How Long Does It Take For Trash to Biodegrade?

Life Span of Litter 

  • Aluminum Can  200-500 years
  • Batteries – 100 years 
  • Cardboard Box- 4 weeks 
  • Cigarette Butt up to 10 years 
  • Cotton Rag- 1-5 months 
  • Disposable Diapers- 500-600 years  years 
  • Glass Bottle  1Million years
  • Leather- up to 50 years
  • Lumber- 10-15 years 
  • Monofilament Fishing Line- 800 years 
  • Milk Cartons (plastic coated) 5 years 
  • Nylon Fabric- 30-40 years 
  • Orange Peel- 2-5 weeks
  • Paper-2-5 months 
  • Plastic Film Container- 20-30 years
  • Painted Wooden Stake- 13 years 
  • Plastic 6 pack cover  450 years
  • Plastic Bag- up to 500 years 
  • Plastic Coated Paper- 5 years
  • Plastic Soda Bottles- Forever 
  • Rope-3-14 months 
  • Rubber Boot sole 50-80 years 
  • Sanitary Pads= 500-800 years 
  • Styrofoam- More than 5,000 years 
  • Tin Cans-50-100 years 
  • Tin Foil- It does not biodegrade 
  • Wool Clothing- 1-5 years

Landfill Waste 2003

  • 970 thousand tons of paper cups and plates were discarded in 2003 (EPA).
  • 64 billion paper cups and plates being thrown away every year in USA. 
  • 730 thousand tons of styrofoam and plastic plates and cups (710 thousand tons were styrofoam)
  • 73 billion mostly styrofoam cups and plates being thrown away every year in USA. 
  • 3,810 thousand tons of plastic containers & bottles were thrown away in 2003. 
  • 90 billion plastic containers & bottles being landfilled or incinerated every year. 

The above numbers do not include trash bags, grocery bags and other plastic materials like trays, utensils, clam shells, caps and other plastic packaging. A total of 8000 thousand tons of these items were discarded in 2003. 


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  1. Shannon says:

    Just curious where you got your information from? Can you site your sources?

  2. Cathy says:

    The statistics came from wikipedia, America the Beautiful, most Trash Trivia games. These seem to be the standards that were set about 10 years ago.

  3. Isabella says:

    You need to get your “science” from someplace other than Wikipedia, because your figures are preposterous.

    Whose guess was it that plastic bottles never biodegrade? Everything biodegrades.

  4. Cathy says:

    Not everything biodegrades, cement does not biodegrade, plastic take hundred of years to biodegrade.

  5. DEH says:

    How long does nuclear waste to biodegrade? Both medical/industrial and utility power plants?

  6. antjuanito says:

    makes you think twice about what you use, eh?

  7. EthanX says:

    What are the tests done in order to know this? How do scientists know how long it takes for things to decompose?

  8. Jake says:

    The earth will cease to exist in the next 90 years a predicted by some of the worlds top scientists including professor John Brown and Lord Martin Rees as well as many others. Yet we cannot accept the fact that the next few generations ahead will face the consequences that we have caused and are too ignorant to change. We have to alter the way we see the worldbecayse if we don’t life on earth will die out.

  9. Brigette LaFlamme says:

    Plastic does NOT biodegrade, because it is not make of organic matter. It simple breaks into smaller and smaller pieces of plastic until, after who knows how long, it is finally broken down to it’s molecular level. The molecules eventually break down into atoms, and the plastic no longer is plastic. Look in any scientific book about plastic, and you will find this information.

  10. Isabella says:

    AMAZING!! Thanks sooo much, you cited it, it is pretty useful information, and your site looks great! It was very useful for my science fair project and helped a lot. So once again thanks so much for this site! <3

  11. kelsey says:

    wow! great information: this was very helpful for a school project i had to do on biodegradeble materials and worm bins…best site I found on the internet! thanks so much!

  12. matt says:

    Dose anyone know what a plastic water bottle is made of and why it takes a long time to decompose?????? Just curious.

  13. kiki says:

    how can people heip with this problem

  14. kiki says:


  15. micha says:

    this is a good site i think about stuff that biodegrades or not and if it biodegrades you can eat it because it’s awesome

  16. F says:

    That is so interesting

  17. L says:

    How come a tin can deteriorates but tin foil does not?

  18. Nicole says:


  19. This is a good site but these are rough estimates.

  20. Annyo says:

    Any time you put information up, you should be prepared to cite where the information came from so that 1) we know you did your research and 2) you allow each person using your resource to read the original materials.


    Do scientists truly know all their is to know about this world? You should always be looking for the innovators who specialize in their field and are pushing the limits of what is considered a standard.

    During my research on this topic, I have seen these numbers regurgitated like doctrine on several sites. While many people write from place of integrity and good intentions on Wikipedia, it is not the original source. The same with this page. It is well intended but the information is pulled from old second-third-fourth hand 10-year old data that has been posted on Wikipedia.

    Don’t look for the easy answer…

  21. jeep says:

    OMG… you people can’t even agree with one another!
    You site contradictory claims & site Wikipedia like it was gospel.
    Yet apparently you never bother to read Wikipedia!

    One of you says.. “Plastic does NOT biodegrade, because it is not make of organic matter. It simple breaks into smaller and smaller pieces of plastic until, after who knows how long, it is finally broken down to it’s molecular level.”

    Wikipedia says “A plastic material is any of a wide range of synthetic or semi-synthetic organic solids that are malleable. Plastics are typically organic polymers of high molecular mass” Note the word ORGANIC is used. If you search crude oil Wikipedia also says it is ORGANIC as well.

    Another of you claims… “The earth will cease to exist in the next 90 years a predicted by some of the worlds top scientists including professor John Brown and Lord Martin Rees as well as many others. ”

    My reply… “If we only have 90 years remaining.. what difference does it make if we try to stop our carbon footprint or plastic production or any of the calamities blamed on humanity by your types? Think about it… enjoy the remaining 90 years & then the earth will be purged of humanity & life will recover & after a million or so years.. dinasours will once again roam free & all will be well again… LMAO!


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