What is Non-Biodegradable Substance? | Example, Treatment, Pros and Cons

While performing our day to day activities, we produce various substances that are mostly dumped as wastes. Some of them are acted upon by the microorganisms like bacteria or saprophytes for energy; some are not.

It is because not all substances can be broken down by enzymes to generate energy. For instance, microorganisms like saprophytes or bacteria cannot break down human-made materials like plastic. Such materials can be broken down by prolonged heat and pressure. But these are all physical processes and not biological processes.

Materials or substances that cannot be acted upon by biological processes are known as non-biodegradable substances. These substances tend to be inactive and may continue to exist in the environment for thousands of years. Some of them may even harm the other elements and components of an ecosystem.

Examples of Non-Biodegradable Substances

Most of the non-biodegradable substances tend to be generated by human beings in some laboratory through experimentation. Consequently, the effort to make such materials resistant to physical and biological processes is often profound. The goal is to create durable substances so that the products manufactured from those substances remain unscathed long after use.

Some of the significant examples of non-biodegradable substances include:

  • Polythene
  • Plastic bottles
  • Tetra packs
  • Carbon paper
  • Glass
  • Human-made polymers
  • E-waste, and many more.

How can Non-Biodegradable Substances be treated?

Unlike Biodegradable substances, non-biodegradable substances do not break down through the actions of microorganisms. Heat and pressure may melt them in the long run. However, the time taken by such physical processes is too long as far as the planet’s health is concerned.

Therefore, some form of external intervention is required to accelerate such stubborn substances’ break down process. One such intervention is the application of the waste management hierarchy.

It aims to manage non-biodegradable substances by extracting the maximum amount of practical benefits from them while reducing their overall impact on the environment. The concept of 3Rs, i.e. Reduce-Reuse-Recycle is an essential tool of the waste management hierarchy.

  1. Reduce means careful selection and utilisation of resources to generate a minimum amount of waste materials.
  2. Reuse refers to the repeated utilisation of goods or their components that are still usable.
  3. Finally, Recycle entails the utilisation of the waste material itself through conversion into useful resources.

Among these 3Rs, Reduce is the most efficient way of managing non-biodegradable substances and is followed by Reuse. Recycling is taken as the last resort for managing non-biodegradable substances as it tends to be very costly.

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Advantages of Non-Biodegradable Substances

Some of the significant advantages of Non-biodegradable substances include:

  1. Non-biodegradable substances tend to be flexible and can be moulded into whatever form or shape the manufacturer wants.
  2. Non-biodegradable substances have a high melting point. As a result, they tend to survive even under too high temperatures.
  3. As they tend to be resistant to temperature and pressure, products manufactured with non-biodegradable substances tend to be relatively durable.
  4. Products made with non-biodegradable materials tend to be lightweight. This feature enhances its portability.

Disadvantages of Non-Biodegradable Substances

The disadvantages of Non-biodegradable substances are many, specifically in terms of environmental health. Some of the notable demerits of Non-biodegradable substances include:

  1. Non-biodegradable substances take thousands of years to decompose. Consequently, they accumulate in the environment, which, in turn, leads to biomagnification.
  2. As they accumulate, the environment starts becoming unclean due to water and land pollution.
  3. The non-biodegradable wastes generated by human activities come back to them as food grown on polluted land.
  4. Animals often end up consuming non-biodegradable wastes. These wastes persist in their body and gradually drive them ultimately towards death.
  5. Burning of non-biodegradable substances leads to air pollution.

References

  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0043135404002362