Are Orbeez Biodegradable?

Introduction – Orbeez Balls And Their Uses

Are Orbeez biodegradable? After reviewing the scientific evidence carefully, the short answer is no, Orbeez are not biodegradable. The long answer is that the beads will indeed degrade over time, but it takes a very long time. We estimate that without intervention, an Orbeez ball made of the standard material of polyacrylate polmer will take hundreds of years to completely degrade into its fundamental components.

Orbeez are polymers that absorb water

Orbeez consist of water enclosed in a polymer shell made of acrylic acid, sodium hydroxide and water. According to one definition of biodegradability, it means: “The ability of materials or substances in nature to decompose over time by chemical or biological action”. According to one report of the European Union’s (EU) definition of biodegradability, the process means 90% degraded into carbon dioxide and water within 6 months (source).

What Is An Orbeez

From the image above, Orbeez are tiny balls (about the size of a pea) that are made from a polymer that encloses water. They are non-toxic, biodegradable and non-allergenic. They are safe for children to play with because they will not cause harm if ingested.

Why Are Orbeez Not Biodegradable?

So why do we say that Orbeez not biodegradable? The main argument rests on that fact that Orbeez are made of a sodium acrylate polymer. That gives them their springy, transparent, water absorbent nature.

According to a peer-reviewed, published study by European scientists in the journal Environmental Science and Pollution Research, measurements of polyacrylate decay rate suggested 0.12%-0.24% for every 6 months. This is an extraordinarily low rate of degradation. There are reports of microbes in nature that use polyacrylate as a primary food source. However, there’s no report of these microbes being widespread in landfills.

If we assume degradation to follow an exponential decay of the form exp(- t / tau ), then solving for half-life tau for the upper and lower range of measurements will yield the following half-life range: 2496 months to 4997 months. That translates to 208 to 416 years for Orbeez to decay by half.

Further Explanation Of The Study’s Findings

Researchers approached this question by tracking how much of the SAPs converted into carbon dioxide—a natural part of the decay process—over time. They used a special labeling technique (C-13 labeling) that allowed them to monitor the breakdown of both the overall material and its primary structure, the polyacrylate main chain.

Even more concerning was the finding that the main chain of the polymer, the backbone of its structure, degraded at an even slower pace. This indicates that the fundamental components of these SAPs are particularly resistant to breaking down naturally in the environment.

Implications for the Environment

What does this mean for our gardens and agricultural lands? Essentially, these acrylate-based SAPs or super absorbent polymers, once used and discarded, linger in the environment much like a plastic bag might, except they’re mixed into our soil rather than hanging from tree branches. Over time, this could lead to potential problems for soil health, water quality, and overall ecosystem balance.

Orbeez Degradation Chart

Using the information above, we show you what the degradation in a landfill might look like, without any special microbes added. It will take an immense length of time for them to degrade.

Time in landfillOrbeez remaining
6 months99.76% – 99.88%
3 years98.50% – 99.28%
50 years78.63% – 88.66%
200 years38.23% – 61.86%
400 years14.62% – 38.26%

Why Orbeez Shouldn’t Be Biodegradable

Actually, polyacrylate gels were first thought to be excellent for agricultural purposes, in an area of technology development known as “hydrogel agriculture“. The idea is that mixture of tiny beads into the soil will improve their water retention properties, thereby reducing water usage and water stress.

It’s no surprise that you don’t want rapid biodegradability, because you want the soil to keep working like this for a long time. The repurposing of the material into a children’s toy unfortunately comes with this property.

Sure they’re fun and hold water, but they’re also fairly non biodegradable. On the other hand, orbeez are very small and there’s not a huge market for it. We suspect the amount of landfill space they take up is miniscule and therefore of very low impact.

What Are Orbeez Used For

Orbeez are used for entertainment mainly

Orbeez don’t strictly have any uses besides that of entertainment. To list a few here:

Orbeez are used for relaxation. If you’re having a stressful day, Orbeez can provide you with some much needed downtime.

Orbeez are used for fun. At the end of a long day, there’s nothing better than lounging around in your favorite PJs with a few Orbeez and some Netflix to unwind!

Orbeez are used for stress relief. The tactile sensation of moving Orbeez through your fingers is relaxing even when you don’t want to “play” with them; simply holding them gives you an almost meditative sense of calm (especially if they’re scented).

Orbeez are used for sensory play. Children who have trouble communicating their needs and wants often find comfort in playing with soft objects like Orbeez that require no verbal communication—and yet still create beautiful art pieces!

Are Orbeez Safe

Aside from biodegradability, another concern is that ingesting them can cause an intestinal obstruction because they absorb water and swell. Could they swell so large so that when they are passing through the intestinal tract that they block internal passages?

A group of scientists decided to test this in 2015. They put Orbeez in a simulated gastric solution and found that there was almost no swelling when measured at 1, 2, 4, 6, 12, and 24 hours. They then put 10 Orbeez beads together into the solution to see if the beads would clump together. Again there was no clumping.

Therefore they concluded that there was no danger of ingestion and obstruction. However, this is not to say that anyone is recommending ingestion of these toys!

How Long Does It Take For Orbeez To Dissolve

It’s quite simple: Orbeez take 2-3 days to dissolve. If you’ve ever seen them in a gallon of water, you know they’re pretty resilient. So what makes them so slow at dissolving?

Orbeez are made from a biodegradable polymer that is safe for the environment and safe for children and animals. Because they are non-toxic and biodegradable, they can be disposed of in the trash rather than going through hazardous waste disposal channels. Not only do these toys last longer than other bath toys; they also don’t make your kids sick!

Conclusion – Are Orbeez Biodegradable

Orbeez are the perfect addition to any home, classroom or office. They are safe and non-toxic, so they can be used by children of all ages and adults alike. They are also eco-friendly because they can be easily disposed of by simply dissolving them in water. The only downside is that it takes some time before they completely dissolve, but this is something we’re sure you’ll be able to live with when considering all of the other benefits!

Staff Writer
+ posts