Name: Cindy M.
What makes paper biodegradable?
Biodegradability simply means that soil microorganisms and natural
weathering processes are capable of decomposing the paper into
recyclable soil nutrients without leaving any harmful residues behind.
Wood-fiber based paper is made with cellulose derived from the plant's
structural material. Just as a log will rot if left to the effects of
nature, paper made from woody material will likewise degrade. This is
also true of paper made with cloth fibers which are of natural origin --
cotton, silk, linen, etc. All will biodegrade. If the paper contains any
human made plastic fibers, it will be resistant to biodegradation
because soil organisms are unable to break down the stronger chemical
bonds present in synthetic materials.
The prime ingredient in most all papers is cellulose of some type -- wood
fiber, cotten fiber,etc. Many bacteria "eat" cellulose, there are enzymes
that decompose the cellulose into its constituent sugar molecules. Certain
animals -- cows, goats -- have these enzymes in their digestive system;
humans do not. So ultimately it is the bacteria and enzymes that break
cellulose into small sugars that are readily digested.
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Update: June 2012