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Time for Trash to Decompose in Landfills is Greater Than You Think

Posted on: August 18th, 2020


Society has put great emphasis on the importance of sustainability for the betterment of future generations. But in doing so, it’s important to truly understand just how long it takes trash to decompose. For only then will you fully see the positive impacts sustainability can have in society.

The convenience of waste management first appeared in London in the late 18th century, but it wasn’t until the turn of the 20th century that large cities in Europe and North America implemented municipal systems of waste management.

New York City became the first U.S. city with public waste management, using nothing more than bodied dump trucks pulled by a team of horses.

While throwing away items and having them conveniently collected with regularity was revolutionary for the time, as Annie Leonard – a proponent of sustainability – pointed out, “There is no such thing as ‘away’. When we throw anything away it must go somewhere.”

The majority of the time, that somewhere is in landfills, which were first introduced in the early part of the 20th century before gaining popularity in the 1960s and 1970s to eliminate open dump sites.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the United States has 2,627 municipal solid waste landfills (MSW) across the country.

By understanding how long it takes trash to decompose, we’re arming ourselves with education and information to help reduce our consumption rates, while finding more creative ways to successfully recycle.

Here’s a list of items that typically find their way into landfills, and how long it takes for some trash to decompose.

The Time it Takes for Trash to Decompose

Waste Item and Decomposition Time

Cigarette butts, 10-12 years
Fishing line, 600 years
Rubber boot soles, 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 gloves, 3 months
Cardboard, 2 months
Nylon fabric, 30-40 years
Tin can, 50 years
Ropes, 3-14 months
Aluminum cans, 200-250 years
Train tickets,  2 weeks
Canvas products, 1 year
Batteries, 100 years
Lumber, 10-15 years
Sanitary pads, 500-800 years
Wool clothing, 1-5 years
Tinfoil, Does not biodegrade
Glass bottles, 1 million years
Styrofoam, Does not biodegrade

From Waste Management: “In a lifetime, the average American will throw away 600 times the amount of his or her adult weight in garbage. For example, a 150-pound adult will leave a trash legacy of 90,000 pounds.” And now YOU know how long it will take for some of that trash to decompose.

Sustainability is no longer a fashionable trend. It’s a reality we must all adopt in order to limit our environmental impact on the next generation.

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