How Long It Takes For Different Materials & Everyday Items To Break Down/Degrade

How Long It Takes For Different Materials & Everyday Items To Break Down/Degrade

This guide outlines how long different materials and items take to break down, along with different factors that might influence how quickly materials break down in different conditions.

 

Summary – Biodegradation & Break Down Of Materials

  • Different materials and items break down at different rates in different conditions and environments
  • For example, plastic, glass, metal, natural fibre items like cotton, and organic items like a banana peel will all take different time spans to break down into micro particles – and, whether they are breaking down in say a landfill, the ocean or on land can impact break down rate too. Even different types of landfills might be responsible for different degradation rates of different materials
  • Organic and natural materials like food tend to be compostable and biodegradable, as they are able to be broken down by naturally occuring bacteria, as well as the presence of light, water and oxygen
  • Synthetic material like plastic usually don’t compost or biodegrade (some bioplastics are the exception to this in certain conditions), but break down via different processes. Plastics as one example go through a process called photodegradation
  • Regardless of conditions, organic matter like food, and the material paper tend to be two of the quickest degrading materials. They can break down in days and months. Plastic and glass tend to be two of the slowest materials to break down, taking decades, or even hundreds, thousands, or even a million years in the case of glass bottles.
  • Some scientists and researchers say that it’s possible some plastics may never fully break down i.e. they may be around as micro or nano plastics forever (or at least a very very long time)

 

How Long It Takes For Different Materials & Everyday Items To Break Down/Degrade

Break down durations in the environment:

  • Vegetables – 5 days, to 1 month
  • Paper – 2 to 5 months
  • Cotton T Shirt – 6 months
  • Orange Peels – 6 months
  • Tree Leaves – 1 year
  • Wool Socks – 1 to 5 years
  • Plastic Coated Paper Milk Cartons – 5 years
  • Leather Shoes – 25 to 40 years
  • Nylon Fabric – 30 to 40 years
  • Tin Cans – 50 to 100 years
  • Aluminum Cans – 80 to 100 years
  • Glass Bottles – 1 million years
  • Styrofoam Cup – 500 years to forever
  • Plastic Bags – 500 years to forever

– sciencelearn.org.nz

 

Break down durations in landfill sites:

  • Thread – 3 to 4 months
  • Cotton – 1 to 5 months
  • Rope – 3 to 14 months
  • Cigarette – 1 to 12 years
  • Tetra Milk Packets & Drink Packets – 5 years
  • Leather Shoes – 25 to 40 years
  • Nylon Clothes – 30 to 40 years
  • Tin Can – 50 years
  • Aluminum Can – 200 years
  • Plastic Bottles – 70 to 450 years
  • Hairspray Bottle – 200 to 500 years
  • Fishing Line – 600 years
  • Sanitary Napkins & Children Diapers – 500 to 800 years
  • Plastic Bags – 500 to 1000 years
  • Glass Bottles – 1 million years

And, Certified Compostable Products will degrade usually within 90 days/3 months in a compostable environment.

– down2earthmaterials.ie

 

Break down durations in landfill sites:

  • Train Tickets – 2 weeks
  • Apple Core Or Banana Peel – 1 month
  • Paper Waste – 2 to 6 weeks
  • Cardboard – 2 months
  • Cotton Glove – 3 months
  • Waxed Milk Carton – 3 months
  • Orange Peel – 6 months
  • Canvas Products – 1 year
  • Wool Clothing – 1 to 5 years
  • Ropes – 3 to 14 months
  • Plywood – 1 to 3 years
  • Milk Cartons – 5 years
  • Cigarette Butts – 10 to 12 years
  • Painted Board – 13 years
  • Lumber – 10 to 15 years
  • Leather Shoes – 25 to 40 years
  • Nylon Fabric – 30 to 40 years
  • Tin Can – 50 years
  • Foamed Plastic Cup – 50 years
  • Rubber Boot Sole – 50 to 80 years
  • Batteries – 100 years
  • Aluminum Cans – 80 to 200 years (other estimates of 200 to 250 years)
  • Disposable Diapers – 250 to 500 years
  • Plastic Bottles – 450 years or more
  • Monofilament Fishing Line – 600 years
  • Sanitary Pads – 500 to 800 years
  • Plastic Bags – 10 to 1000 years
  • Glass – 1 million years
  • Styrofoam – does not biodegrade
  • Tinfoil – does not biodegrade

– thebalancesmb.com

 

  • In a dry landfill, paper bags don’t degrade any faster than plastic bags. In a normal, well-run landfill, paper bags do not biodegrade any faster over at least 40 years than plastic

– bankrate.com via bettermeetsreality.com

 

What Factors Determine How Long It Takes For Materials To Break Down

 

How Long Different Plastics Take To Break Down

Read more in this guide about how long different plastics take to break down and degrade.

Separate to plastics are bio plastics. These plastics might be compostable in specific conditions, but not in others. You need to read the certification that comes with the bioplastic product.

 

Sources

1. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/how-long-plastic-takes-to-break-down-degrade-in-landfills-in-the-ocean-the-environment/

2. https://www.sciencelearn.org.nz/resources/1543-measuring-biodegradability

3. https://www.down2earthmaterials.ie/2013/02/14/decompose/

4. https://www.thebalancesmb.com/how-long-does-it-take-garbage-to-decompose-2878033

5. https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/is-paper-more-sustainable-than-plastic-comparison/

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