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Created by Nick Baker

Are Orbeez Biodegradable? Understanding Water Beads

Orbeez have gained a lot of attention in the past few years as being a low-cost and extremely fun activity …

Orbeez have gained a lot of attention in the past few years as being a low-cost and extremely fun activity for kids. Children have been playing with water beads like Orbeez for more than 80 years. These fascinating water beads actually had agricultural applications in the 1930s and 40s.

Now however, environmental concerns are of top priority and many people are asking the question: Are Orbeez biodegradable?

Orbeez water beads provide great fun for kids of all ages. But it is now time to determine the impact this kids toy has on the environment, and whether or not it is safe to continue using. When it comes to Orbeez, there is a lot to cover. Let’s dive right in.

are orbeez biodegradable

What are Orbeez water beads?

Orbeez water beads are a squishy children’s toy, generally smaller than a marble. Given the materials they are made out of, Orbeez balls have an incredible ability to absorb water and retain moisture.

For kids, they are the toy that perfectly mixes science and fun. These colorful water beads come in a variety of sizes and quantities. For a long time now, Orbeez have provided a way to keep your kids busy for hours on end!

What are gel beads made of? Are Orbeez balls made of plastic?

At first glance, Orbeez may look like they are made of plastic materials. However, the vast majority of gel beads, including the Orbeez bead, are made of acrylic acid, sodium hydroxide, and a bit of color pigment. The ingredients of these super absorbent polymer beads are generally considered safe for the environment and non toxic.

Are Orbeez biodegradable? Are Orbeez environmentally friendly?

There is no denying the fun your kids will have when they expand and shrink Orbeez, while also spreading them evenly all around your house. But there is also a bigger question to be answered: Are Orbeez biodegradable?

In short, yes, Orbeez are both biodegradable and environmentally friendly. They were actually invented to help agricultural soil retain water which provided for richer organic materials to grow plants in.

Considering they were originally used as soil additives, Orbeez are not bad for the environment or your children. While they may take a bit longer to break down in comparison to other non toxic materials, the ingredients in Orbeez, such as sodium acrylic acid and sodium hydroxide will biodegrade over time.

Are Orbeez toxic for wildlife?

Because they contain no toxic chemicals or ingredients, most researchers have concluded that Orbeez are eco friendly all the way around – that goes for both flora and fauna. If swallowed by mammal or marine life, Orbeez can be expected to pass through the digestive tract just as normal food would. As of now, they are not thought capable of causing any serious health problems.

There is some concern over the Orbeez water beads ability to absorb water. As they are constructed of a superabsorbent polymer, it is conceivable that Orbeez and other water beads could cause blockages in the throat or digestive system of small animals.

Outside of the impact Orbeez will have on the environment at the end of their life, their manufacturing should also be considered. Some water beads manufacturers use renewable energy sources and prioritize eco friendly practices while others don’t. As always, it’s important that consumers shop with environmental impact in mind.

orbeez can cause blockages in children's digestive system if consumed

Are Orbeez harmful to children?

A reminder of the fact that these small, marble shaped water beads can lead to blockages in the throat of small animals may have you asking questions about their safety for children. Like marbles, small coins, and beads, Orbeez have been known to pose a choking hazard for small children.

While they are made of a non toxic acrylic polymer that can be passed through the digestive system, the manufacturer does not recommend anyone eat Orbeez. For this reason, safety should always be exercised when Orbeez are around small children.

Most Orbeez containers come with warnings for usage. In general, Orbeez are recommended as kids toys only for children who are five and up.

Are Orbeez reusable? Recyclable?

While these colorful beads are not currently recyclable, they are reusable. Using your Orbeez multiple times is actually a great way to conserve and reduce your environmental impact as it reduces the waste contributed to landfills.

How do you reuse Orbeez beads? As they are constructed of super absorbent polymers, you can reuse your Orbeez by allowing them to dehydrate on a warm tray. Exposing them to direct sunlight can also help draw out excess water, allowing them to dehydrate faster. It should be mentioned that if left in direct sunlight for extended periods of time, the Orbeez ball can crack or fade in color.

If you were to leave Orbeez in an open space at room temperature, it would take around 4-5 days for them to fully dehydrate. At this point, your Orbeez beads can be kept in a plastic bag or other airtight container to keep out excess moisture. When you are ready to use them again, warm or hot water can be added to your colorful beads, turning them into fully grown Orbeez once again.

Best places to dispose of Orbeez

Most consumers would assume it’s perfectly safe to throw Orbeez in the trash after use. While this is often a viable option, there may still be a better place to dispose of Orbeez when you are done with them.

Dispose of orbeez

Here are the top recommended places to dispose of Orbeez after use:

  1. Garden or plants: It’s no surprise the number one place to dispose of these environmentally friendly polymer beads is in the garden. After all, they were originally made with agricultural use in mind. Orbeez can provide extra garden soil moisture and put less pressure on drip irrigation systems. It’s not a bad idea to dispose of them in potted plants, pine straw, or a compost bin either.
  2. In the trash: Most of the time, this will be the simplest and easiest option. As it’s considered a ‘non toxic’ material, the Orbeez bead can be thrown into the trash without worry.
  3. Reuse: Whenever possible, it’s always recommended to reuse Orbeez. This minimizes environmental impact, while maximizing the service life of the product.  

There are a few places where it is never recommended to dispose of Orbeez. While they don’t contain any harmful chemicals that could damage plumbing, you should still never flush your Orbeez. Considering their great water absorbent ability, even Orbeez in small quantities could expand enough to clog drainage pipes. If they travel far enough down the drainage system, Orbeez may also have an adverse effect on certain aquatic life.

Orbeez should also never be disposed of in a public place where they may be a hindrance. When dumped haphazardly in a park, street, or other public space, the Orbeez ball is considered litter – much like a stray paper bag or cup is. Once again, when it comes to Orbeez disposal, thinking with the environment in mind should always be a top priority.

A look forward for Orbeez balls

These brilliant little water beads provide endless fun for kids above five, and overall, they prove to be an eco-friendly toy. In returning to our original question – Are Orbeez biodegradable? – it can be seen that they are biodegradable and completely safe for the environment.

When utilizing Orbeez as a fun and safe kids toy, the most important thing is to ensure environmentally friendly disposal after use. That way, your kids’ kids will get to enjoy the fun of Orbeez too!

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Nick Baker
I'm extremely passionate about all things outdoors and have an active involvement in a conservation group in my local community.

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