Is Glue Biodegradable? (And Compostable?)

Glue is one indispensable item in the household, classroom, office, and everywhere! You need it for arts and crafts, organized work, and even little adjustments in the home.

Depending on the application, there are many types of adhesives. But what can you expect of their effects on the environment when you no longer need the item you have used it on?

In other words, is glue biodegradable? What is it made of? And how long does it take for glue to decompose? Keep reading, and you will find the answers you need.

Does Glue Biodegrade?

If the glue is made from synthetic substances, there are chances that it won’t biodegrade easily as it contains plastic-based polymers derived from petroleum. If it is made from renewable resources, rest assured that microbes and other factors that contribute to biodegradation will break it down.

There are several types of glue, so biodegradable glue depends on the base materials manufacturers make the product from. However, there are many biodegradable options if you are all about sustainability and a friendlier environmental impact.

A biodegradable substance will decompose easily and shortly given the right conditions. However, all the materials used to make it must come from organic resources, or it will not give in to biodegradation.

Every glue is an adhesive, but not all adhesives are glue; let’s get that into the open. It is more difficult for adhesives to biodegrade because they have a stronger bond and often require chemical components for that reinforcement or extra strength.

That is why some options like wood glue will decompose within a month while stronger adhesives like epoxies and silicone take longer, up to several years.

Now, glue is made from organic materials like animal waste, bones, skin and hide, and fish parts. These items are super attractive to microbes and the other factors contributing to biodegradation.

If you leave glue out in nature, rest assured that it will be gone before you know it.

What is Glue Made of?

Glue was primarily made of animal waste like bones, tendons, scales, heads, and skins. These materials only had to be cleaned thoroughly with lime and then boiled to convert the stock to glue. But now, synthetic substances are being introduced to produce a long-lasting effect or make room for diverse variations. They contain plastic-based polymers derived from petroleum.

Manufacturers of natural glue cook it at an extreme temperature, up to 70°C. The process is done four times before the stock thickens enough to become glue liquor, which is cooked again to achieve a thicker consistency.

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Glue exists in many forms. There is waterproof glue, wood glue, spray glue, fabric glue, and hot glue, to name a few. The use cases for this indispensable material even extend to aircraft engineering; it may even be helpful in building space shuttles.

The more potent types of glue have polyester, acrylics, polyurethane, polyvinyl acetate, cyanoacrylate, and urea formaldehyde, to name a few. These are undeniably thermoplastics or plastic polymers. 

One group of glue is good for the environment. On the other hand, the more synthetic products are not as great because they are not sustainable, and neither do they biodegrade.

Is Elmer Glue Biodegradable?

Yes, Elmer Glue is biodegradable, mostly because of the materials it is made of. These include polyvinyl alcohol, polyvinyl acetate, plant products, and polyvinyl glycol. These organic materials can break down when exposed to the right conditions.

The process won’t take long if you leave Elmer glue in a conditioned environment that bacteria and fungi can easily access.

Elmer glue has several applications. You can use it for arts and crafts, minor or even major repairs, school or office projects; you name it.

It is a non-toxic household glue that also happens to be biodegradable. This is excellent news because there are too many use cases for Elmer glue, so sustainability and environmental friendliness are a great win.

When there is adequate water, heat, fungi, and oxygen, the components of Elmer glue are processed to become hydrogen, acetic acid, methane, water, and carbon dioxide.

The bacteria and fungi that break down organic matter can be found in the soil. The former are single-celled organisms that inhabit the soil and perform many functions, including breaking down biodegradable materials like Elmer glue.

Elmer glue is made from natural substances, so biodegradation won’t be a problem.

child-making-craft-with-glue-stick

Is Hot Glue Biodegradable?

Hot glue is not biodegradable because of the materials it is made from —ingredients like polyurethane, polyolefin, and other plastic polymers. Sadly, hot glue won’t break down fast because of its plastic structure. It also isn’t a good source nor a pliable item that microbes can feed on or colonize. Furthermore, plastic isn’t the best material for the environment.

Biodegradation is excellent because it means the environment has less of the tangible effects of our industrial and lifestyle activities to deal with. Biodiversity forms like bacteria and yeast can readily colonize these biodegradable items and convert them into humus.

However, many artificial products are synthetic, which means they have a non-natural backing to them. This makes them resistant to biodegradation, most especially those that have been exposed to chemicals and heat while manufacturing.

The substances used to make hot glue are not biodegradable, and neither are they good for the environment.

Hot glue requires three major materials for the manufacturing process – resin, wax, and tackifier. Unfortunately, the tackifier is made of VOCs and also requires petroleum. These components are not the best for the environment because they are a form of plastic, making hot glue nonbiodegradable.

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Is PVA Glue Biodegradable?

