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The Degradables Debate

an orange calico cat wearing gloves and boots using a shovel to dig up carrots and newspapers in a landfilla capital green letter O with a yellow cats paw printne of the biggest debates in solid waste has centered on claims that certain products such as some plastic bags, paper products, and other goods are degradable. Are such products helpful in solving the solid waste dilemma? Do they save landfill space?

In truth, degradation occurs very slowly in modern landfills. Sunlight can't penetrate, so photodegradation can't occur. Furthermore, researchers have unearthed cabbages, carrots, and readable newspapers that have been in landfills for 30 years or more. It is unlikely that products marketed as degradable would achieve better results. Even if biodegradable products do perform exactly as they are suppose to, they still use up resources that could be reclaimed through recycling.

Biodegradability of natural materials such as lawn trimmings and some foods does have a place in solid waste management. That place is composting (See Tip 10). Whether in the backyard or in community facilities, composting can take advantage of degradability. This is nature's way of recycling organic material into humus that enriches soil and returns nutrients to the earth.


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