12 Biodegradable Materials Eco-friendly Helps to Sustainable Living

12 Biodegradable Materials Eco-friendly Helps to Sustainable Living

Since the industrial revolution, people have excavated and consumed a massive amount of Earth’s resources to manufacture products that can make their lives more convenient. However, these products generate a lot of waste after they are used. One type of waste produced in large quantities is petroleum-based plastics, which will remain in the environment for several centuries, causing severe environmental pollution. On the contrary, plant-based biodegradable materials can decompose naturally after use, thereby truly realizing sustainable living.

Differences between Biodegradable and Non-biodegradable

“Biodegradable” and “non-biodegradable” are adjectives used for materials or products. Biodegradable materials and products decompose and disappear naturally in the environment; the most common examples include branches, wheat, fruit peels, and paper. On the contrary, non-biodegradable materials will exist permanently in the environment; the most representative examples include plastics and metals.

What are Biodegradable Materials?

The decomposition of leaves, dead branches, and animal carcasses relies on the microorganisms in the environment. Biodegradable materials also follow the same principle, allowing them to be decomposed by microorganisms in nature and returned to the soil after some time as leaves do. Compared to non-biodegradable plastics, biodegradable materials exert a lower impact on the environment, so they are considered the most promising materials to help people achieve sustainability.

Are Biodegradable Materials Eco-Friendly?

Are Biodegradable Materials Eco-Friendly?

Biodegradable materials can be broadly defined as materials that will naturally decompose and return to the soil after some time. The definition of time is not specified; therefore, traditional petroleum-based plastics are also considered biodegradable materials, albeit they may require centuries to decompose.

Additionally, some biodegradable materials such as polylactide (PLA) require a specific environment to decompose quickly. Truly eco-friendly and biodegradable materials require confirmation of their decomposition conditions and time. In the general environment, they should decompose and disappear within several months. Plant-based biodegradable materials ensure the sustainability of material supply, and they can also achieve a circular economy of biomass while decomposing.

12 Biodegradable Materials You Should Know and Start Using!

Sugarcane fiber

Sugarcane fiber originates from the leftover plant fiber after sugarcane is squeezed for sugar. It is mainly composed of cellulose and lignin, which offer resilient material properties.

  • Advantages:

Agricultural waste is used, so there is no need to plant additional crops or raise animals.

Sugarcane is one of the most productive crops in the world, catering to over half of the global sugar demand, so there is no shortage of raw materials.

Sugarcane is a C4 grass plant boasting good photosynthesis efficiency, converting more CO2 into organic carbon, which is stored in plants.

  • Disadvantages:

Sugarcane is a tropical plant cultivated mostly in tropical countries such as Brazil and Thailand. Since sugarcane is not found all over the world, countries in temperate or frigid zones requiring sugarcane materials or products require the use of long-haul transport.


  • Products include:

sugarcane straws, sugarcane dinnerware

Bamboo fiber

Bamboo, commonly used for furniture and building materials in Asian countries, has a hollow stem and grows fast.

  • Advantages:

Fast growth, can be harvested every two to three years.

Can be cultivated all over the world (species vary from region to region, temperate bamboos are smaller).

Its tough texture offers diverse applications.

  • Disadvantages:

Bamboo has coarse pores, if bamboo products are not adequately treated or stored, they tend to grow mold.

  • Products include:

Bamboo fences, reusable bamboo straws.

Bamboo fences

Bamboo fences, Image: Flickr

Tea leaf fiber

Tea is one of the most popular beverages among people. Tea bags without plastic lamination can be used as home compost. Tea shops and beverage factories generate a large amount of tea leaf fiber that can be collected and remanufactured into new materials.

  • Advantages:

Since it is used extensively in people’s lives, there is an abundant supply of tea leaves.

  • Disadvantages:

Pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers used in tea plantations easily cause local ecological problems and soil degradation.

Tea leaves are not peeled after harvesting, so it is possible to be exposed to residual chemicals when touching tea leaf fiber materials.

  • Products include:

Sound insulation layers, dietary fibers.


Tea dregs remaining after brewing, Image: Flickr

Coffee fiber

Many people use coffee to stay awake, and it is also one of the most popular beverages in the world. The coffee grounds left after using a filter coffee maker, hand pour or espresso machine can be used as home compost, which is an excellent nitrogen-rich material and is also widely used in textiles.

  • Advantages:

Coffee grounds are an ideal odor-neutralizing material, and it is used as a textile material to help eliminate odors.

  • Disadvantages:

Coffee trees are mostly planted in rainforests, which not only destroys biodiversity but also exacerbates climate change.

  • Products include:

Coffee shoes, coffee garments, coffee headlights.

Coffee grounds left after espresso extraction

Coffee grounds left after espresso extraction, Image: Pexels


Wood is the oldest biodegradable material that is widely used in diverse fields. However, as global warming intensifies, forest protection and restoration have become the most important agenda. Therefore, when enjoying wooden biodegradable products, pay attention to whether they have been manufactured with sustainable timber.

  • Advantages:

Diverse tree species allow for diverse applications.

  • Disadvantages:

The source of wood is the forest, which is an important carbon sink on Earth and a crucial habitat for organisms. Felling forests decreases the amount of CO2 absorbed naturally and biodiversity.

  • Products include:

Paper, wooden furniture, wooden houses, wooden fences, wooden tableware.

wooden furniture

Wooden furniture, Image: Flickr

Polylactide (PLA)

People have developed polylactide (PLA) by polymerizing cornstarch to replace plastics. The mature biodegradable material technology allows PLA to be composted, while its appearance and properties bear a resemblance to that of plastics. It is transparent in color and waterproof.

