Are Airsoft BBs Biodegradable? - Bio BBs to load up on, and Bio BBs to Avoid!
In the early days of Airsoft, we were so few in number that our impact on the environment was barely even a concern, and whilst many Airsofters were keen to use early "Bio" BBs, they were of a notably lower quality than standard BBs made from ABS plastic. As the sport grew, new innovations were made in the world of plastics, and "Bio" plastics began to find their way from the Agricultural Industry to Airsoft. With this, a new era of "Bio" BB performance began. These days, you would be hard-pressed to tell an ASG Open Blaster BB from a standard ABS plastic BB when shooting, and in surface smoothness and consistency of the weight, the two appear indistinguishable.
Perhaps you look at a BB, and wonder how these little balls can damage the environment? Other than putting holes in leaves that is! Well, to understand the impact our sport can have on the environment one has to think of the bigger picture.
Imagine your average Airsoft Skirmish site, out in the woods, serving approximately 50 skirmishers a week. Forgetting the snipers, the average Airsofter will expend at least 1000 BBs in a full day skirmish. Assuming these BBs are 0.2g, each of those 50 skirmishers is dumping 200g of plastics into the environment, which is 10KG of BBs a week! Over the year, giving the site staff two weekends off and assuming only one skirmish a week, this becomes half a metric ton of BBs! And that is at only a single Airsoft site. No small matter, we're sure you can see. This highlights why most, if not all outdoors Airsoft sites now operate purely with Biodegradable BBs, and why manufacturers are stepping up their game providing more sustainable balls for us to shoot at one another.
How Biodegradable are Airsoft BBs?
Airsoft "Bio" BBs are composed from a combination of PLA (polylactic acid) and other plastics, such as ABS or, in the case of ASG Open Blaster BBs, Barium Sulphate. PLA is based on plants such as corn starch, potato, wheat, and sugar cane, and is considered a "Bioplastic" due to its tendency to degrade at temperatures exceeding 60°C. Degrading at such a temperature classes PLA as "biodegradable", though laboratory conditions are generally needed to get complete degradation within a reasonable timeframe, as we don't often get days where we can soak up some 60°C sun, thank goodness! BBs made entirely from PLA have entered the market, but with little success, due to PLA lacking the prerequisite hardness and smoothness a BB needs to perform well as a projectile. As such, Airsoft "Bio" BBs are only partially biodegradable and would take several years outside laboratory conditions to degrade entirely.
Why use PLA if it will remain in the environment for years anyway?
The advantage of using PLA in an Airsoft BB even if it will take several years to degrade naturally is the non-toxic nature of PLA, and Barium Sulphate. Whilst it may still take years for these BBs to entirely disappear in a natural environment, the byproducts of this process are not damaging its surroundings, being a "bio-plastic". Most "Bio" BBs on the market are 50-70% PLA, varying depending on the weight of the BB, and whilst ASG is rumored to be working on an entirely Biodegradable BB that still holds its tolerances in heat and moisture, and also performs well when fired, unfortunately, we aren't quite there yet.
That said, "Bio" BBs are still the best option we have for the moment, and whilst they will remain in the environment for up to several years, they will eventually degrade, with no lasting effects on the ecosystem. Consider Aldi's green plastic carrier bags and you have a similar situation, though using a PLA bag rather than a Polystyrene bag is a significant step in the right direction for sustainability. So, with "Bio" BBs defined, let us share with you our experience of testing various Bio BBs of various brands, both through work and personal endeavors, in an attempt try to save you from wasting bio-plastics and money by buying useless BBs!
There is nothing worse for the environment than buying something plastic and not using it because it is not fit for purpose. The damage to the environment done by the significant number of industrial processes involved in the production of the BB, and the many vehicles and vessels used to transport it to you over thousands of miles are entirely wasted if the BB doesn't ever end up being used.
There's nothing cheap about cheap BBs biodegrading whilst stuck inside your mid-caps to the extent that they cannot be removed! Cheap "bio" BBs are a plague for this, and whilst many advertise as "biodegradable" they are often composed from materials that are not fit for the intended purpose, which is to shoot effectively from an Airsoft gun. There is no value for money in buying something which doesn't do the job it is intended for. Buy cheap, buy twice! The following are examples of BBs we have tried and had horrible luck with!
Bulldog/Angry Balls BBs
Many of us here have fallen afoul of buying cheap BBs, thinking "they can't be that bad, can they?" Well, if you don't trust our judgment, buy some Bulldog or Angry Balls BBs, try using them and let us know! You won't find them for sale on Patrol Base, for good reason! These BBs can often be had for a couple of quid cheaper than other brands, and as far as how they look on the images, one might assume they can't be that different from RZRs or Blasters.
