Saturday, August 31, 2013

Biodegradable Vs. Recycled

A biodegradable product must completely break down into elements found in nature at the end of its life cycle, according to the EPA. A recycled product has been created from previously used materials, which may consist of either post-consumer waste or manufacturing waste. Neither biodegradable or recycled products are essentially better. The most eco-friendly choice depends on a range of considerations involving production and end of life cycle processes.


Processes used to recycle products may produce emissions such as carbon dioxide, even though recycling is typically far greener than using new materials. The process of biodegrading often produces substantial emissions as well. As products biodegrade, they release methane, a greenhouse gas. This process contributes to climate change significantly, as landfills are one of the leading causes of methane emissions in the U.S.

Energy Capture from Biodegradables

The methane produced as products biodegrade can actually prove a valuable resource, but only if landfills have a mechanism through which to capture it. Only 35 percent of municipal solid waste goes to such landfills.  Municipal solid waste landfills as a whole cause 17 percent of methane emissions in the U.S., according to the EPA. If the local landfill does capture methane and use it as a fuel, using biodegradable products may be a more eco-friendly option than recycled products.


People may purchase biodegradable products because they believe they can close the products' life cycle loop at home, in their own compost bin. This may seem an attractive alternative to returning recycled products to a recycling facility, which requires additional processing. However, biodegradable products may take an extremely long time to break down in a home compost bin. A biodegradable fork may look much the same after several months in the compost bin as it did when you first tossed it in, for instance. Compost in an industrial composting facility typically has the higher temperatures that allow certain biodegradable products to break down more easily.


Because biodegradable and recycled products each have distinct environmental impacts, using fewer products is the best option. Instead of purchasing biodegradable cutlery for a party, use regular silverware and wash it afterward. If you don't need to bag your yard waste, avoid the bag altogether. These eco-friendly choices will also lower your budget and simplify your life.

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