Biodegradable materials are materials that will break down naturally in the environment when disposed of. It’s a process that can take time, but over this time period the material in question will be consumed by various organisms such as bacteria and fungi. Using biodegradable materials is one great way for companies to help the planet move to a more sustainable way of living – these materials are much better for the environment than using materials that won’;t biodegrade.
The reason is pretty simple – if something can’t get broken down and consumed by the environment, then it sits occupying space, potentially forever! Landfill sites aren’t just an eyesore, they can be a real concern for the health of the surrounding environment. The more products that we can either reuse or safely return to nature, the better!
What materials are biodegradable?
There are actually so many biodegradable materials – humans have been using biodegradable materials for our entire existence!
Essentially, most things that come directly from, or are made directly from things existing in our environment are biodegradable to a certain extent – and even plastics will eventually decompose in our environment. However, it can take over 450 years for plastics to decompose, which just frankly isn’t quick enough. That plastic bottle on your desk could still be around nearly half a millennium from now!
For our purposes, biodegradable has to mean something that will break down on a timescale that makes sense to humans. That means products that will decompose over months and years, not centuries. Luckily, there are plenty of great options for us to use!
Wood is one of the materials that’s been in use for the longest time by humans – as soon as we were able to pull branches off trees, we were using biodegradable materials! Wood is great for many uses because it’s a natural product that can be used in a sustainable fashion – and it’s always going to be one of the most versatile materials to work with.
Wood will break down naturally over time if left to the elements, but is also durable enough that something well made out of good wood could easily outlive everyone alive today. The oldest wooden building in the world is at least 1300 years old!
Wood is used all across the world, and will probably continue to be an important material forever.
Bamboo is famed for its strength, flexibility, and lightness. Even today, when steel seems to rule the world, bamboo is still regularly used in construction in many Asian countries. Where Western countries would use steel scaffolding, it’s not uncommon to see bamboo still being used to help workers put buildings up to this day.
It’s a fast growing and sustainable plant too – which is yet another advantage for this durable and resilient material. WHat’s more, it’s extremely versatile – not just being used in scaffolding, but in many products.
Bamboo is a little bit similar to wood, but is actually a grass, not a tree. It’s used in very many similar ways to wood – from construction, to furniture, as well as other items such as cutlery and paper.
Not just used to hold wine bottles closed, cork is actually an extremely versatile material that’s biodegradable and recyclable. It can be used for so many different things – not just bottle stoppers!
For one thing, if you’ve got a drinks coaster on your desk, have a good look at the bottom – there’s a good chance that it’s made from cork. It has heat resistant properties, which makes it really useful for protecting your desk or coffee table from your hot mugs!
It’s used often in insulation for the same reasons. And the fact that it’s a little bit softer than wood, and has more give to it, makes it great for use in flooring, as well as even on the soles of shoes!
And even though it’s a product that’s harvested from trees, the trees don’t even need to be cut down – meaning that cork is great from a sustainability point of view.
Bioplastics are obviously a much more recent development in biodegradable materials than wood and cork! Although they’re quite new, they’re catching on – and the technology can get better over time.
These bioplastics are actually made from plant matter, rather than being made from oil and petroleum products. They’re available for use as an alternative packaging material.
They can be great for this purpose, as they do everything the standard plastic wrapper on your food does – provide an air and moisture-tight barrier that seals the freshness in. The upside of these when compared to conventional plastics is, of course, that they’ll decompose in our environment, rather than sitting in landfill for hundreds of years!
Mycelium is really just a fancy way of saying fungus! Well, actually, mycelium is the “root” structure of certain fungi – and certain types of mycelium can actually be used as a material that we can make products from!
It can be grown into a required shape by encouraging it to grow inside a mold. Once the mold is fully occupied, it gets baked, killing off the fungus, and leaving only the mycelial structure – perfectly shaped to fit the mold.
It’s a surprisingly durable material, and as it’s grown using fungus, it’s extremely sustainable. ANd, of course, it’s a biodegradable product too – the mycelium will decompose if left to mother nature.
Hemp is another biodegradable material that we humans have been using since time immemorial. It’s a product of the cannabis plant, and it can be used for so many different things. It makes great fabrics that are even stronger than cotton – actually, at three times the tensile strength of cotton, hemp is actually quite a bit stronger!
It can also be used for many other products, such as paper, rope, insulation material, paint, as well as even in the production of biodegradable plastics and biofuel. It can be grown extremely sustainably too!
The more biodegradable materials that we use, the better! They’re an essential part of getting the most out of our planet while also keeping it healthy. Rather than using products that sit in landfill sites and blight the environment, the more that we use products that can be reused, recycled, and returned to nature, the better job we’re doing at caring for the planet!