Sunday, March 13, 2011

Bio-Degradeables Gone Bad

A landfill in Poland                                   Image via WikipediaBy Natasha Craig

Most of us think that when we buy something labeled "bio-degradeable" that it will decompose once it has found its way in the landfill, and thus help reduce the amount of trash in the landfills. Unfortunately, this is not true.

When something is considered bio-degradeable, it means that it is capable of being decomposed with the help of environmental agents such as bacteria. Yet, this does not mean it can be discarded anywhere without consequence.

In 2001, a group of researchers from the University of Arizona excavated 21 landfills across the USA and found hundreds of under-decomposed hot dogs, corn-starch and even lettuce dating back to the 1960s! Even worse, they found 2,425 newspapers, all in excellent reading shape, dating back to the '60s as well (the newspapers were used to date the age of the food found!).

So why are bio-degradables not decomposing in the landfills the way we expect them to? Because modern landfills are lined on the bottom with clay and plastic to keep waste from escaping into the soil. Therefore, in the words of a 2007 Slate article, "The landfill, then, acts like a trash tomb - the garbage within receives little air, water or sunlight. This means that even readily degradable waste objects, including paper and food scraps, are more likely to mummify than decompose."

So, what to do with your bio-degradeables? Send them to the local composting outlet, where they will be able to decompose in the way they are designed to with the help of nature's bacteria.

Natasha is the founder of, an online retailer of fashion and bags made from recycled and upcycled materials. Her goal is to change the way we all shop, to make everyone an eco-shopper.

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