We produce insane amounts of wastes consisting of our everyday items: paper towels, aluminum cans, plastic bags, nylon lines, glass bottles and etc. Most of it gets delivered to the landfills where it starts to decompose.
Waste generated per person per der day averages 0.74 kilogram (1.63+ pounds), which is 10 times the amount a century ago. And 50% of that waste ends up on a terrestrial environment (landfill sites), where it start to decompose.
The time of decomposition depends on the environment around the object and we will take a look at a terrestrial environment (landfill sites), since it makes more than a half of managed waste world wide.
1. Paper Towel
Did you ever try to count how many paper towels do you use per ever day? Well, statistics are saying, that 24 kilograms (53 lb) are being used yearly per capita in the US. But paper towels are made to be highly decomposable and meant to be used only once. It will take 2-4 weeks for each paper towel to decompose.
Such fruits as apples, oranges and bananas will take more time to fully decompose than a paper towel. The soft part of these fruits mostly don’t get to the landfills, but their peels and cores do. Orange and banana peels will last for 2-5 weeks, and the apple core for 2 months (2.14x longer than a paper towel). These 2 months is enough time to grow your hair by 2.54 cm (1 inch).
3. Cotton T-shirt
Cotton is a natural fiber produced by plants, which gives us an opportunity to always grow more of it. It breaks down in a fairly short time of 3-6 months and it leaves no trace (2.25x longer than apple core). While synthetic fibers, like polyester, shed huge numbers of particles wich create very long-lasting pollution.
4. Tree Leaves
Another organic type of waste, that is not related to human activity, but will server us by turning itself into nutrients for the soil. Fallen tree leaves also help to retain moisture, and provide a welcome environment for the worms and beneficial soil microbes. Decomposition time for the tree leaves is 1 year (2.66x longer than cotton T-shirt).
5. Plastic Bags
Plastic bags are not as evil as they may seem, even if non-compostable plastic bags take up to 1000 years to decompose. But originally they were invented as an alternative to paper and grocery bags in the late 1970s to stop clear-cutting of our forests. Since then, plastic bags were changed and today they will mostly take 10-20 years to decompose in a landfill (15x longer than tree leaves).
Nylon was the first commercially successful synthetic polymer, it was used in a nylon-bristled toothbrush in 1938. Today nylon can be found in: Nylon fibers; Molds and resins; Food packaging; Filaments; Instrument Strings; Fishing lines. Nylon wastes that will be delivered to the landfills, will decompose in 30-40 years (2.33x longer than plastic bags).
7. Rubber Boot Sole
Waterproof boots are great to be used for agricultural and outdoor pursuits, especially when melting snows leave the wet and muddy ground. The main function of their sole is to protect the foot and to provide benefits like slip resistance when contacting oil, ice and etc. Rubber boot soles take up to 50-80 years to fully decompose (1.85x longer than nylon). That’s the median lifespan of the most elephant species (60 years).
8. Aluminum Can
As you already know, it’s a single-use container commonly used for foods and drinks, also for some chemicals and liquids. But what you don’t know, is that each year 200 BILLION aluminium cans are being used globally, this is 63 cans every second. And 80-200 years are needed for one single can to decompose (2.76x longer than rubber boot sole).
9. Polystyrene Foam
Polystyrene is one of the most widely used plastics in our everyday life. It can be found as: protective packaging, containers, lids, bottles, trays, tumblers, disposable cutlery. The scale of its production is being over 12.7 million tonnes (14M US ton) per year and that stuff does not decompose quickly. Most of the trustworthy sources have estimated the lifespan of polystyrene foam in a landfill environment to be 500+ years (3.57x longer than aluminum can).
10. Glass Bottle
Glass is an incredibly stable material, even today we’re still finding some artifacts made out of it that date back to the 13th century B.C. in Egypt and Mesopotamia. This material is an amorphous solid, its state is somewhere between non-crystalline solid and supercooled liquid. Thrown away in the landfills, it will often remain completely intact in the environment for many years… And if it does decompose, then it will happen after roughly 1+ MILLION years (2x longer than polystyrene foam).
|Paper Towel||2-4 weeks|
|Fruits||2-5 weeks, 2 months|
|Cotton T-shirt||3-6 months|
|Tree Leaves||1 year|
|Plastic Bags||10-20 years|
|Rubber Boot Sole||50-80 years|
|Aluminum Can||80-200 years|
|Polystyrene Foam||500+ years|
|Glass Bottle||1000,000,000+ years|