Have you ever asked the question… ! how long does it take for trash to decompose ?
The answer varies depending on the type of material and environment. Trash decomposition rates are faster when materials are exposed to the elements. However, when buried in a landfill, trash decomposition is much slower.
Materials that decompose within a matter of weeks include paper towels, cardboard, food waste, wood-based products, and natural fibers. Materials with slow decomposition rates include man-made materials like nylon, rubber, plastics, metals, glass, and styrofoam.
How long does it take trash to decompose? Here are examples from materials we use to store foods:
Apple Core (2 Month)
Tin Can (50 Years)
Plastic Bag (10-20 Years)
Foamed Plastic Cup (50 Years)
Fishing Line (600 Years)
Plastic Film Container (20-30 Years)
Newspaper (6 Weeks)
Cigarette Butt (1-5 Years)
Glass Bottle (1 Million Years)
styrofoam containers — 50 + years
plastic bottles and tubs — 400 + years
aluminum can — 80+ years
biodegradable food containers — two to 12 weeks
Plastic decomposition time varies tremendously depending on the type of plastic and the environment. Some plastics will break down in as little as a year under the right conditions
Unfortunately, even plastics that break down quickly have a dark side. As plastics break down, toxic chemicals leach into the soil and groundwater. If they decompose in a body of water, the marine life absorbs the toxic chemicals. Scientists are now finding plastic fragments in fish about 35% of fish they had plastic in their stomachs. Since we eat fish, it is reasonable to assume that we are eating our trash!
Styrofoam is a troublesome material because it is comprised of tiny balls of plastic. As it breaks down, these balls are released into the environment. They get spread by wind and water, find their way into watersheds, and eventually make it to the ocean. Fish and birds cannot tell the difference between poisonous styrofoam fragments and real food.
Trash decomposition for naturally derived materials such as paper and cardboard is much faster than plastics, metal, and glass. Paper and cardboard respond quickly to the planet’s natural decomposition processes while man-made materials suffer from slow decomposition rates.
Next time you have the option of choosing between a plastic or a compostable container for your takeout, choose compostable so that your trash does not become your legacy.