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Are Orbeez Biodegradable and How to Dispose of Them?

orbeez water beads

Orbeez is the trade name for gel beads that grow significantly in water and are one of the popular toys loved by many kids. In addition to that, Orbeez have many other usages and can make your house a much brighter and colorful place if used for decoration. But are they actually safe to use? And are Orbeez biodegradable and eco-friendly?

While Orbeez can be reused several times, they have a relatively short lifespan and at a certain point, you need to dispose of them. Many people are wondering what is the best way to do it and those are concerned about their impact on the environment often want to know if the water beads are toxic, are they biodegradable and are there any options to recycle them. Below you will find answers to these questions along with a few interesting facts about their nature and possible usages.

What are Orbeez?

We can generally say that Orbeez are small pellets that grow significantly in size when put in water. They can increase their diameter more than 150 times and reach a diameter of 14 mm. The magic happens best when the balls are put in warm or hot water without any additions to it. The purer the water, the bigger the beads will grow.

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The scientific explanation behind this magic is that Orbeez are super absorbent polymer beads made of acrylic acid, sodium hydroxide and water, to which color pigmentation is added to give more variety of nuances. It is the water molecules that make Orbeez grow.

The best thing of all is that Orbeez are absolutely safe to play with. They are non-toxic and even if your kids swallow one bead it shall pass through their digestive tract without causing any harm. If the kid swallows a number of Orbeez, however, it is advisable to seek immediate medical help to prevent any possible complications.

What is the origin of Obeez?

As we mentioned, Orbeez became very popular as toys for children, however, they have many other usages as well. You might be surprised that the popular water beads were invented for agricultural use to help the soil retain moisture. Hence, one of the best ways to let your children play with them is to substitute the nerf bullets in the popular nerf guns with Orbeez. Thus, when your kids play outdoors, you can leave the beads uncollected afterward, as they will be absorbed by the soil and actually keep your plants moisturized until they get naturally dissolved. If using nerf bullets, on the other hand, you need to make sure that you collect them since they are made of solid, spongy foam that takes a lot of time to dissolve.

Water beads were and are still used in gardens to save water. When mixed with soil they keep the moisture much longer and hence you don’t need to water your plants that often. Orbeez can be used for growing fruits and vegetables as well as they are completely safe. The pigmentation they contain is not released in the soil and cannot pass into the fruit or vegetable grown. Orbeez release only the water they have absorbed. 

Once your kids are tired of playing with Orbeez, you can also use them to water or pot plants, for colorful decoration and even for artificial snow.

In dry state, Orbeez can be put in large bags to control or contain floods, and such gel beads are also used in sanitary napkins and disposable diapers as an absorbent filter. 

In other words, this superabsorbent polymer (SAP) has various uses and can be seen around the house or in the garden.

Are Orbeez biodegradable?

Keeping in mind the original usage of water beads and the fact that we mix them with soil or grow plants in them, it is reasonable to ask whether they are safe for the environment. The fact is that water beads and Orbeez, in particular, are absolutely biodegradable. That is the main reason, why they are still used in agriculture or by flower shops to create stunning flower decorations.

When you buy a new package of Orbeez, you will also see that it contains the sign and the wording 100% biodegradable. In addition to that, Orbeez are non-toxic and hence they are absolutely safe for kids and pets. 

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Despite that, Orbeez should be used with caution with kids and are not recommended for children under three as they pose a choking hazard. According to the manufacturer instructions, Orbeez are suitable for children at the age of five or older. Still, it is a good idea to have them play with the water beads under your supervision at least when initially introduced to the toy. Many kids might be tempted to try them since their bright colors make them look like tasty candy. An Orbeez bead shall pass through the digestive tract causing no problems, however, if more are swallowed medical help should be sought.

What happens if you break an Orbeez bead?

Since Orbeez grow as a result of absorbing water, many people are concerned that if they break several of the beads water will splash out and wet everything around.

The truth is much different, however. While Orbeez do grow as a result of water, there is a certain chemical process that makes the polymer they are made of to grow its polymer chains absorbing the water into them. So, when you break an Orbeez bead do not expect water to leak from it. It is not a shell full of water but a consistent gel-like substance. The beads are somewhat hard to crash, so you shall not worry that kids can smash them so easily. When broken, they look like small gel-like crystals that have the same texture of a whole Orbeez bead. 

Water will “leak” from Orbeez only when you leave them in a container to dry. With time, the beads will start releasing the water and shrinking in size.

How to shrink Orbeez?

If you have grown many Orbeez for a particular game or decoration and you do not need them anymore, you may be wondering if it is possible to shrink them. The answer is yes. Orbeez are reusable, which means that they can shrink and then grow in water again for more fun activities.

