What Does Non-Biodegradable Mean?

Updated July 19, 2017

"Non-biodegradable" refers to materials that do not break down naturally or take an inordinate amount of time to do so. When thrown away, these materials cannot be dissolved by the bacteria, fungi and living organisms in the air, moisture, climate or soil, whereas biodegradable materials decompose naturally.


The Coral Reef Alliance estimates that a banana peel only takes two months to break down, while items like polystyrene foam cups, car tires and glass bottles may never decompose. In addition, notebook paper only takes about three months while plastic sandwich bags and six-pack rings take between 400 and 450 years to fully decompose.

Negative Effects

Materials that do not biodegrade may become toxic and pollute the surrounding soil or water. This may then injure or destroy organisms in the environment. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a swirl of mostly plastic non-biodegradable garbage in the Pacific Ocean that sprawls across an area larger than the United States and reaches at least 100 feet deep.


There are a number of ways to reduce the amount of non-biodegradable trash produced by a household. For example, purchase only items with little or no packaging. Look for recycled and recyclable materials. Use reusable items such as canvas grocery bags, and avoid polystyrene products altogether.

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About the Author

Sara Klein writes and edits from her home in the Pacific Northwest. She also teaches psychology, focusing on the intersection between climate change and human behavior. Klein holds Bachelor of Arts degrees in humanities and social sciences and a Master of Science in psychology.