Myth: Food waste biodegrades in any modern landfill.
Reality: Nothing is supposed to biodegrade in a landfill!
Biodegradation is a process of breaking down the major components of dead organisms, mainly carbon and nitrogen, into their basic components.
It is a part of the Earth’s natural biochemical cycle and can occur with oxygen (aerobically) or without it (anaerobically).
However, the presence of microorganisms and oxygen help to “recycle” organic matter much faster and more efficiently.
THE PROBLEM WITH MODERN LANDFILLS
Landfills still exist all over the world. They collect waste such as glass, food waste, plastic, paper and other products that could be easily recycled or composted.
Being overcrowded and anaerobic, they do not allow waste to biodegrade. As garbage is squeezed so tightly, it does not let much oxygen in.
Moreover, there are few, if any microorganisms in the landfills. They also do not receive enough moisture, nutrients and temperature to break organic matter down.
That is why, if there is any biodegradation happening at all, it takes an immense amount of time.
⚠️ Just because something can biodegrade, does not mean it will!
… AND ALL THAT METHANE
Did you know that landfills are the 3rd-largest source of man-made methane emissions?!
This is because really old organic materials are releasing methane when they anaerobically break down.
Methane (CH4) is a potent greenhouse gas and the second biggest (human-triggered) contributor to climate change after carbon dioxide (CO2).
Yes, swamplands and cows also release methane to the atmosphere, but by far it is human activity that is driving up levels of CH4.
Uncontrolled biodegradation in a landfill also pollutes groundwater and weakens soil.
Biodegradable does not mean compostable or recyclable!
As evidence shows, you can find 40-year-old newspapers in the pile of garbage, still recognisable 25-year-old hot dogs or grapes. Gross!
If this food biodegraded in a landfill, it would produce methane…
However, if they biodegraded in a controlled environment instead, this process would be carbon natural.
THE ROLE OF LEGISLATION
Despite any progress, tons of biodegradable materials such as paper, leaves and food scraps are sitting in the dry and airless environment.
Some landfills are now being designed to promote biodegradation through the injection of water, oxygen, and even microbes, however, this practice is expensive.
Many governments around the world are taking action to fight against poorly managed landfills. For example, The Scottish Government aims to stop all non-household biodegradable waste from entering landfill by 2025.
IN THE MEANTIME
It is known that around 40% of waste sent to landfill is organic waste. If you are asking yourself what you can do, simply compost your food waste!
Composting will transform your organic waste into nutrient-rich fertiliser!
You can then use it in your garden, farm or to feed your house plants, adding to their growth, yet without producing toxic residues.
WHAT DO YOU NEED TO START (DEPENDING ON YOUR LIVING SPACE)?
If you live in a house and have a lot of garden space available
- There are so many options available to you. You can either build your own compost heap, get our award-winning Blackwall 220l composter made of recycled plastic (for less than £30)! Without the need for good drainage! There is also HotBin for fast and efficient compost making, smaller Green Cone food waste digester, gardener’s favourite Green Johanna… You choose!
If you have a limited garden space
- Bokashi composting is an ideal solution for you. It is a simple and quick way to tackle all your household food waste and reduce greenhouse emissions in exchange for nutrient-rich soil. Keep in mind that you will need to finish the process outside. Shop our bestselling bokashi twin pack (which already includes a 3-month supply of bokashi bran) or read more about the bokashi system.
If you live in a flat
- Invest in a wormery and keep it on your balcony. It produces both compost and liquid fertiliser but it also requires a bit more attention. Check out our wormeries.
TOP 3 TAKEAWAYS
- Landfills are not designed to allow biodegradation. They are the 3rd largest source of man-made methane, contributing to climate change.
- Even if biodegradation takes place, it is not efficient and takes an immense amount of time. Characteristics of the environment where the garbage biodegrade will determine whether or not it will produce destructive CH4.
- Recycling and composting should always be a priority. It is our shared responsibility.