The products we consume and throw away are a problem; plastic is a major one, but most people haven´t realized yet how much of a problem it really is and how long it takes for everyday items to decompose.
From a sustainability perspective, answering that question is critical.
In fact, we should reduce consumption of products that generate waste materials that take a long time in landfills to get completely decomposed.
Most people think that in a landfill site, as soon as the waste arrives, the decomposition process starts immediately… well, unfortunately, that is not true.
So, how long does it takes, (based on waste category) for the various wastes to decompose in landfills?
Plastic products are everywhere in our modern life.
Every year approximately 1.6 million barrels of oil are used just for producing plastic water bottles.
And they take an eternity to decompose: plastic bags we use everyday take 10-1,000 years to decompose in landfills, while plastic bottles can take 450 years or more.
Aluminium cans can be recycled, and for example in America, more than 120,000 aluminium cans are recycled per minute every day.
But much more are not… and Aluminium cans take 80-200 years in landfills to get fully decomposed.
Glass is very easy to recycle. Simply by breaking down a glass bottle and melting it, we can produce a new one.
The problem is that if glass doesn’t get recycled and is thrown away in landfills, it takes millions of years to decompose.
Disposable Diapers are a problem, they take approximately 250-500 years to decompose in landfills and just in the USA alone, every year more than 18 billion disposable diapers are thrown away.
Let´s now look at the estimated time for some everyday items that are all around us to decompose in landfill sites.
Different sources have different information on the actual time it takes, but the numbers don’t vary much:
- Cigarette Butts – 10-12 years;
- Monofilament Fishing Line – 600 years;
- Rubber-Boot Sole – 50-80 years;
- Foamed Plastic Cups – 50 years;
- Leather shoes – 25-40 years;
- Milk Cartons – 5 years;
- Plywood – 1-3 years;
- Painted board – 13 years;
- Cotton Glove – 3 months;
- Cardboard – 2 months;
- Styrofoam- It does not biodegrade;
- Nylon Fabric- 30-40 years;
- Tin can- 50 years;
- Rope – 3-14 months;
- Waxed milk carton- 3 months;
- Aluminium cans- 80-200 years;
- Train tickets – two weeks,
- Canvas products – 1 year;
- Batteries – 100 years;
- Lumber- 10-15 years,
- Sanitary Pads – 500-800 years;
- Wool Clothing- 1-5 years;
- Tinfoil- It does not biodegrade.
This list is terrifying and shows how the increasing volume of waste is a major concern for humankind.
Gradually, people are increasingly becoming aware of this and we are starting to find solutions by thinking more compostable and biodegradable.
Here are some examples…
Costa Rica wants to be the first country in the world to completely banish plastics from its territory.
The measure aims to curb the accumulation of garbage in the urban environment, caused by items that take up to 100 years to degrade in the environment.
The country’s government stipulated the year 2021 to extinguish all bags, bottles, lids, cutlery, plastic covers present in the public and private sectors. Companies that switch to other types of materials will receive tax incentives.
The country also promises to invest in research on other forms of waste disposal in the coming years. France and New Delhi, India, also intend to end the use of plastic in the coming years.
In addition to the problem of garbage storage, plastics are also the biggest pollutants to the oceans. According to the Dutch foundation Ocean Cleanup, an amount between 1.15 and 2.41 million tonnes of plastics is dumped into the sea every year.
Conscious consumption: France wants 100% biodegradable plastic utensils.
France has decided to follow Costa Rica’s footsteps and has passed a new law to ensure that all plastic cups, cutlery, and dishes are sustainable and made from biodegradable materials.
The law, which comes into effect in 2020, is part of the Energy Transition for Green Growth – a plan designed to help France cope with climate change.
This is a global effort, and in a vast majority of countries, some of the biggest companies are investing in finding more suitable biodegradable and compostable solutions especially those in the food packaging industry.
We at Cafe Brands are doing our part with our compostable catering disposables and food packaging solutions.