  • Advantages:

The material offers a similar usage experience to conventional plastics.

  • Disadvantages:

It is only heat-resistant up to 50-60°C, thus it is unsuitable for environments with high temperatures.

It can only be decomposed in a specific industrial composting environment, as its decomposition speed is relatively slow at room temperature.

  • Products include:

PLA straws, PLA cups and cup lids, 3D printing materials.

3D printed toys

3D printed toys, Image: Flickr


Seaweed is an important source of food for marine organisms and it also absorbs a large amount of CO2. Seaweed grows fast and is easy to breed, hence it is used as a food ingredient. Now, it has even become a staple food for microorganisms to produce polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs). The heat resistance and decomposition properties of PHAs are superior to PLA, making them an extremely promising biodegradable material.

  • Advantages:

After use, it can be composted and completely turned into water and CO2.

  • Disadvantages:

The construction of a dedicated culture tank is required for production and the technology is not yet sufficiently mature, resulting in high costs.

  • Products include:

Seaweed water balls, PHA filling materials, PHA sutures.


Seaweed, Image: Flickr


Besides cotton, hemp is also an ideal textile material, and its cultivation consumes less water and chemicals than cotton. If no chemical dyes, plastic printing, or other chemicals are added in the process of making the final product, hemp can be naturally decomposed and returned to the soil.

  • Advantages:

Anti-static, wash-resistant, glossy appearance.

  • Disadvantages:

Poor flexibility, produces wrinkles easily.

  • Products include:

Hemp tops, hemp shopping bags, hemp hats.

Hemp bags for coffee beans

Hemp bags for coffee beans, Image: Flickr


Cork is derived from the skin of cork oak, so there is no need to cut down the tree. After use, cork can be decomposed like ordinary bark, and it offers qualities such as being lightweight and waterproof, thermal insulation, sound insulation, and shock resistance.

  • Advantages:

There is no need to cut down trees, thereby preserving the forest ecosystem and acting as a biological carbon sink.

  • Disadvantages:

It can only be harvested once every nine years, and cork oaks are mainly cultivated in Portugal and Spain, meaning that raw materials need to travel long distances to reach their destinations.

  • Products include:

Corks, soundproof cork walls, cork poster bulletin boards.

Harvested cork oak

Harvested cork oak, Image: Flickr

Wheat straw

Wheat is the staple food of European and American countries. After harvesting wheat, the remaining plant stems are called straw. Before paper straws were invented, wheat straw was used as straws because of its characteristic hollowness. In addition, straw can be compressed and synthesized into composite wood materials.

  • Advantages:

Available in large quantities as agricultural waste after the staple food wheat is harvested.

  • Disadvantages:

Not sufficiently resilient to be used as a material directly as it will soften and crack when exposed to water.

  • Products include:

Wheat straws, composite wood furniture, biofuel rods.


Wheat, Image: Flickr

Rice husks

Rice is the staple food of tropical countries. After harvesting, the rice husks are removed, and these can be collected and used as biodegradable material.

  • Advantages:

The agricultural waste from processing the staple food is found in processing plants in large quantities for convenient collection and reuse.

  • Disadvantages:

Being light but bulky, it is not convenient to transport and store.

  • Application:

Rice husk straws and dinner plates, flooring materials for chicken coops and cow barns.

Rice husks

Rice husks, Image: Flickr


The impurities left behind after brewing alcohols such as sake, beer, and wine are called lees. Lees can be used for food and animal feed, and now they also have other diverse applications.

  • Advantages:

Lees are a byproduct of brewing various types of alcohol, hence the raw material is available everywhere in the world.

  • Disadvantages:

The strong scent of fermentation means that it must be processed appropriately before use.

  • Products include:

Moisturizer, lees straws and tableware.

Wheat in winemaking

Wheat in winemaking, Image: Flickr

The Benefits of Using Biodegradable Materials

Mitigate climate change

Biodegradable materials are derived from nature, used, and returned to nature. Plants like wheat, rice, sugarcane, bamboo, and trees absorb CO2 during their growth and turn it into organic carbon. Using biodegradable materials can maintain CO2 in its organic state, thereby mitigating climate change.

Preserve Earth’s rare resources

Metals and petroleum-based materials are not renewable resources. Since Earth’s reserve of these resources is limited, partially replacing metals and petroleum-based plastics with biodegradable materials will ensure that rare resources are used where they are needed instead of being abused.

Maintain safety and convenience in life

Disposable plastic products such as straws, tableware, lunch boxes, and cups contribute to environmental destruction because they are used in large quantities and are difficult to recycle. Biodegradable materials can replace these disposable plastic products while maintaining hygiene, safety, and convenience in life under the premise of environmental protection.

Minimize non-biodegradable waste

If not recycled, products made of non-biodegradable materials will most likely end up in landfills. Using biodegradable materials allows products to be processed and decomposed more easily, in turn decreasing the need for landfills and minimizing environmental waste.

Improve environmental quality

Petroleum-based plastics and metals generate wastewater and waste gas during production, endangering the health of factory workers and polluting the environment. Biodegradable materials are mainly made from bio-based materials, so if no chemicals are added in the production process, no pollution will be created, and environmental quality can be improved.

Eco-Friendly Knowledge Helps Us to Sustainable Living

The article introduced the 12 most common and most promising biodegradable materials. These materials will make the world a better place, and people need to obtain more environmental knowledge to support environmental protection through consumption, as well as to encourage the market to provide more products that contain biodegradable materials. Only by continuing to reduce the consumption of petroleum-based plastics and metals will true sustainable living be realized.