Yes, PVA glue is biodegradable. The result is water, acetic acid, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide when it breaks down. Although tiny plastics are among the components that make PVA glue your go-to adhesive, biodegradation is still possible when you create the right environment.

Polyvinyl acetate glue is a water-based glue that’s good for wood-based projects. It also works for porous materials like paper and plywood, but the adhesive may not kick in if the surface has a glossier finish.

Suffice to say, PVA glue is an indispensable tool in many areas of our lives, so it would be a shame if it were impossible for the environment to get rid of it through biodegradation. Fortunately, the right microorganisms, bacteria, algae, yeast, and lichens, will act on it and break it down until nothing is left.

Is Wood Glue Biodegradable?

Mostly, yes, wood glue is biodegradable. It breaks down when exposed to the right environment because of the materials that manufacturers use to make it. Wood glue is typically plant or animal-based, and these materials are organic matter, which means the actions of microbes like yeast and bacteria can lead to their decomposition.

Wood glue is used for wood projects or projects with wooden surfaces. It is a water-based adhesive that is strong enough to indefinitely attach two pieces of wood.

It is also renowned for making furniture like bedstands, cupboards, and chairs. Woodworkers rely on this type of glue for its superior strength and moisture-resistant capabilities.

Wood glue is made from polyvinyl acetate; a synthetic resin derived from the polymerization of vinyl acetate, and it is a biodegradable material that breaks down easily.

Is Super Glue Biodegradable?

Yes, superglue is biodegradable. It is made from cyanoacrylate, a biodegradable tissue that bonds quickly with water molecules. Again, this substance is not resistant to the activities of microorganisms responsible for biodegradation, but that is not all. Superglue will also break down fast, a primary factor determining biodegradability.

Superglue is excellent for wood projects and metal surfaces like aluminum and stainless steel. We use it for many projects, so you would naturally wonder if it is biodegradable.

This adhesive works in a fascinating little manner. It is susceptible to water and loves to bond with moisture. Since water is almost everywhere, it is possible to use cyanoacrylate adhesive on just about any surface.

Anionic polymerization is a more accurate way to describe this phenomenon.

Needless to say, superglue will also break down given the right environmental factors. If you throw out a piece of wood that contains some superglue, don’t be surprised if you meet nothing there when you return.

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Can Glue be Composted?

Yes, you can compost biodegradable glue. The rule of thumb is that if it comes from organic matter, or if it was previously living, you can compost it. However, you must be careful about composting glue with high VOC content. VOCs or Volatile Organic Compounds are gases emitted from certain solids or liquids, like glue.

You shouldn’t be composting just any material or substance because it will affect the quality of your compost and the soil and plants. Therefore, check if the glue you are looking to add to your compost pile has toxic additives in it.

Low VOC levels are acceptable, but you should avoid those even when you can.

But typically, glue is compostable because it is mostly biodegradable. Since microbes can break it down, it will do well in a compost bin or pile.

How Long Does it Take for Glue to Decompose?

Months to several years, and some glues are incapable of decomposing. For instance, epoxy resin takes longer than the average glue, even though it is made from resin, a natural substance found in tree sap. Resin is a resilient material that can last forever if well taken care of.

On the other hand, plant or animal-based glue will break down within months.

If a material breaks down fast, it is safe to say it is biodegradable. And we have established that glue is mostly biodegradable, with some exceptions.

Typically, the glue will decompose within a year, but it must be exposed to the right environmental factors. For instance, the process won’t happen as fast if there is insufficient oxygen. 

What to do With Old Glue Sticks?

Glue sticks run dry, but did you know there are still several things you can use them for? Check out some of your options:

1. Huge Crayons!

You can have your little homemade crayons with some broken or old crayons and empty glue sticks. Melt the appropriate colors together and pour just enough into each empty and already-cleaned glue stick. When the result solidifies, you will have a bunch of crayons that won’t break easily.

2. Package Cosmetics and Toiletries

Fancy DIY cosmetics and toiletries? Well, a common problem with most of these hacks and crafts is the right container. Finding the correct container for your homemade candles, deodorant, lip balm, or lipstick shouldn’t be a hassle if you have empty glue sticks.

Clean them out and fill them with your wonderful skincare creations.

3. Keep your Matchsticks Dry

If you love camping, get in here. You can keep your matchsticks inside an empty glue stick to ensure they stay dry and safe.

Conclusion

We need glue everywhere, even in space. It is a strong substance that binds, but more than anything, we need glue brands that are environmentally friendly and sustainable.

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About Rinkesh

A true environmentalist by heart ❤️. Founded Conserve Energy Future with the sole motto of providing helpful information related to our rapidly depleting environment. Unless you strongly believe in Elon Musk‘s idea of making Mars as another habitable planet, do remember that there really is no 'Planet B' in this whole universe.