When deciding on how to reduce our waste, I think one of the most useful and shocking things to look at is just how long that piece of waste is going to be on the planet. How long will that plastic bottle, that polystyrene tray, that coffee cup, be on earth for? The lifespan of our waste is honestly enough to put you off throwing anything away ever again!
I thought it would be useful to pull together a list of items and how long they’ll be sticking around for. It seems like every Google search pulls up a different answer for each item, so I have set out my findings as a ‘best case’ and ‘worst case’ scenario.
It’s quite a shocking list, but it’s important to remember that some of these items are recyclable. If you’re in the UK, check out https://www.recyclenow.com to find out if an item is recyclable in your area.
Ok, take a deep breath, here we go:
Polystyrene/Styrofoam: 1,000,000 years – Never
Glass: 1,000,000 years – Never
Tin Foil: Never
Batteries: 100 years – Never (due to chemicals)
Plastic Bag: 10 years – Never
Carton/Tetra: Pak 5 years – Never
Plastic Bottle: 450 years – 1,000 years
Plastic Disposable Cutlery: 450 years – 1,000 years
Sanitary Pad: 500 years – 800 years
Nappies: 250 years – 800 years
Hairspray Can: 200 years – 500 years
Plastic Straw: 200 years – 500 years
Tampon (without applicator): 6 months – 500 years
Aluminum Can: 80 years – 250 years
Tin Can: 50 years – 100 years
Foil Lined Crisp/Chip Packet: 75 years – 80 years
Nylon Fabric: 30 years – 40 years
Paper Coffee Cup: 20 years – 30 years
Cigarette Filter: 5 years – 12 years
Paper: 2 weeks – 5 months
Fruit Peel/Core: 3 weeks – 2 years
A ton of factors affect how long it takes for something to decompose, such as climate and where the product is (i.e. landfill or exposed to the air). For example, in landfill, plastic may never decompose. There is also the fact that materials such as plastic simply haven’t been around long enough for us to know how long it takes for them to disappear. That is a stark reminder that every piece of plastic ever made is still on earth, regardless of whether it has been recycled.
Anyway I’ve tried to keep it simple! I’m not a scientist. The science of this could be debated for as long as the lifespan of a polystyrene cup…
Regardless, I think one of the most terrifying things about this list is the fact the majority of items could ‘outlive’ us. Surely nothing that we use once and throw away should last longer than we do?
I hope this list will aid you in your daily choices. It’s helpful to remember how long something will be around when deciding whether you really need it.