Plastic trash can take up to 1000 years to decompose in landfills. It is quickly becoming one of our biggest environmental issues and is not slowing down.
According to a study published in the Science Advances journal, 8,3 billion tons is the accumulative number for all the plastic that has ever been manufactured, starting from the 1950’s. This number is enough to cover the surface area of the 8th biggest country on earth. If you were to spread this down to an ankle-deep depth, you would not be able to see the soil of Argentina – at all. Of this number, 6,3 billion tons have already become trash, and almost 80% of that amount is currently sitting in landfills. Furthermore, 8 million tons end up in the world’s oceans, killing marine life at an alarming rate.
Scientists are comparing this environmental threat to climate change, since the seriousness of the two situations are very similar. As a man-made material, plastic is designed to last a very long time, and does not bio-degrade once it’s in nature, it stays there. In addition, it has a very negative effect on human health. Chemicals that are leached from plastics flow into our water systems, end up in our drinking water, and effectively poison us. Exposure to these chemicals is linked to cancers, decreased immunity systems, endocrine ailments and birth defects.
How long does it take for your household trash to decompose?
- Paper Towel – 2-4 weeks
- Banana Peel – 3-4 weeks
- Paper Bag – 1 month
- Newspaper – 1.5 months
- Apple Core – 2 months
- Cardboard – 2 months
- Cotton Glove – 3 months
- Orange peels – 6 months
- Plywood – 1-3 years
- Wool Sock – 1-5 years
- Milk Cartons – 5 years
- Cigarette Butts – 10-12 years
- Leather shoes – 25-40 years
- Tinned Steel Can – 50 years
- Foamed Plastic Cups – 50 years
- Rubber-Boot Sole – 50-80 years
Alarmingly it takes an aluminum can 200-500 years to decompose. This should also be on our radar!
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It takes many more years for plastic trash to decompose
- Plastic containers – 50-80 years
- Plastic Bottles – 450 years
- Disposable Diapers – 550 years
- Mono-filament Fishing Line – 600 years
- Plastic Bags – 200-1000 years.
The Green Education Foundation has some useful tips to reduce your trash:
- Stop using plastic straws. If a straw is a must, purchase a reusable stainless steel or glass straw
- Use a reusable produce bag. Purchase or make your own reusable produce bag and be sure to wash them often!
- Give up gum. Gum is made of synthetic rubber, aka plastic.
- Buy boxes instead of bottles.
- Purchase food, like cereal, pasta, and rice from bulk bins and fill a reusable bag or container. You save money and unnecessary packaging.
- Reuse containers for storing leftovers or shopping in bulk.
- Use a reusable bottle or mug for your beverages.
- Bring your own container for take-out or your restaurant doggy-bag since many restaurants use styrofoam.
- Use matches instead of disposable plastic lighters or invests in a refillable metal lighter.
- Avoid buying frozen foods because their packaging is mostly plastic. Plus you’ll be eating fewer processed foods!
- Don’t use plastic ware at home and be sure to request restaurants do not pack them in your take-out box.
- Ask your local grocer to take your plastic containers back. If you shop at a farmers market they can refill it for you.
- The EPA estimates that 7.6 billion pounds of disposable diapers are discarded in the US each year. Use cloth diapers to reduce your baby’s carbon footprint and save money.
- Make fresh-squeezed juice or eat fruit instead of buying juice in plastic bottles. It’s healthier and better for the environment.
- Make your own cleaning products that will be less toxic and eliminate the need for multiple plastic bottles of cleaner.
- Pack your lunch in reusable containers and bags. Also, opt for fresh fruits and veggies and bulk items instead of products that come in single-serving cups.
- Use a razor with replaceable blades instead of a disposable razor
We can all contribute towards less plastic trash. Still not convinced? Then click to see the Earth Policy Institute’s plastic bag timeline.