Curiosities: How long does it take for things we usually throw away to decompose?

By Eddy Montilla

First, I consider it pertinent to point out that the following figures can be used as an approximate guide since materials decompose differently depending on a lot of factors, such as the presence of water, oxygen levels, temperature, exposure to the sun, etc. Besides, scientists and experts fail to find a common denominator about the exact time for decomposition of trash.

Glass bottles:

Glass bottles

Decomposition time: Some people talk about thousands of years; others say millions.

Glass bottles take the longest amount of time to decompose because they are made of sand, which is typically largely comprised of silica, a chemical that make glass products difficult to decompose.

Suggestion: Glass bottles are completely recyclable. After drinking your beer or any other thing, recycle the bottle, so that other people can enjoy similar beverages hundreds of years later too.

Plastic bags:

Plastic bags

Decomposition time: Hundreds of years.

Plastic bags are the second product that takes the longest amount of time to decompose. Plastic shopping bags are usually made of polyethylene, something that bacteria don’t easily recognize as “food” and, therefore, cannot biodegrade properly. That explains why some experts say that plastic bags never decompose completely, but they turn into smaller pieces of plastic.

Suggestion: Whenever you go to the supermarket, take a big polyester bag with you to put your things in it, and it will not be necessary all these shopping bags that usually end up at some garbage dump.

Plastic beverage bottles:

Plastic beverage bottles

Decomposition time: More than 400 years.

Suggestion: Since they are completely recyclable, the same suggestion mentioned before can be applied here.



Decomposition time: 100 years or more.

Batteries are a combination of the outer plastic, metal components and the inner chemical elements. The first parts may take years to decompose, but chemical elements may take millions of years.

Suggestion: How about the use of rechargeable batteries?

Polystyrene cups and containers:

Polystyrene cups and containers

Decomposition time: Hundreds of years.

Suggestion: If the party is small, you can use the glasses and plates that you have at home or you can ask the guests to bring theirs.

Aluminium cans

aluminium cans

Decomposition time: More than 100 years.

Suggestion: Recycling.

Cigarette ends:

Cigarette ends

Decomposition time: More than 10 years.

Cigarette butts are considered the most littered item in the world.

Suggestion: If you can get rid of this harmful habit, your pocket will smile and your grandchildren, who will be able to play with you longer, will thank you.

I will finish with this story: A small bird tried to extinguish a fire pouring water brought in its beak while other animals tried to flee terrifyingly. “What are you doing?” They said. “I am trying TO DO MY BEST to put out the fire.” The little bird answered. This simple answer is the key to solve a lot of problems that are destroying the Earth. Like the little bird, DO YOUR BEST: Recycle, and all of us, together, will be able to extinguish the fire called “pollution”.

Copyright 2013 All rights reserved.


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