Difference Between Biodegradable and Non-Biodegradable

Key Difference – Biodegradable vs Non-Biodegradable

The terms ‘biodegradable’ and ‘non-biodegradable’ describe a substance’s ability to decompose by means of natural agents. The term ‘bio’ implies biological nature of decomposition agent, and  natural substances like water, ultraviolet rays, oxygen, ozone, etc., or a microorganism such as bacteria, fungi, etc. are examples of natural decomposition agents. These two terms biodegradable and non-biodegradable are often used with substances associated with the environmental pollution. The key difference between biodegradable and non-biodegradable substances is that biodegradable substances can be decomposed by using natural substances whereas non-biodegradable substances cannot. This article further describes the difference between biodegradable and non-biodegradable substances.

What Does Biodegradable Mean?

Biodegradable substances are the substance that can be decomposed with the help of natural agent such as bacteria, fungi, ultraviolet rays, ozone, oxygen, water, etc. Decomposition refers to the breakdown of complex organic materials to simple units. These simple units provide various nutrition back to the soil. Biodegradable substances are usually non-toxic and do not persist for a long time in the environment. Hence, they are not regarded as environmental pollutants. Examples of biodegradable substances include anything made up of natural substances such as plant or animal based material. Biodegradable substances are also called eco-friendly since they do not harm the environment. Because of the eco-friendly nature of these compounds, scientists are now trying to produce biodegradable substances as alternatives to their non-biodegradable counterparts. Such products include biodegradable plastics, polymers, and household detergents.

Difference Between Biodegradable and Non-Biodegradable

What Does Non-biodegradable Mean?

Non-biodegradable substances are the substances that do not decompose by means of natural processes. Thus, these substances remain for longer periods in the environment without decomposing. Examples of widely produced non-biodegradable materials include plastics, polyethene, scrap metals, aluminum cans, glass bottles, etc. These substances are not eco-friendly substances because they act as direct pollutants of the environment. The low manufacturing cost and convenient handling have led to enhance the day-to-day usage of these substances. Because of this reason, these non-biodegradable substances have become a huge environmental issue in many countries, especially in developing countries. Most of the non-biodegradable substances such as metallic substances cause various hazardous issues by contaminating natural water bodies and soil. ‘Three R’ concept has been introduced as the main solution to existing non-biodegradable substances. According to the concept, reduce, recycle and reuse are the primary solutions to shrink the burden of non-biodegradable substances, which have been already in our environment. In addition, many alternative biodegradable substances are being tested now to reduce the production of new non-biodegradable substances.

Main Difference - Biodegradable vs  Non-Biodegradable

What is the difference between Biodegradable and Non-biodegradable?

Definition of Biodegradable and Non-biodegradable:

Biodegradable: Biodegradable substances are the substances that can be decomposed by natural decomposition agents such as water, oxygen, microorganism, etc.

Non-biodegradable: Non-biodegradable substances are the substances that cannot be decomposed by natural agents available in the environment.

Characteristics of Biodegradable and Non-biodegradable:


Biodegradable: Biodegradable substances are usually non-toxic and eco-friendly.

Non-biodegradable: Non-biodegradable substances are usually toxic and not eco-friendly.


Biodegradable: Biodegradable substances may decompose within few days or months

Non-biodegradable: Non-biodegradable substances may take decades to decompose and might never decompose.


Biodegradable: There is no special technique to reduce the number of biodegradable substances as there are natural agents to carry out decomposition.

Non-biodegradable: Reduce, recycle and reuse are the solution to reduce the impact of existing non-biodegradable substances.


Biodegradable: Examples include plant and animal-based materials such as wood, fruits, leaves, meats,

Non-biodegradable: Examples include scrap metals, toxic chemicals, detergents,


Peterson, J. M. (2010). Making good choices about biodegradability. New York: Rosen Central.

Biodegradable Substances. (n.d.). Retrieved July 26, 2016, from here 

Image Courtesy:

“Biodegradable waste” By  Muu-karhu – Own work (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia 

“Solid Waste in plastic barrels” By GST HBK – Own work (Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia