Why Organic Matters Don’t Biodegrade Well In Landfill?

Why Organic Matters Don’t Biodegrade Well In Landfill?

Biodegradable materials are on the hype nowadays, because we are already fed up with pilling waste up in the landfill. Non-biodegradable waste will only pile up once it ends up in the landfill and litter this planet with something, we cannot do anything with.

Of course, to balance the biodegradability hype, producers are coming up with more and more biodegradable products. As a result, there are so many biodegradable wastes in our landfill. The problem with this, how do they decompose?

This is where things get tricky. If you visit a landfill, you might see some biodegradable stuffs are not degrading naturally. At least, they don’t degrade naturally as fast as it is supposed to do. What’s wrong with this condition?

Here in this article, we will try to explain you why biodegradable things don’t degrade as well in landfill as in other places.

About Biodegradation


Biodegradation is a process in which organic matters break down with the help of other living organisms. The other living organisms can be in the form of enzymes or microbes, and their function is to break the matters into their basic components.

Later on, the basic components, in form of molecules, will be recycled by the nature to build new life. We all know that those components are either directly absorbed by plants for their growth nutrition, or stored on earth as soil nutrition.

The thing is, this process can occur both aerobically and anaerobically. It can occur with the help of oxygen, or without the help of oxygen naturally. In this case, the aerobic biodegradation occurs faster and more effective than the anaerobic one.

The reason for this is because oxygen helps a lot in breaking down molecules in organic matters apart. We all know that a lot of molecules react well with oxygen, this chemical reaction helps the degradation of organic matters a lot, thus the reason why aerobic biodegradation occurs faster and more effective.

Applying it into the topic that we are talking about, most landfill don’t support give enough support to aerobic biodegradation. Most of the landfills only give support to aerobic biodegradation on the surface only, while what has been piled up beneath the pile doesn’t get enough access to it.

What Happens In Landfill

a boy in a landfill

Many studies have explained that landfill is not the best option for us to be the final destination of our waste. Not only because it tends to pollute surrounding environment, but also because it doesn’t function like we used to think. Eco Products gave a good explanation about what happens in the landfill.

“Most landfills are anaerobic because they are compacted so tightly that air cannot get in. Because of this, any biodegradation that does take place does so very, very, very slowly. Trash entering landfills essentially retains its original weight, volume and form for the entire active life of the landfill,” as stated in the report.

“Landfills excavations have uncovered some startling facts: Newspapers are still readable after almost 40 years; ten-year-old carrots are brown on the outside but bright orange on the inside; and 20-year-old steaks still have meat on the bones,” written in the report.

That’s not something that we should be surprised for, because in this modern era, landfills are not designed to make garbage and waste to naturally biodegrade. Instead, the intention is to contain them securely and safely.

That’s why, when we toss our waste into the landfill and hope it would degrade naturally, we should see whether or not it is possible for that. If the amount of waste tossed into the landfill is too much, we should not expect such kind of thing to happen.

Processing Makes Things Worse

plastic bag going to landfill

Adding up to the misconception that biodegradable waste will always degrade naturally in the landfill, there is one additional problem that most of us haven’t recognized yet. Processing, makes things worse, or in this case makes biodegradability even more impossible.

As mentioned above that biodegradation process is done by microbes or enzymes, they only do it if they recognize what they are dealing with well. In this modern day, a lot of organic materials are processed into something else.

Sometimes, the processing is too heavy that makes the final product unrecognizable by the microbes and enzymes. In this case, the breaking down process would take much longer time compared to when the organic material is not processed.

One of the best examples in this case is petroleum. Petroleum naturally will break down easily if it is in its original form of crude oil. However, when it has been processed in form of plastic, we know that it would require centuries to break down.

Even if it breaks down, it will not become the molecules that can give nutrients to its surrounding. Instead, it would break down into the tiny monsters we call as microplastics. This kind of heavy processing doesn’t only happen to petroleum, but a lot of other matters too.

Better Option Than Landfill

the bodies can turn into dirt like regular compost. Photo by normanack Wikimedia Commons

Knowing that even biodegradable waste is not going to decompose well in landfill, then what should we do to our waste then? The answer for this question is to make sure that our waste is separated between biodegradable and non-biodegradable first.

For the biodegradable waste, we can process it into compost or just toss it into compost heap. In this scenario, the waste will degrade naturally in a better manner than going to the landfill because compost heap can provide better support for them.

The reason is because most microorganisms living in compost heap are aerobic, and in compost heap, they are provided good exposure to oxygen. In addition to that, garbage in compost piles is often chopped down into smaller pieces, making it easier for the microorganisms to decompose it.

And for the non-biodegradable waste, they are better off recycled or reused. Their long-lasting nature are not made to be used only once in their lifetime. This way, not only we can save the earth by not overconsuming natural resources, we can also eliminate the waste pile in our landfill.






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