Biodegradation

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Yellow slime mold growing on a bin of wet paper

Biodegradation is a chemical process in which materials are dissolved by bacteria or other biological elements. If a material is biodegradable, it means that it can be consumed by microorganisms and turned into compounds that are natural. It is an important process in ecology and waste management. Items that are biodegradable are considered environmentally friendly because they can turn back into elements found in nature.

Organic materials, such as those that come from plants and animals, can be degraded aerobically (with oxygen) or anaerobically (without oxygen). Some artificial or inorganic materials can also be biodegraded.[1][2] It is possible to identify specific microorganisms that are able to biodegrade these materials.[3]

In nature, different materials biodegrade at different speeds. Most microorganisms that help biodegradation need light, heat, water and oxygen.[4]

Estimated time for compounds to biodegrade in the ocean[5]
Product Time to biodegrade
Apple core 1–2 months
General paper 1–3 months
Paper towel 2–4 weeks
Cardboard box 2 months
Cotton cloth 5 months
Plastic coated milk carton 5 years
Wax coated milk carton 3 months
Tin cans 50–100 years
Aluminium cans 150–200 years
Glass bottles Undetermined (forever)
Plastic bags 10–20 years
Soft plastic (bottle) 100 years
Hard plastic (bottle cap) 400 years

Related pages[change | change source]

References[change | change source]

  1. Sims, G.K.; A.M. Cupples (1999). "Factors controlling degradation of pesticides in soil". Pesticide Science: 598-601.
  2. Diaz E (editor). (2008). Microbial Biodegradation: Genomics and Molecular Biology (1st ed.). Caister Academic Press. ISBN 1-904455-17-4 . http://www.horizonpress.com/biod.
  3. Cupples, A.M.; E.A. Shaffer, J.C. Chee-Sanford, and G.K. Sims (2007). "DNA buoyant density shifts during 15N DNA stable isotope probing". Microbiological Res. 162: 328-334.
  4. Sims, G.K. (1991). The effects of sorption on the bioavailability of pesticides.. London: Springer Verlag. pp. 119-137.
  5. http://cmore.soest.hawaii.edu/cruises/super/biodegradation.htm [Mote Marine Laboratory, 1993]