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How long does waste take to degrade?

We often talk about waste and waste. But are we aware of how polluting they are? There are many types of waste. Some are very dangerous, like chemicals, and others can take thousands of years to decompose, like plastic.

We should think about it every time we throw something away. Even when we throw it into the container for recycling, since the least polluting waste is the one that is not produced, even more so if it is thrown directly into nature. Do you want to know how long it takes for waste and residues to degrade ? Then you have entered the right place, because in this AgroCorrn article we clarify it with a few examples.

You may also be interested in: How long does it take for metal to degrade?

How long it takes for waste and residues to degrade

What are the materials that take the least time to degrade? How long does it take for a cigarette butt to degrade? And a chewing gum? So how long does it take for waste and residues to decompose ? Let’s look at some examples:

  • 1 year: this is how long it takes for paper to degrade , which is basically cellulose. But it has other components that are more difficult to “digest” by nature. If it remains on land and it rains a lot, it degrades earlier. Although it will always be better to recycle it to avoid deforestation.
  • 5 years: this is how long it takes for a gum to disappear . In addition, due to the action of oxygen, it becomes hard. Over time, several years, it breaks down and disappears.
  • 10 years: aluminum cans (beer, soft drinks, juices, etc.). One can has steel coated with varnish and tin. It takes a lot of rain and moisture for the rust to completely cover it and then disappear. Furthermore, aluminum is a material that can be almost completely recovered. The disposable cups polypropylene (which pollute less than the polystyrene) also take a decade to degrade. The plastic is reduced to synthetic molecules, invisible, but present.
  • 30 years: Tetrabrik containers are made up of 75% cellulose, 20% pure low-density polyethylene and 5% aluminum. The thing that takes the longest to degrade is aluminum . Cellulose, in the open air, disappears in little more than a year. Lacquers and foams also take several decades. Their metallic structure makes them resist natural degradation.
  • 100 years: steel and plastic lighters can take a century to disappear. Plastic especially, because in fact it usually takes more than a century as we will see below. It is very polluting and does not degrade easily. Also, some models contain mercury and others contain zinc, chromium, arsenic, lead, or cadmium.

Here we discuss the waste that takes the longest to break down , which in fact takes hundreds to thousands of years.

Plastic and batteries, the waste that takes the longest to degrade

Indeed, plastic, batteries and glass are the waste that takes the longest to decompose and some of them are among the most damaging to the planet. Specifically, the time it takes for them to break down is the following:

  • 150 and 300 years: Plastic bags take about 150 years to degrade. That is why it is important not to use plastic bags and, instead, reuse cloth or cardboard bags over and over again or, in any case, use bioplastic bags.that degrade naturally. Sneakers can be made of leather, fabric, rubber, and synthetic foams. They therefore have several stages of degradation. The first thing that disappears are the fabric or leather parts. Synthetic materials don’t disappear, they just shrink. Dolls are also plastic objects and they take time to disappear. The sun’s rays manage to divide these objects into small molecules, a process that can take hundreds of years. Plastic bottles, we know well, are one of the most polluting objects. Proof of this are the terrible islands that are forming in the oceans. Most are made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a material that microorganisms cannot attack.
  • 500 to 1,000 years: batteries , if not treated properly, can be very polluting. With an added danger. If the protective layer that covers them degrades, the metals it contains are released and a contamination process can begin. Mercury is the most harmful metal in batteries . If it comes into contact with water, methyl mercury is produced, a compound that is concentrated in the food chain causing serious disorders of the nervous system in living beings. According to specialized studies, a mercury battery can contaminate 600,000 liters of water, a zinc-air battery 12,000 liters, a silver oxide battery 14,000 liters, and a common battery 3,000 liters.
  • 4,000 years: glass bottles can be exceptional witnesses to the passage of all that time. They are, in any of their formats, very resistant objects. With a bang, glass objects shatter, yes, but those little bits remain in nature almost for eternity. At least, for the eternity of our lives, that of our grandchildren, great-grandchildren … In addition, it is 100% recyclable.

If you want to read more articles similar to How long does waste take to degrade , we recommend that you enter our Recycling and waste management category .

Maria Anderson

Hello, I am a blogger specialized in environmental, health and scientific dissemination issues in general. The best way to define myself as a blogger is by reading my texts, so I encourage you to do so. Above all, if you are interested in staying up to date and reflecting on these issues, both on a practical and informative level.

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