to ensure that harmful emissions are properly controlled. 

Final Notes

Understanding the distinctions between biodegradable and non-biodegradable materials is crucial for practicing responsible waste management and promoting environmental sustainability. By making informed choices and adopting eco-friendly practices, we can contribute to a healthier planet and a more sustainable future. 

Did the article provide valuable insights for you? If you’re eager to explore more concepts similarly, feel free to check out our blog section. Additionally, in the realm of online education, where staying competitive is vital, consider experiencing Tutoroot’s online classes by clicking here. Book your FREE DEMO session today!


Q: Give two ways in which biodegradable substances would affect the environment. 

A: Biodegradable substances can positively impact the environment by reducing the reliance on chemical fertilizers through composting. Additionally, proper management of biodegradable waste can help prevent the production of methane gas in landfills, thus mitigating climate change and air pollution. 

Q: Why are some substances biodegradable and some non-biodegradable? 

A: Substances can be biodegradable or non-biodegradable based on their chemical composition and molecular structure. Biodegradable materials are typically derived from natural sources and can be broken down by microorganisms. Non-biodegradable materials, often synthetic, have complex structures that cannot easily be decomposed by natural processes. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.