Orbeez (aka water beads) are generally safe for the environment if used and then disposed of in the correct manner.

Orbeez are a safe and non-toxic product. They are made from sodium polyacrylate, the use of which has been approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help grow fruit and vegetables. The material has been used for many decades by farmers looking to retain water content in their soil.

Are Orbeez Biodegradable?

This is a debatable question, as it depends on your definition of biodegradable. Over time, orbeez will break down, but it is a process that takes many years, if not decades. Furthermore, they need the correct conditions to break down. Being wet (and fully expanded in water) speeds the process up as the beads are much more susceptible to breaking apart. Also, being in direct sunlight (and being exposed to the subsequent UV rays) will cause the beads to degrade more quickly.

There are also some types of fungi and bacteria that consume the base material of orbeez (sodium polyacrylate).

Overall, we would say that orbeez are biodegradable, as they fit the definition. However, it is a very slow process, even under optimal conditions.

How Long Does It Take For Orbeez to Decompose?

If your orbeez are wet and in direct sunlight you will see them start to break apart within weeks. They will quickly lose their internal structure and turn into slush. This slush will continue to break down over a period of a few years to decades depending on the conditions.

If your water beads are mixed into soil they will last a few years to decades, depending on whether they are subjected to sunlight. They will last much longer if you mix them deep into the soil rather than near the surface where they may be exposed to sunlight.

If you decide to throw your water beads into the trash then they could last decades or maybe even centuries. Most trash goes to landfills, and once the water beads are buried they will never see sunlight. They may also never be exposed to water or possibly even oxygen as landfills can be very dry and airtight. No water and oxygen means few or no microorganisms to help break the water beads down.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t throw them in the trash. In fact, we actually recommend it if you don’t plan on using them again. Water beads are tiny, with perhaps 60 grams (2 ounces) in a regular packet. This is little more than a few coffee cup lids.

Are Orbeez Safe For Animals & Fish?

In general, they are not safe for animals and fish. Whilst they are non toxic, they are a choking hazard. They are also a danger if eaten as they can block up the digestive tract of small animals and fish. It is because of this that we recommend you don’t dispose of them by mixing them into garden soil (unless it’s into potted plants in your house).

You can read more about whether orbeez are toxic to dogs here.

How Should I Dispose Of Orbeez?

We recommend two methods of disposing of your water beads. Dry them out so that you may reuse them at a later date, or, wrap them up and put them in the trash.

How Do I Dry Out And Reuse My Orbeez?

Place your orbeez in a dry place and out of direct sunlight. It’s best to have a single layer of beads as this will speed up the process. If you have a dehumidifier on hand then this will also help – just put it near the orbeez and turn it on.

It’s recommended that you don’t try to dry them out in direct sunlight. UV radiation from the sun has a strong effect on water beads and it will weaken their internal structure over time causing them to break apart.

You should allow a few days for the orbeez to completely shrink in size. Once they have shrunk you can place them in a container for use at a later date.

How Should I Put My Orbeez In The Trash?

It’s best not to carelessly throw them in your trash as loose water beads have a tendency to get all over the place. If your bin gets knocked over by someone they will go everywhere. Instead, just wrap them up in paper or an old plastic bag and place them in the bin. We recommend this as the best way of disposing of your water beads (if you don’t plan on reusing them that is).

Tips On How Not To Dispose Of Your Orbeez:

Don’t Flush Orbeez Down Your Toilet Or Wastewater System

If you flush your water beads (aka orbeez) down your pipes you risk causing a blockage. This is something that has happened before, and it’s not always easy to fix. Just check out this Youtuber who had orbeez backing out of his bath, toilet and even out of the storm water drains in the street!

Furthermore, anything put down your plumbing might get out into the environment and then be mistaken for food by wildlife.

Don’t Mix Orbeez Into Your Garden Soil

Some websites recommend mixing our used water beads into garden soil as a means of retaining water content. Whilst this will work to some extent, it’s not a great idea.

Orbeez are not safe for small animals that may mistake them for food.

Orbeez will also turn into a slush before they fully degrade. This slush will continue to hold and release water. If you mix a lot of water beads into your garden you run the risk of turning it into a marsh every time it rains.

Don’t Put Your Water Beads Into The Recycling

Water beads are generally not recyclable, at least not by any recycling plants that we know of. If you put them into your recycling then you risk contaminating not only your recycling but also the recycling in the dump truck too.

Side note – orbeez are made from sodium polyacrylate which is generally not considered to be a plastic.

Don’t Store Enlarged Orbeed For Long Periods Of Time

Long term storage of hydrated orbeez risks microbial contamination. This is from bacteria and also fungi. You may store water beads for a short time in your fridge when they are not in use, but you should always check to make sure they aren’t contaminated before reusing them.

Some websites recommend adding a little alcohol or salt to help stave off fungi, but we have not tested this so cannot comment on how effective it is. Please note, that adding salt or alcohol to enlarged water beads will shrink their size.

In Conclusion

Orbeez are safe for the environment if used and then discarded in the appropriate manner. Orbeez are generally considered to be biodegradable, and they will usually biodegrade in a few years to a few decades (and possibly as long as a century or centuries in some cases). It is best to reuse your water beads, but if this is not an option then putting them in the trash is the second best option.

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