The easiest way to shrink Orbeez is to leave them in the sun. They will release the water and shrink to their original size. Make sure to make thin layers as this will facilitate the process. It is better to have them spread on a kitchen towel, for example, that will absorb the water they will release. If you decide to put them in a bowl, you will see that they will shrink a bit and you will see the water around them. Unless there are holes in the bowl to drain the water and let the beads dry, you will not achieve the desired result. As Orbeez will be swimming in the water released by them they cannot dry and shrink.

If you want to speed up the process, you can add some salt as it will make the beads release water. Still, you need to place them on a flat surface or in a container that allows for the water to be drained. Alcohol also makes Orbeez balls shrink by about 25% but will not lead to a complete drying of the product.

How long can I use Obeez? 

Orbeez are reusable, which means that once you shrink them, you can put them again in water at a later stage and they will grow. You can repeat the process 2-3 times in general.

If you detect any unpleasant smell or mold, you need to dispose of Orbeez immediately. Simply buy a new package then and grow your new water beads. 

In order to keep them fresh for a longer period of time, it is advisable to wash your hands and feet prior to placing them in Orbeez. Once you are done playing with them, you can put them in a container with a lid or a zipper bag. Without air, the grown Orbeez can last for a week in these containers and will be good to play with again. 

Depending on the usage of the water beads, they have а different lifespan. If used in Light-up products, grown Orbeez can last several months provided that they are not exposed to air. If used for decoration, Orbeez can last for approximately 1 or 2 years, because of their exposure to light. When mixed with soil, the beads have the longest life – they can be used as a source to retain moisture for as long as 7 to 9 years.

How to dispose of Orbeez? 

Another frequently asked question is how to dispose of Orbeez when we finish using them. In the majority of the cases, we have bought the water beads either for our kids to play with or for some decoration, so we can dispose of them by remembering their initial function – to moisturize the soil. One of the easiest ways is to pour your Orbeez into flower beds or mix them with the soil in your garden or potted plants. Thus, they will continue to be of service until absorbed by nature in several years. If you choose this option, remember that you do not have to water your plants as often as you did prior to mixing the soil around them with Orbeez. 

It is also safe to simply throw them in the trash. It is a good idea to have them in a bag or other container because Orbeez are extremely slippery and if they spill out of the bin this may cause accidents. A container will also prevent a pet from swallowing any of them. 

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NOTE: Never pour or flush Orbeez down the drain. As a result of their growth in water, the beads can clog pipes and even lead to bursting pipes. If you have doubts that your kid has poured some Orbeez into the sink or toilet, you may want to summon a plumber before the problem has become too serious.

Orbeez are a great sensory toy both for kids and grown-ups that has many usages. Once you have finished playing with the colorful water beads, you can use them for decoration around the house or mix them with the soil of your potted plant or pour them in the garden to help the soil retain more moisture. As Orbeez are non-toxic and biodegradable they are safe for the environment and you do not need to take any specific precautions when disposing of them. The only thing to avoid is letting them down the drain to prevent clogging the pipes. 

Read our article about 11 cool ideas how to have fun with Orbeez!

There is a great variety of colored water beads that you can buy at a discounted price from our site and let the fun in your house. You can use the gel balls outside with dart guns, play various games with your kids, use them for decoration and gardening.

Here are the links to our orbeez and guns that you can use with them:

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33 Responses

  1. It isn’t just the single bead. The dead guns shoot thousands of these things. We have invented a new way to ruin things. How many are sold a year? Millions. Is that good for the environment? I think not.

    1. This article is full of false and dangerous advertising. The polymer is not innocuous and I recently saw a 9month old who was taken to the Operating room twice to remove these potentially life threatening “toys”
      ” Orbeez bead shall pass through the digestive tract causing no problems ” -statement made in this article is completely false and reflects not only a lack of knowledge but also a lack of responsibility on the part of the manufacturer.
      These beads should be marked dangerous and banned in my opinion

      1. These comments are ridiculous. You loons see polymer and immediately think plastic. “The polymer is not innocuous”. DNA, starch, and gelatin are all polymers! Most of you don’t even have an elementary-level science education and should not be commenting on what is or isn’t safe based on explicit biases and a lack of knowledge. Even if we falsely equate these with plastics, there are a number of plastics that ARE BIODEGRADABLE. Chemistry aside, it’s the parent’s job to supervise their children or to designate someone appropriate to supervise their children in their stead. If your children ingest or place foreign objects in places they aren’t designed to go, then take them to a doctor instead of blaming the object. And for pity’s sake, follow the age guidelines!

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