Navigation Links
Study: Biodegradable products may be bad for the environment

Research from North Carolina State University shows that so-called biodegradable products are likely doing more harm than good in landfills, because they are releasing a powerful greenhouse gas as they break down.

"Biodegradable materials, such as disposable cups and utensils, are broken down in landfills by microorganisms that then produce methane," says Dr. Morton Barlaz, co-author of a paper describing the research and professor and head of NC State's Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering. "Methane can be a valuable energy source when captured, but is a potent greenhouse gas when released into the atmosphere."

And the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that only about 35 percent of municipal solid waste goes to landfills that capture methane for energy use. EPA estimates that another 34 percent of landfills capture methane and burn it off on-site, while 31 percent allow the methane to escape.

"In other words," Barlaz says, "biodegradable products are not necessarily more environmentally friendly when disposed in landfills."

This problem may be exacerbated by the rate at which these man-made biodegradable materials break down. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) guidelines call for products marked as "biodegradable" to decompose within "a reasonably short period of time" after disposal. But such rapid degradation may actually be environmentally harmful, because federal regulations do not require landfills that collect methane to install gas collection systems for at least two years after the waste is buried. If materials break down and release methane quickly, much of that methane will likely be emitted before the collection technology is installed. This means less potential fuel for energy use, and more greenhouse gas emissions.

As a result, the researchers find that a slower rate of biodegradation is actually more environmentally friendly, because the bulk of the methane production will occur after the methane collection system is in place. Some specific biodegradable products such as bags that hold yard waste and are always sent to composting or anaerobic digestion facilities were not included in the study.

"If we want to maximize the environmental benefit of biodegradable products in landfills," Barlaz says, "we need to both expand methane collection at landfills and design these products to degrade more slowly in contrast to FTC guidance."


Contact: Matt Shipman
North Carolina State University

Related biology news :

1. Study: urban black bears live fast, die young
2. Study: Bird diversity lessens human exposure to West Nile Virus
3. Study: Tropical wetlands hold more carbon than temperate marshes
4. Study: Wildlife need more complex travel plans
5. Study: Elderly Women can increase strength but still risk falls
6. UNC study: Text messaging may help children fight off obesity
7. Study: Did early climate impact divert a new glacial age?
8. Study: Excessive use of antiviral drugs could aid deadly flu
9. UNC study: Tinkering with the circadian clock can suppress cancer growth
10. Study: Fluid buildup in lungs is part of the damage done by the flu
11. Study: Health undervalued in reproductive rights debate
Post Your Comments:
(Date:11/2/2015)... PARK, Calif. , Nov. 2, 2015  SRI ... $9 million to provide preclinical development services to the ... the contract, SRI will provide scientific expertise, modern testing ... wide variety of preclinical pharmacology and toxicology studies to ... --> The PREVENT Cancer Drug Development ...
(Date:10/29/2015)... -- Connected health pioneer, Joseph C. Kvedar , MD, ... and wellness, and the business opportunities that arise from ... of Healthy Things . Long before health and ... Kvedar, vice president, Connected Health, Partners HealthCare, was creating ... from the hospital or doctor,s office into the day-to-day ...
(Date:10/27/2015)... SAN JOSE, Calif. , Oct. 27, 2015 /PRNewswire/ ... human interface solutions, today announced that Google has adopted ... family of touch controller solutions to power its newest ... Nexus 6P by Huawei. --> ... ecosystem partners like Google to provide strategic collaboration in ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/25/2015)... /PRNewswire/ - Aeterna Zentaris Inc. (NASDAQ:  AEZS; TSX: AEZ) ... remain fundamentally strong and highlights the following developments: ... DSMB recommendation to continue the ZoptEC Phase 3 ... final interim efficacy and safety data , ... with heavily pretreated castration- and Taxane-resistant prostate cancer ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... LUMPUR, Malaysia , Nov. 24, 2015 /PRNewswire/ ... global contract research organisation (CRO) market. The trend ... result in lower margins but higher volume share ... increased capacity and scale, however, margins in the ... Research Organisation (CRO) Market ( ), ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... (PRWEB) , ... November 24, 2015 , ... ... maintain healthy metabolism. But unless it is bound to proteins, copper is also ... Health (NIH), researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) will conduct a systematic study ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... ... November 24, 2015 , ... This fall, global software solutions leader SAP ... states to develop and pitch their BIG ideas to improve health and wellness in ... for votes to win the title of SAP's Teen Innovator, an all-expenses paid trip ...
Breaking Biology Technology: