How Long Does it Take Trash to Decompose

by 4Ocean Team January 20, 2017 6 Comments

How Long Does it Take Trash to Decompose

Did you know that according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) recyclable post-consumer packing with an estimated value of $11.4 billion is land-filled in the United States each year instead of being recycled? Did you also know that 80% of that trash that is in our landfills is recyclable?

Many people think that after a few years the trash that has made its way to the ocean, either intentionally or unintentionally, will break down and decompose. Unfortunately, this is not the case for almost all ocean debris. According to the Mote Marine Lab in Sarasota, Florida, it is estimated that one glass bottle alone takes 1 million years to decompose. However, it is undetermined the exact time it takes glass to break down due to its significantly long decomposition rate.

What is the most common trash collected during cleanups?

Ranked from most common to least common based off of the findings from the International Coastal Cleanup hosted by the Ocean Conservancy:

  1. Cigarettes/Cigarette Filters - 1-5 years to biodegrade
  2. Plastic Food Wrapper/Containers - 20-30 years
  3. Plastic water bottles - 450 years
  4. Plastic bags - 10-20 years
  5. Plastic caps and lids - 450-1,000 years
  6. Plastic utensils - 450 years
  7. Plastic straws and stirrers - up to 200 years
  8. Glass bottles - 1 million years (estimated, exact time unknown)
  9. Aluminum cans - 80-200 years
  10. Paper bags - 1 month

Plastic water bottles were first created and commercially used in 1947. That means if a plastic water bottle was dropped into the ocean the very first year that plastic bottles were created, it is still floating somewhere and will not be "completely gone" until the year 2397. Even then, plastics do not completely decompose, they become micro-plastics. Because of the many carbon-carbon bonds that are used in processing plastics to be as sturdy as they are, the organisms responsible for breaking down organic compounds do not recognize these unnatural strong carbon-carbon bonds and therefore cannot break these compounds down. 

To learn more on the carbon-carbon bonds in plastic and why it doesn't break down, check out LiveScience's article HERE



4Ocean Team
4Ocean Team

Author

6 Responses

Gaby
Gaby

May 29, 2018

short movie (~40sec) on how long does it take plastic to decompose
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xElWX3QGGnE

charlie smith
charlie smith

March 25, 2018

hi there,
this is a great website and it did my geography homework for me
thanks
Charlie xxx

Madelyn
Madelyn

February 20, 2018

This is so helpful! I really appreciate you educating us! I will be sharing this with everyone!

Sherri Grantham
Sherri Grantham

June 27, 2017

Thank you for educating us. We need it! Love the decomposition poster. Ever thought of asking restaurants in cities and towns along the coast to use it as a placemat (especially in seafood restaurants)? Or even make them as posters for store windows. It could discourage tourists from trashing the beaches and waterways.

Razzle S
Razzle S

February 27, 2017

I want to thank you for all that you do! You are truly making the world/ocean a better place!? I would really enjoy if you came out with another product that I could buy to help with the ocean. You could start another website for another cause! I can’t wait for if you make another product! GOOD LUCK, AND GOD BLESS U!

Charlene Hjorleifson
Charlene Hjorleifson

February 08, 2017

Thank you for all that you do for this amazing cause of human ignorance! I remember seeing a huge pile of debris/bottles while on a walk in the Dalmatian Islands. I asked the skipper and he said it’s everywhere along the coastal areas…sad.
Keep doing the greatest work for our Oceans!!!

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.





Also in Blog

Antarctic Krill Fisheries Voluntarily Halting Production to Protect Wildlife
Antarctic Krill Fisheries Voluntarily Halting Production to Protect Wildlife

by 4Ocean Team August 13, 2018

Large corporations are not generally considered very eco-friendly, but this is a great example of how big industries can come together to make a positive impact on the environment.

Continue Reading →

4Ocean Partners With SeaLegacy to Support Sustainable Fisheries
4Ocean Partners With SeaLegacy to Support Sustainable Fisheries

by 4Ocean Team August 08, 2018

4Ocean is partnering with SeaLegacy throughout the month of August to advocate for marine protected areas and support sustainable fisheries around the world.

Continue Reading →

The Pros and Cons of Aquaculture as a Solution for Overfishing
The Pros and Cons of Aquaculture as a Solution for Overfishing

by 4Ocean Team August 03, 2018

Aquafarming shows promise as a solution to meet the world's growing demand for fish protein. However, there are both benefits and drawbacks of aquafarming. Not all techniques are created equal. Discover the pros and cons of aquaculture and what you can do to ensure your seafood comes from a sustainable source.

Continue Reading →