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Waste and Recycling
Human Anatomy and Physiology

What is the difference between biodegradable and non-biodegradable?


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September 24, 2015 5:15PM

Biodegradable wastes decompose into soil.

  • Kitchen food scraps
  • Garden waste
  • Paper and egg shells
  • Human and animal waste
  • cardboard boxes

Non-biodegradable wastes take a long time or never to decompose.

  • metal cans
  • bottles
  • toxic chemicals
  • plastic products
  • metal scraps


In general, differences are based on whether or not the action of "a biological agent" can cause the waste in question to be "degraded" to some acceptable level.


Biodegradable means that natural processes can break down the material into their natural components. Whereas, non-biodegradable materials would not be affected by natural processes that would break the material down. Plastic usually is non-biodegradable, because their are very few natural processes that could break the plastic down into smaller elements, whereas something like wood, will rot and decay and be recycled back into the soil.


Biodegradable implies that the material will be destroyed/dissembled by biological and/or natural elements. Nitric Acid rain manufactured in thunderstorms, Oxygen in the air, ultraviolet light in sunlight, and all kinds of microscopic "critters" in the atmosphere and soil which "chomp"on all kinds of materials [including some petroleum products].


Non-biodegradable implies that the material is totally immune from attack by any biological/natural elements and therefore, will exist forever in essentially the same form for ever.
Something that is biodegradable can be decomposed by living organisms such as bacteria. Items that are non-biodegradable cannot be decomposed by living things.