Orbeez are water beads loved by kids and adults alike. These brightly-colored gel beads have several functions; you can use them as decorations, stress balls, or sensory toys. Some people use them to keep plants hydrated, while others scent them to act as air fresheners.
Whatever your preferences, you may have to dispose of your Orbeez gel beads at some point, as they don’t last for long when exposed to light or extreme heat. However, how you discard these bouncy balls might pose a problem.
Debate is raging about whether Orbeez balls are a safe product or have harmful effects. This brings us to the big question, are Orbeez biodegradable? Let’s find out.
What Are Orbeez?
Orbeez refers to the brand name for colorful balls or water beads used as toys for children or decorations. These absorbent polymer beads help kids to develop their sensory skills. Adults can also join the fun by using these squishy balls to soothe their feet for a satisfying experience.
Previously, Orbeez were primarily for agricultural purposes as they help retain soil moisture and improve plant hydration, thanks to their good water-holding properties. They are also common in sanitary napkins and baby diapers.
They comprise water-absorbing polymer crystals that expand the balls significantly when submerged in water for extended periods, making them bouncy. These gel balls can grow 100-150 times their original size when soaked in water for a specific period.
The superabsorbent materials can absorb excess liquids and gradually leach them out if you let the balls dry. The gel balls do not dissolve in water but shrink to their original size as they dry. This fascinating phenomenon makes Orbeez beads so popular with kids and adults alike.
Are Orbeez Biodegradable?
Even though Orbeez balls look like a type of plastic, they don’t contain any plastic material. They are 100% biodegradable and eco-friendly, explaining why agriculturists and florists still use them in their farms and flower beds to keep the soil moist. The polymer chains in the beads comprise partly organic materials that break down over time, making them biodegradable.
The fact that Orbeez beads are biodegradable is a green light to use them on your agricultural soil. The only concern is that these balls take 2-5 years to decompose in a natural setting, which is slower than tissue paper, nylon, and paper towel. After all, these absorbent beads comprise polymer bonds designed to absorb water, leading to a slower decomposition rate.
When mixed with soil for plants, they can take up to 10 years to break down. They help retain moisture and remain unexposed to light, resulting in a slower decomposition rate.
Nonetheless, exposure to light for long periods of time can help increase the decomposition rate. They shrink and become dry, and as you know, dry beads break down faster and have a minimal environmental impact.
How Long Does It Take Orbeez to Grow/Expand?
Orbeez balls expand when they come into contact with water. The duration they take to grow or enlarge depends on the type of water bead and the mineral content and the temperature of the water used.
For instance, smaller beads require 2-4 hours to expand to maximum size, while large-sized balls may need up to 36 hours to grow.
The miniature size Orbs have fewer polymer spaces, meaning they absorb less, explaining the shorter growth rate. In contrast, the large beads require plenty of water since they have more spaces to fill, which is why they need more hours.
You can soak Orbeez in cold or hot water to grow them to their appropriate size. However, submerging the beads in cold water will lead to a slower moisture absorption rate.
Water molecules move much slower at room temperature, leading to a slower growth rate. Conversely, warm water allows the Orbeez to absorb water quickly due to the increased temperatures. Avoid boiling water to grow your Orbs since it might lead to broken beads.
Using clean, distilled water can help grow your Orbeez faster. Distilled water does not contain impurities or minerals that might inhibit the growth rate or impede the spread of water into the balls.
What Happens If You Leave Orbeez In Water Too Long?
You should not leave Orbeez water beads in water for over two days. Keeping them in water for too long while exposing them to light will only reduce their lifespan. Besides, these jelly beads comprise superabsorbent polymers that can cause the balls to burst, disintegrate, or mold because of excess water.
Moreover, leaving Orbeez in water too long can trigger a series of chemical reactions causing the balls to become cloudy or soapy. Moreover, the mold growing on the water beads can attract disease-causing microorganisms, leading to health impacts.
Ensure the combination of water and the jelly balls does not overflow the container. Most importantly, always strain the soaked balls after reaching maximum size to remove excess amounts of water.
Even though many assume that bursting these beads splashes water all over, this is not true. The beads comprise a type of polymer that retains absorbed moisture for extended periods.
The only way to drain the water beads is to dry them. You can dry the Orbeez balls using tissue paper or placing them in a paper towel. Alternatively, leave them in the sun to dry naturally.
