There are two kinds of airsoft bbs on the market, regular bbs (also known as non-biodegradable) and biodegradable bbs. Many people care about the environment nowadays and they should, however, the question is whether the biodegradable bbs really contribute to the ecology goals or is it just a good marketing story?
I have concluded the important factors like seeing the bbs in work, testing the degradability, and interviewing airsoft players about their experiences.
In short, Biodegradable BBs are the future of Airsoft expansion, however regular BBs have their place in the game and should not be completely replaced. I have explained this by answering the common questions down below.
Are Airsoft BBs bad for the environment?
Imagine having only 20 airsoft players shooting all kinds of BBs all over the field. We are talking about a thousand BBs shot throughout a game day, multiply it with a hundred such games and you will have over a hundred thousand BBs laying somewhere down in the grass and earth in a matter of a year.
The reason why airsoft fields do not look like snowy ground full of plastic is that owners clear them but mostly the BBs get deep under the layer of earth.
Now imagine if more fields open somewhere in the forests that we love and respect and try not to corrupt. The plastic takes too long to get absorbed, and if we are unable to clear the fields after games we are inevitably corrupting the ground of nature. I do not have to continue to make it obvious that regular BBs are bad for the environment.
However, if you play indoor you will have a much easier time collecting the BBs with a vacuum cleaner or simply brooming the floor and later recycling them. Yes, the non-bio BBs can be recycled, but who is going to dig the earth to collect them and recycle them?
In the case of playing outdoors, biodegradable BBs should become standard practice. Some fields prohibit regular ones and make it mandatory to use the bio ones already.
Some old school fields are already full of regular BBs, so It is just adding up, in such a case using regular ones is not the worst thing on earth, but if more lands would get affected by it, it would become a problem.
Airsoft is a growing sport and therefore with the expansion needs to come standardization.
What are the regular (non-biodegradable) Airsoft bbs made out of?
They are made out of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, a special type of plastic. The characteristics of this plastic are such as being cheap in production and being pretty durable. It is known for playing a big part in the electronic, housing, auto, and other consumer products industries.
What are biodegradable Airsoft BBs made out of?
They are made out of polylactic acid (PLA), also known as polylactide. Polylactic acid is known for having a good degradability rate in water. This polylactide is derived from renewable resources, such as tapioca roots, corn starch, or sugarcane. It is a well-known polyester used in food, supplementation, and medical industries because of its biodegradability characteristics within the body over time.
In the case of being ingested biodegradable bbs made from polylactide will usually be safe and will not hurt any animals or human beings.
How long do Airsoft BBs take to biodegrade?
I have found a study that was made in 2014, in California. The goal of the study was to determine if biodegradable airsoft BBs decompose and whether they decompose faster than non-biodegradable airsoft BBs or not. The environmental conditions that affected the breakdown of the BBs were also examined.
The results were positive for biodegradable bbs, they did decompose, however, it took longer than expected time, to be precise 545 days according to the study. The bio bbs almost completely disappeared after 545 days while the regular ones only shrank a bit.
Other experiments have concluded that regular BBs generally take 3-7 years to break down, while a high-quality bio BB can break down in under a year, under the right conditions.
Will a biodegradable BB jam your gun?
These eco-friendly bbs come with some huge downsides in terms of flexibility of usage and in practice. A bio bb will not negatively affect your airsoft gun just like it would not be a case with a regular bb, however, it only applies in standard protocols. The standard protocol means that you have to understand that bio bbs are different from regular ones and come with certain rules that one must follow.
One of such rules is that once you open a sealed air-tight bag or container, it is like you have opened the Pandora box. The process of decomposition has already begun at the moment once the bbs got in contact with oxygen or sunlight. Therefore, you will have to pay attention to when did you open it and try to consume the entire container as soon as possible, ideally on the same day you have bought them.
If you keep them under proper conditions you will be able to use them on a second game too and so on, but do not wait too long and if you notice anything suspicious, just throw them away.
The best way to notice whether they are already decomposed or not in some dangerous percentage is to check the structural integrity by touching them or trying to damage them, if they damage easily they are definitely going to jam inside your gun. They will also swell a bit and you will be able to notice it.
The second rule that must be respected is to keep them away from any moisture and wet conditions. This affects them the most and they break the fastest under such conditions.
If your bio bbs got wet just throw them away and do not consider using them again.
Ideally, you should keep them in an oxygen-free, cool, dark, and dry place. In order to maximize the efficiency, plan to open them right before the match starts and use them as soon as possible, but if you keep them stored under the right conditions, they may serve you for months after breaking the seal, I am just mentioning the best and the safest way for your gun.
Price and performance comparison
There is no difference in performance between biodegradable and non-biodegradable (regular) airsoft BBs.
They will all serve the same purpose if not damaged. The biodegradable ones are only more sensitive when it comes to storage.
However, the price point is a real reason behind people hesitating about making a change from regular BBs to Eco-friendly bio ones.
It is estimated that approximately a package of biodegradable BBs cost between 10 to 30% more compared to the package of regular BBs. It is due to the difference in the cost of materials being used in the manufacturing process.
For instance, a standard 0.20g BB will cost you on average around 15$ for 5000 pieces. The biodegradable ones of the same size (0.20g) will cost you 18$ for 5000 pieces.
Can you reuse the airsoft BB by picking it up from the floor?
The common practice is to stay away from reusing any bb that has been recently shot from a gun. It is also not recommended to pick up non-shot BBs that perhaps, accidentally got spilled over the floor.
The reason behind these practices is that once you shoot a bb it may get damaged, and a damaged BB can jam your gun, and therefore forcing you to repair the gun, which can be costly.
The same thing goes for suspicious BBs that you may have spilled if they catch the dirt or fall into the water.
It is always recommended not to be cheap over BBs and rather take care of your gun because the cost of new gun parts is far more expensive than it is for simply buying yourself a new container of BBs.
I have created a complete post on what can go wrong if you reuse BBs and in what cases it is actually suggested to reuse them to save money, so you can check it out if you are interested.
Conclusion on which is the better choice?
We need to close the discussion by giving props to both types of BBs.
Overall, biodegradable BBs are a better choice for the future of the sport, but considering their durability and price, we must conclude that the classic ones also have their purpose. If you plan to play lots of indoor shooting games, you should save money and go with regulars, the same applies to any field where you can easily collect them and eventually recycle them.
If you find yourself worrying about destroying your own backyard or any property of nature, you should consider getting eco-friendly ones. In the end, all that matters is that we give respect to those who were here before us, and nature was definitely there before us. If it is a matter of few dollars it should not bother you, however, I do understand that people who like to shoot a lot want to keep the eye on their budget.
The first book of the airsoft bible teaches you adapted tactics that work within the field which are based on real military tactics.
The second book will teach you and your team about the essential skill of communication (necessary for team synergy and this is exactly what separates great teams from average).