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- A biodegradable substance can be chemically decomposed (broken down to simpler components) by natural biological processes (e.g. soil bacteria, weather, plants, animals).
- The process by which substances biodegrade is called biodegradation.
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Biodegradable materials are generally plant-based (e.g. wood, vegetable oil), animal-based (e.g. manure) or natural mineral-based products (e.g. carbon fiber polymers). In general, materials derived from nature retain some of their original chemical properties which provides a mechanism for microbes to do their work. Biodegradable materials can be solids, biodegrading into the soil (which we also refer to as compostable), or they can be liquids, biodegrading into water.
Products such as plastics made from man-made petrochemical compounds (i.e. those obtained from petroleum or natural gas), generally do not biodegrade. Modern research has focused on developing biodegradable plastics that disintegrate due to the actions of microorganisms. This is being accomplished by incorporating starch molecules into the polymer as it is made. When these plastics are discarded, bacteria eat the starch molecules, the polymer molecules break apart, and the plastic decomposes.
Consider, for example, foam packing peanuts. Those made from polystyrene do not readily decompose. However, ones made from starch will actually degrade in water. You can usually tell the two apart because the starch ones are a bit sticky to the touch.
- "Biodegradation and Bioremediation", hardcover, 453 pages, 1999. Estimated price $87.48. Info and/or order.
- "Biodegradation and Bioremediation", hardcover, 270 pages, 2004. Estimated price $189.00. Info and/or order.
- "Biodegradation and Persistence", hardcover, 341 pages, 2001. Estimated price $145.99. Info and/or order.
- "Biodegradation: Environmental Biotechnology", paperback, 96 pages, 2010. Estimated price $67.00. Info and/or order.
- "Biodegradable Polymer Blends and Composites from Renewable Resources", hardcover, 488 pages, 1997. Estimated price $122.13. Info and/or order.
- "Let it Rot! The Gardener's Guide to Composting, 3rd Ed", paperback, 160 pages, 1998. Estimated price $9.32. Info and/or order.
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MSDS's that follow the ANSI format include a section on the environmental fate of the material, and biodegradation may appear in that discussion. Biodegradation may also be included in discussing whether the material can be safely discharged to the environment or waterways.
See also: Biological oxygen demand, decomposition, RCRA, TRI.
Additional definitions from Google and OneLook.
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