Modern Uses of Orbeez
Orbeez beads have several uses, including:
Many agriculturalists use Orbeez beads to add and retain moisture to the soil for plants. They can help keep indoor plants or potted plants hydrated even during warmer seasons.
Since Orbeez water beads have diverse colors, you can use them for various art projects that require different shades.
You can mix essential oils with water before soaking water beads to create a fragrant air freshener for your space.
Kids or even adults can use water beads as Nerf bullets. They are safer since they comprise absorbed water that dries naturally over time.
Many use these beads with acrylic polymer to meet their therapeutic and sensory needs. Rubbing the beads can help relieve stress for a soothing experience.
Flower shops often use Orbeez beads for floral arrangements. The beads have bright colors and make excellent flower holders when placed in a vase.
Can You Reuse or Recycle Orbeez?
Orbeez water beads are reusable but not recyclable. You can reuse them as often as you desire until the balls disintegrate or reach the end of their lifespan. If you notice a foul or pungent smell, it’s time to dispose of your water beads since they are now unhealthy products.
To reuse Orbeez, you only need to shrink the balls and store them appropriately in a zipper bag or air-tight container. The quickest way to dry Orbeez balls is to place them on a paper towel or tissue paper.
Are Orbeez Toxic?
Orbeez balls contain non-toxic materials that are harmless to the environment, explaining why many gardeners use them to help garden soil retain plenty of moisture.
The main chemical components of these colorful water beads include:
- Sodium polyacrylate
- Sodium acrylic acid
- Sodium hydroxide
- Polyvinyl alcohol
- Color pigmentation
Are Orbeez Safe for Plants and Animals?
While Orbeez balls do not have toxic chemicals that might harm the environment, they may pose a risk to aquatic life when discarded in wells and waterways.
Manufacturers often add color pigmentation to Orbeez to make the beads more vibrant and eye-catching. However, the attractive colors might cause marine creatures, including fishes and other animals, to mistake these colorful beads for food and ingest them.
Ingestion of Orbeez by marine life and terrestrial animals can have adverse health effects. It can block the digestive tract or even lead to the death of aquatic creatures and land animals. After all, Orbs are an indigestible material and might only expand further inside the creature’s stomach due to their absorbent properties, causing intestinal problems and death.
Are Orbeez Safe for Kids and Pets?
Even though Orbeez balls are generally safe toys, they can be a hazard for children and pets when ingested as they can block the digestive tract and cause intestinal problems. The beads might also cause severe injuries when used as Nerf bullets, as reported by the New York Post.
Given the safety concerns, children should only use or play with Orbeez water beads under adult supervision.
Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Orbeez
Even though Orbeez beads are environmentally friendly and have no radioactive effects, some people have reservations about using them in their gardens. After all, they take too long to biodegrade.
Fortunately, there are several eco-friendly alternatives to Orbeez. These include:
- Pine straw
- Artificial snow
- Peat moss
- Coconut coir
Safe Ways to Dispose of Orbeez
Orbeez water beads last 2-3 years, depending on how you care for them. The safest way to dispose of Orbeez is to mix them with the soil in your potted plants or flower beds. The beads will help retain soil moisture until they biodegrade naturally over time.
Another way to dispose of Orbeez is to put them in a sealable bag before discarding them in the trash. The beads will break down naturally in landfills without impacting the environment.
Do not flush Orbeez beads down the drain, as they could grow and clog your pipes, leading to sanitary and plumbing problems. The water beads could also find their way into waterways, posing a risk to aquatic life.
How long does it take for Orbeeze to decompose?
Orbeeze beads take 2-3 years to decompose. When mixed with soil, the decomposition rate is much slower. The water beads could take 7-10 years to biodegrade.
Do Orbeez grow faster in cold or hot water?
Orbeez balls grow faster in hot water since water molecules move faster in high temperatures.
Are Orbeez bad for the environment?
Orbeez beads are non-toxic and don’t have radioactive materials, making them safe for the environment. Their chemical compositions comprise eco-friendly ingredients.
Orbeez beads are excellent sensory toys for kids and adults alike. They also play a significant role in keeping agricultural soil moist for years. The only slight concern is that they take too long to biodegrade. Fortunately, you can increase the decomposition rate by exposing the beads to light or discarding them appropriately.