How long does it take for everyday items to decompose?

by Sustainable Choice 23/12/2021


Years of rubbish awaits us

It’s a good question to ponder as we hover of the rubbish bin with our food scraps – how long will this take to decompose in landfill? Longer than in a compost bin? Surely it can’t be that different.

It’s even more important to ask the question when doing a throw-out of old shoes, clothes, batteries, household items – how long will these remain in landfill? 

Food scraps take longer to decompose in landfill

Food waste dumped in landfills

Do you know why food waste in landfill takes longer to decompose than in a compost bin? Surely it decomposes just the same way, given the somewhat similar conditions? Unfortunately not.

Time for science to explain all.

Composting of food waste relies on aerobic decomposition. This means the micro-organisms that eat your food waste need oxygen to survive. What might be surprising to hear is this: there’s not much oxygen in landfill.

Food-munching micro-organisms function best under favourable conditions of sufficient oxygen, light, and water. Landfill lacks the amount of these fundamentals required for healthy bio-degradation.

What’s more, other types of micro-organisms that can decompose food scraps in the poor conditions of landfill generate their own nasty waste. Methane.

So food waste in landfill takes longer to decompose due to the conditions, and produces the greenhouse gas methane.

What about other materials? Prepare to be shocked.

How quickly an item decomposes is based on the complexity of the material itself, and the environmental conditions needed for decay.

Let’s start with the most commonly-asked question of all – how long does it take for plastic to decompose?

According to some sources, this depends on the type of plastic product in question. For example, single-use plastic bags could take more than 20 years to decompose on average, whereas plastic straws could take over 200 years. Plastic water bottles could take 450 years respectively to disintegrate and decompose. (1)

In comparison, paper bags only take on average between 6 and 8 weeks to break down in landfill. (2)

How long do clothes take to decompose?

Prepare to be amazed as you read through the handful of landfill decomposition rates we’ve found for some of the everyday clothing products we buy, use, and dispose of regularly.

How long do bottles, cans, and other food packaging take to decompose?

According to our research, here are the figures:

How long do other common household items take to decompose?

Here are some information on other household staples and everyday products that we commonly use:

Waste generation: it’s in our hands

If so many everyday products cause so much environmental pain, what can we do? Awareness and education is the first step. Next we need to take preventative steps to keep our volume of waste as low as possible. Play your part and remember the three R’s – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.

Over to you

If you want others to reduce their waste generation, please share. A little awareness can go a long way.

by Sustainable Choice