Vermiculite is a little-known mineral that has many real world uses. The food you eat will have been grown with vermiculite and you might even use it yourself if you’re a keen gardener.
So is vermiculite biodegradable, sustainable and most importantly environmentally friendly? We find out in this article.
What is Vermiculite?
Vermiculite is a naturally occurring mineral that has a flake like appearance in its raw form. It is most commonly used as a fertilizer or soil additive for growing food and other plants.
When placed in soil, vermiculite helps seeds to germinate and will also help soil retain water. Vermiculite also promotes soil aeration, preventing it from settling and ensuring that air and water can circulate freely.
Vermiculite can also be used as an additive in animal feed as it helps dry feed to retain moisture and essential nutrients.
Recently, vermiculite has been used as a packaging material as it is clean and it retains its shape. When used in packaging, vermiculite provides aeration for boxes, adding lightweight padding that keeps shipping costs low.
It is soft enough that it will not scratch delicate items. It also absorbs moisture well and it is not flammable.
Vermiculite can also be found in the automotive and construction industries.
Vermiculite is now used to make brake linings, gaskets, rubbers seals and paint in the manufacturing of cars.
Vermiculite is also used to make various types of board, plaster, insulation and flooring.
In summary, vermiculite is strong and doesn’t attract pests or deteriorate easily and it is resistant to heat, cold, sound and moisture.
Is Vermiculate Biodegradable?
Vermiculite is biodegradable, but how it is used will determine how you should dispose of it.
Vermiculite fertilizer can be left in the ground where it will naturally biodegrade and break down over time. It will also continue to release nutrients such as potassium and magnesium into the soil.
Soil that contains vermiculite can be used in composting and it is actively recommended in composting mixes that require drainage.
Vermiculite in other forms sometimes requires disposing of with greater care. For example, there are regulations covering vermiculite insulation. Standard insulation can be thrown in the trash but vermiculite needs to be taken to a hazardous waste centre for disposal.
Some manufacturers have found ways to reuse vermiculite waste, but large-scale recycling is not yet possible. This limits the overall sustainability of vermiculite.
Is Vermiculite Eco Friendly?
Vermiculite is mined from the ground as a naturally occurring mineral and is not in scarce supply.
But vermiculite demand has increased over the years and extracting it from the ground and turning it into a useable material is an energy intensive process.
The refinement process requires heating vermiculite to extreme temperatures to exfoliate it, all of which consumes large amounts of energy.
This energy consumption is what makes vermiculite less sustainable and less environmentally friendly than other alternative materials.
Vermiculite is a useful substance that can biodegrade and is non-toxic.
Unfortunately, its eco credentials are limited by the fact that mining is resource intensive, as is the processing of raw vermiculite into a material that can be used.