Airsoft and the use of other BB guns used to be enjoyed without much thought about the potential damage to the environment, but in today’s eco-conscious world we have started to wonder about their impact.
With hundreds to thousands of BBs being fired in a single game day by just one player, the number can start to add up and cause people to worry about what the effect might be.
So, are airsoft BBs really that bad for the environment?
The answer depends on the type of BB you use and there are ways to ensure that the pellets you use are doing minimal harm to the planet but also giving you the performance you require for your airsoft gun. Both biodegradable and nonbiodegradable BBs are available and each has different consequences for the environment.
To ensure that we can continue to play our favorite airsoft sports for generations to come, it pays to learn a bit more about the environmental effects that it might be having.
We’ll look at the different types of BB pellets used in airsoft, what their impact is, and the materials that go into making these small but powerful devices.
Are Airsoft BBs Really Bad for the Environment?
Airsoft became big in the US during the mid-90s, and at first, nobody gave much thought to what impact these guns and their pellets might be doing on the environment.
As we learned more about the materials and noticed the effect that the BBs were having on the environment, it became clear that a more eco-friendly alternative needed to be made available.
There are a few ways that airsoft can impact the environment, and it mainly comes down to the BBs. When using traditional nonbiodegradable BBs, these can take a long time to decompose, create litter and pollution, and cause a very real threat to local wildlife in the area.
Imagine a scenario where 50 airsoft players are shooting 1,000 0.20g sized BBs every week at a field and it equates to around 550lbs of waste in that period.
When you consider how many airsoft facilities there are across America, and even the rest of the world, it makes sense that we need to understand more about the environmental impact and what we can do to lessen it.
What Is a Non-Biodegradable BB?
Airsoft BBs are not like regular metal ones, and they are made of plastic so as to reduce their potential impact and harm.
A regular BB or nonbiodegradable BB is made of a special type of plastic known as ABS or acrylonitrile butadiene styrene.
This plastic is known for being durable and cheap, which is why it’s a preferred choice, but it does not break down over time as a biodegradable pellet would. For many years, this was the only option for airsoft players and before it was bought to the attention of the airsoft community, most people were happy to use this type of pellet.
What Is a Biodegradable BB?
Biodegradable BBs were invented as a way to solve this environmental crisis caused by traditional plastic BBs.
As their name suggests, a biodegradable BB is able to degrade in a shorter amount of time and leave minimal trace once they do.
These pellets were designed to look and perform just like other BBs, so the aim is to get players to switch to the more environmentally friendly alternative without noticing a difference. The difference between normal BBs and this is how the barium sulfate powder is kept together inside of the pellet, referred to as a coating or binder.
A biodegradable BB uses coating and binders made of different organic polymer resins, compared to the more harmful ABS plastic used in a standard BB. A biodegradable BB works with plant-based plastics, including sugar cane and corn starch polymers, and they are more effective at breaking down in the ground.
This plastic is referred to as PLA or polylactic acid and uses various renewable materials and natural products to create.
Most biodegradable BBs are also made without any other harmful chemicals or substances that could be doing damage to the environment.
Overall, they’re considered a safer alternative but are usually more expensive to purchase, which is why some people still prefer to use a standard plastic BB.
How Long Does it Take For an Airsoft BB to Degrade?
To understand the effects that a BB can have on the environment, we need to investigate how long it takes for an airsoft BB to actually degrade.
The answer depends of course on the type of BB used, and whether it’s a biodegradable or nonbiodegradable variety.
A traditional plastic BB can take years to fully decompose, with some studies showing that trace materials were still found after seven years. These pellets can leak toxic chemicals into the environment as they degrade and will cause landfill pollution during this process.
Biodegradable BBs made with PLA plastic are capable of breaking down in both water and carbon dioxide. When tested in a recycling facility, they have been shown to break down in between 47 to 90 days. If left in the outdoors, like a local lake or in the ground, they will take a little longer provided the environmental conditions are suitable and will be fully decomposed within a year.
