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What is non-biodegradable waste?

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Quick Answer

Humans are currently generating more trash than we ever have before. The average family of four in the U.S. generated more than 6,351 pounds of trash in 2016, and are on track to increase our trash production in years to come. With this in mind, it’s important to consider where this trash all goes, and how we can make an effort to dispose of it more effectively.

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What is non-biodegradable waste?
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Full Answer

When we dispose of waste that was originally made of organic materials, it is able to break down and decompose naturally and quickly. This type of waste is biodegradable, and if disposed of properly, it is broken down by natural elements such as oxygen, water, sunlight, and fungi, then reabsorbed back into the environment.

Food waste, plant products, paper, wood, and grass clippings are all examples of biodegradable waste. As these materials decompose they are able to provide nourishment for other living organisms, perpetuating a healthy environmental cycle.

An issue emerges, however, when we dispose of materials that are unable to break down naturally. Electronics, plastics, metals, and glass are examples of these materials, often referred to as non-biodegradable waste. Large volumes of non-biodegradable waste threaten to overwhelm landfills and release dangerous chemicals into the environment.

Some waste is difficult to classify as either biodegradable or non-biodegradable, as certain materials can take much longer to decompose than others. Items such as paper and food waste completely decompose within a few months, while plastic sandwich bags and cans can take between 100 and 450 years to decompose. This means that even materials that are technically biodegradable can cause issues once they are disposed of, contributing to overcrowding of landfills and other waste disposal sites.

After being disposed of, non-biodegradable materials can also make their way into the Earth’s oceans, harming marine life. Fish and marine mammals who consume plastic can be poisoned, choke, or experience digestive issues. Non-biodegradable waste can also leach dangerous chemicals into the Earth, harming both plant and animal life.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a vast area of the Pacific Ocean entirely covered in non-biodegradable waste, is an example of the devastation that non-biodegradable litter can cause. The Garbage Patch is located in the waters between Japan and the West Coast of North America, and is currently too big for scientists to trawl and measure. Marine life in the area is at risk of ingesting or getting tangled in the plastic debris, and dangerous chemicals such as bisphenol A and PCBs enter the food chain here after being absorbed by underwater plants.

There are many things we can do to decrease our production of waste and help slow down its negative environmental effects. The first is recycling non-biodegradable materials. Recycling items such as glass, batteries, and electronics can go a long ways towards reducing our environmental footprint. Many businesses and municipalities have special bins designated specifically for the disposal of non-biodegradable waste.

Other actions you can take to cut down on the amount of trash you produce include buying and using reusable shopping bags, choosing to store food in reusable containers instead of disposable bags, and buying in bulk in order to cut down on packaging waste. Additional step you can take include composting yard waste and food scraps, and opting to receive paperless bank statement and bills.

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