Difference Between Biodegradable and Non-Biodegradable Substances

What are Biodegradable Substances?

Biodegradable substances are those things that can be easily decomposed by natural agents such as water, oxygen, ultraviolet rays, acid rain, microorganisms, etc.  

A common example is a dead leaf or a fruit. When a dead leaf or a fruit is left exposed in a moist, warm and open place, micro-organisms like bacteria, fungi, or small insects start slowly decomposing it over time through several chemical processes.

Therefore, dead remains of plants and animals are biodegradable substances that decompose on their own and return to the soil in the form of nutrients for new life forms.

There is no pollution caused by the natural processes of decomposition and hence biodegradable substances are not harmful to the environment.

What are Non-Biodegradable Substances?

Non-Biodegradable substances are materials that cannot be broken down or decomposed into the soil by natural agents.

Examples include plastics, pieces of metal, aluminum cans, glass, harmful chemicals, etc.

These substances are completely immune to natural processes and thus cannot be broken down even after thousands of years. These substances are very harmful to the environment.

The increasing load of non-biodegradable waste is a growing concern all over the globe and several countries are looking for eco-friendly alternatives that can minimize the threat to many lands and aquatic life forms.

Most of the non-biodegradable waste is mainly produced by humans with some chemical reactions in labs and after that into big factories for making several products.

Plastic is the most dangerous Non-biodegradable substance because there is no way to decompose it, so it will remain in the same quantity from the time it is produced and it will be very harmful to living animals on the earth.

Difference Between Biodegradable and Non-Biodegradable Substances

Biodegradable substances are the kind of substance that decomposes naturally and is good for the environment. Non-Biodegradable substances do not decompose naturally and are toxic to the environment.

The speed of decomposition of Biodegradable substances is slow. It takes a few weeks to a few months to decompose while a Non-Biodegradable substance either does not decompose or takes hundreds of years to decompose.

Biodegradable substances on breaking up get converted into simple organic matter and are thus absorbed in the soil and thus become a part of the carbon cycle of the atmosphere.

On the other hand, non-biodegradable substances are resistant to environmental agents and either never decompose or decompose at an extremely slow rate and instead contribute to the majority of solid waste.

Comparison Between Biodegradable and Non-Biodegradable Substances

Parameter of ComparisonBiodegradableNon-biodegradable
DefinitionSubstances that decompose through natural processes without polluting the environment.Substances that do not decompose naturally and its decomposition pollutes the environment.
Process of degradationThe process of degradation is slow.The process of degradation is extremely slow.
Decompose byBacteria, fungi, and other living organisms.Require artificial methods of decomposition as these cannot be decomposed by living organisms.
Cost of decompositionDecomposition is not costly.Decomposition is costly as it requires several artificial chemical processes.
UsageUsed for making biogas or fertilizers.Cannot be used for anything as it is very toxic to the environment.
ExamplesVegetables, fruits, paper, flowers, and animal wastes.Plastics, glass, carbon paper, metal scraps.


  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301468109600694
  2. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/jctb.664