Which Is the Better Choice?
These days, the most common choice for airsoft BBs is biodegradable pellets due to the safer effects on the environment.
Here are some other things you’ll want to weigh up when making your own decision on which airsoft BBs are the better choice.
Due to the difference in manufacturing and materials used, the cost biodegradable pellets is slightly more.
You can expect to pay around 10-30% more for the environmentally friendly option compared to standard ABS plastic pellets.
Thanks to advancements in pellet design, most people can’t tell the difference between a biodegradable and nonbiodegradable BB.
However, there are some people who prefer to stick to the traditional type because they think they’re more accurate and have better velocity.
These days, best airsoft guns will accept both types of pellets. You can also find biodegradable BBs in most common weights from 0.20g to 0.40g, and also 6mm and 8mm diameters.
Having biodegradable BBs means you have to use them faster than you would a standard pellet.
Without correct storage, these bullets will start to naturally degrade and if moisture, oxygen, and sunlight are present, this will speed up the decomposition process.
Most airsoft fields now require that players use only biodegradable BBs and this is strictly enforced. However, for practice at home or in an indoor arena, you will still be able to use traditional ABS plastic pellets.
The most common modern choice for airsoft is switching to biodegradable bullets. Although they cost more, you know that you’re creating less pollution for the environment, will be allowed to play at all airsoft facilities, and will find a BB to suit your weapon and needs.
There are now some airsoft BBs that use a mixture of both biodegradable and nonbiodegradable materials for those who want a bit of both. By using just 10 percent of nonbiodegradable plastic, manufacturers claim that this creates a smoother and more spherical BB that has a better center of gravity.
However, you still have to consider the fact that they’re not entirely environmentally friendly and the difference might not be obvious.
Is There a Difference In Biodegradable and Nonbiodegradable BBs Performance?
Airsoft players who have never used a biodegradable pellet before might be wondering if the switch is going to hinder their performance or how the gun fires.
However, these pellets are designed with the same measurements and process as traditional ones, so there will be no obvious difference in how they shoot.
The key to getting a good biodegradable BB is to choose a quality brand. Buying inferior BBs of any type will only lead to damage of your weapon, so it’s not a risk worth taking. High-quality materials mean a better product, and will give you the best accuracy and speed possible.
Many of the larger brands and respected manufacturers of BBs and airsoft supplies are devoted to creating biodegradable alternatives that can perform just as well as traditional ones, and they have succeeded.
As time progresses, it’s evident that these designs will become even more efficient and the better option on all accounts when it comes to choosing the right type of airsoft BB.
The BBs you use for an airsoft gun are just as important as the weapon itself so you need to learn all you can about them.
As some commonly asked questions about airsoft pellets and BBs, having this knowledge can give you some worthwhile insight into how they work and which ones you should be using.
Can You Reuse Airsoft BBs?
When a BB is fired through an airsoft gun, it goes through a lot of impact which changes its composition.
Although it might seem practical and even more environmentally friendly to recycle your used BBs, and especially those that don’t seem damaged, trying to put them into your gun and fire them again will likely do irreversible damage to the weapon.
What Do Airsoft BBs Cost?
Airsoft BBs are a relatively cheap part of the game and they range in price depending on their materials, sizes, and quality.
For a standard 0.20g BB by a reputable brand, you can expect to pay around $18 for 5,000. A biodegradable 0.20g BB by the same brand will cost around $20 for 5,000.
How Many BBs Will You Use in a Match?
The length of the match, your skill level, and the type of weapon you’re using will determine how many BBs are fired in a game.
On average, you can expect to fire between 500 – 2,500 BBs per game day.
Why Is An Airsoft Gun Barrel Bigger Than the BB?
You might have noticed that most airsoft BBs has a barrel diameter of 6.08mm but BBs measure at 6mm.
This difference in size allows the pellet to sit inside of the barrel ready to be fired and gives it the ideal forced need for it to be pushed through and fired at a great speed.