How long does litter take to rot if we carelessly throw it away?
Two Weeks – Apple Cores
Although this is a rapid decomposition time, throwing away cores and other pieces of fruit can encourage rodents.
Four Weeks – Paper towels, paper bags, newspaper
With these items, decomposition time can vary enormously depending on how they are disposed of.
Six Weeks – Cereal boxes, banana skins
Banana skins can take longer than this to decompose if the weather is cold, as the skins are designed to protect the fruit inside. They are full of cellulose which is the same material from which cellophane wrappers are made.
Two – Three Months – Waxed cartons, cardboard
With such items, the decomposition time will vary depending on the thickness of the carton.
Six months – Cotton clothing
Of all textiles, cotton is the most biodegradable. Cotton can be composted and if the conditions are damp and warm enough, a piece of light cotton clothing can biodegrade in as little as a week.
One Year – Light woollen clothing
Light woollen clothing such as pullovers and socks. Wool is a natural product, so when it decomposes it releases into the soil useful nutrients such as protein keratin.
Two Years – Orange peel, plywood, cigarette ends
Cigarettes contain more than 600 ingredients, of which the longest lasting is cellulose acetate which takes a very long time to biodegrade.
Five Years – Heavy woollen clothing
Ten to Twenty Years – Plastic Bags
Many newer bags are designed to decompose when exposed to sunlight, though the majority are made from high density polyethylene. This is made with refined petroleum and it is not easily decomposed. The natural micro – organisms in soil don’t recognize the chemicals as food, so don’t break them down.
Thirty to Forty Years – Nylon, Carpet, Disposable Nappies
While they are convenient, disposable nappies are pretty toxic items, even if they haven’t been used, as they are treated with many chemicals.
Fifty Years – Tin cans, Car tyres, trainers, leather.
Seventy-Five to Eighty Years – Crisp Packets
With many packets made from metallised plastic film, they last a ridiculously long time.
One Hundred Years – Plastic Ring Holder
These are particularly hazardous to animals, as the rings can get trapped around their necks and choke them.
Two Hundred Years – Aluminium Drink Cans
It is more beneficial to recycle aluminium as it can be done indefinitely and the energy of recycling cans is far lower than creating new ones. Twenty recycled cans can be made using the same amount of energy it takes to make one new can and recycling just one can, can save as much energy as it takes to power a television for three hours.
Five Hundred Years – Plastic Bottles
Petrochemical products like these never fully biodegrade and the chemicals will remain in the soil.
One to Two Million Years – Glass Jars and Bottles
It could well be that these may last indefinitely. Glass is mainly composed of silica, which is one of the most stable and enduring minerals on the planet. The greatest problem with waste glass is that it is breakable and shards can do serious damage to creatures who eat or lick any food or drink residues.
And Even Longer – Batteries
While the thin metal casings break down eventually, the chemicals inside such as zinc, lead and mercury stay in the ground and can be extremely toxic.