How Long Does Your Trash Actually Take to Decompose?

Yes, yes, we all know it’s important to recycle. But do you actually know why?

Related: 5 Reasons Why People Don’t Recycle and Five Reasons Why They Should

Most people have no idea how long it takes for their waste to actually decompose once it is launched into the trash. The fact is, the precise time it takes your trash to break down varies widely and depends on the local conditions.

Here are some general estimates for common household goods to give you an idea what kind of influence your trash has on the environment:

Paper towel — 2 to 4 weeks

Banana peel — 2 to 5 weeks

Newspaper — 6 weeks

Apple core — 2 months

Cotton T-shirt — 2 to 5 months

Plywood — 1 to 3 years

Cigarette — 1 to 5 years

Wool sock — 1 to 5 years

Nylon-based fabric — 30 to 40 years

Tinned can — 50 years

Leather — 50 years

Plastic foam cup — 50 years

Rubber boot sole — 50 to 80 years

Soda can — 80 to 200 years

Disposable diaper — 450 years

Plastic water bottle — 450 years

Monofilament fishing line — 600 years

Plastic bag — 20 to 1000 years

Glass bottle — 1 million years

Shocking, isn’t it? In some cases, our trash is farting around in the environment for literally centuries to come. It is important to take this into consideration when tossing household goods. Always make sure to recycle items like glass bottles, which are easily melted down and reused instead of taking up environmental space for millennia. Don’t leave fishing line snips stream side where they will pollute your favorite fishing spots. And, for goodness sakes, stop using plastic bags!

Unlike glass, plastic bags leach toxic chemicals into the environment and are not always easily recyclable. Items like plastic bags have only been in existence for about 50 years, so we can’t know for certain if and when they ever actually decompose. Decomposition actually relies on microorganisms who feed on the trash, which, in effect, breaks it down rather quickly. Unfortunately, plastic bags are made of polyethylene, something that those little critters don’t recognize as food. So, without the assistance of microorganisms, plastic bags can only photodegrade under the sun’s UV rays, which takes a really, really long time. Whether it is 500 years or 1000 years, the time it takes for single use plastic shopping bags to break down into toxic microscopic crumbs is rather offensive.

We all need to be more mindful about the goods we toss into the landfill. Our actions have consequences and it is important to weigh this long-term consequence with the immediate convenience. Let’s work together to move away from our single-use, disposable culture and start caring about our home.

*data sources: https://www.des.nh.govhttp://www.alternet.org

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78 comments

Stephanie s
Stephanie sabout a month ago

Thank you

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Aaron F
Aaron Fabout a month ago

Recycle, recycle, RECYCLE! Compost. Donate. You can do it!

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heather g
heather gabout a month ago

That list is going on our Notice Board

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Margie FOURIE
Margie Fabout a month ago

Good heavens. I try to recycle as much as possible.

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Joemar K
Joemar K1 months ago

Thanks

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iloshechka A
iloshechka A1 months ago

thanks

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Elaine W
Elaine W1 months ago

Startling facts noted. Thanks.

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Leo Custer
Leo Custer1 months ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Jeramie D
Jeramie D1 months ago

I will never understand why so many people don't recycle and don't seem to care about the environment and yes, global warming is real.

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Virginia Miller
Virginia Miller1 months ago

Great info.

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