The promises these BBs make on their packaging are suspicious to start (who wouldn't want 10% more power?), but once you clap eyes on these round (and slightly lumpy) boys you know you messed up. The BBs we have experience with do not have a polished surface, vary in size quite dramatically, and fail to feed consistently in any Airsoft gun we have tested. These BBs may in fact be biodegradable, akin to early attempts at a "bio" BB, but their lax tolerances and poor surface quality result in them sticking in HOP units, and magazines, and you will be lucky if they make it out of the barrel and into the environment to biodegrade!
While many of us will already know this, any BB advertising itself as a "Marker pellet" will absolutely destroy the inside of your Airsoft gun. This happens because these pellets have a very thin outer wall, and when fired at the velocity a skirmish-capable Airsoft gun puts out they tend to shatter within the HOP unit and foul the inner barrel with paint.
This is suboptimal, to say the least, and whilst your barrel may be possible to clean, coating the HOP rubber and unit with paint will almost certainly mean the entire unit will need replacing. Often these BBs are advertised as biodegradable, but whether they are or not they certainly share the same issues as other cheap bio BBs on the market and can cause jams and generally have poor quality control. If you ask us, these BBs should be taken off the market, not for environmental reasons, but because they are pure garbage. Sending them straight from the factory to landfill just cuts out the frustrated middle man!
For those who love to watch the world burn, these BBs are here to ruin your fun! Due to constant innovation and the arms race to produce the first entirely Bio-plastic BB which actually shoots straight, the Airsoft industry has produced some credible options which perform extremely well in our tests, and are as sustainable as is currently possible! Gone are the days where you had to choose between a more environmentally friendly BB and a BB which performs well!
Vorsk's range of "Bio" BBs is extensive, ranging from 0.2g BBs for skirmishing and target shooting, all the way up through the weights to 0.43g BBs for use in sniper rifles. These BBs are externally flawless and have the smooth triple polished surface and tight tolerances necessary to provide a high performance Airsoft BB. "Bio" tracers BBs have, until recently, been hard to find, especially in the heavier weights needed for outdoor skirmishing. Fortunately for us, Vorsk also produces "Bio" tracer BBs, in both standard and heavier weights up to 0.3g. Vorsk "Bio" BBs are composed of PLA, and the weight of the BB is increased using natural minerals that are neither toxic to the environment nor metallic.
ASG Open Blaster
The "Open Blaster" is ASG's offering to the "Bio" BB market, with a full range of BBs suitable for skirmishing from 0.2g to 0.32g for longer ranged setups. The Open Blaster BB is comprised of between 50 and 70 percent PLA with the remainder of the BB being Barium Sulphate, resulting in little to no toxic chemicals deposited into the environment. ASG intends to be open and upfront about the composition of their BBs, refusing to label them as "Bio", instead opting to state that their BBs "Contains 100% Biodegradable PLA", which refers to the PLA content of the BB being 100% biodegradable, rather than the BB itself being 100% biodegradable.
Nuprol RZR BBs have been around for a few years now, and have been providing consistent, reliable "Bio" BBs in weights ranging from 0.2g to 0.32g. The RZR line of conventional BBs has become a well respected BB to use for snipers, being cost-effective and consistent with a perfect surface finish. Like the Vorsk range, and ASG Open Blasters, you would be hard-pressed to tell these BBs from conventional plastic BBs just looking at them, or by shooting them. The surface is highly polished, and the tolerances are tight to within +/- 0.01mm and they are absolutely as good as standard BBs as far as skirmish performance goes, with the added benefit of sleeping easier at night knowing that in a few years your BBs will be almost entirely gone, with little to no long term effect on the lovely woodland environment in which you exchange fire with your mates.
When is it okay to use standard non-biodegradable BBs?
With all this innovation in Bio BBs, is there still a place for standard Airsoft BBs? Of course! If you are skirmishing at an indoor skirmish site, the marshalls will be sweeping up afterwards anyway, so you might as well save a quid or two and use standard BBs, they will be disposed of properly anyway! If you are target shooting at home, and have a BB catcher target or another home-made solution to prevent BBs escaping then get shooting! Just make sure you tip those used BBs into your recycle bin, and not back into the bottle! That is not the kind of recycling we advocate for here!
So, there you have it. Myths debunked, truths told! Airsoft Bio BBs, whilst not truly biodegradable in the same way a banana peel is, can help significantly in keeping our sport sustainable and keeping the woodlands clean for future skirmishes. Obviously, it is equally important that you tidy up after yourselves, and don't leave litter where you play, but being the responsible bunch we are, we know Airsofters can be relied upon to do what's right! Especially if, thanks to high quality Bio BBs, it doesn't affect how well our guns shoot!