How Long Does it Take to Decompose?

And Is It Landfill Bound or Can It Be Recycled?

Have you ever wondered how long the items you throw away will take to decompose? Not everything can biodegrade in a landfill, and much of what ends up in landfills is actually recyclable or reusable. Keep reading to learn how long it takes for common items to decompose:

Food Waste

Roughly 30-40% of the food we bring home is thrown away and ends up in the landfill. Much of it could decompose in landfills, but because there is often a lack of oxygen the microbes that break down organic matter can’t do their jobs. But how long does it take for food to decompose? Most vegetables can range from 5 days to 1 month, an apple core or a banana peel will take +1 month. While an orange peel will take +6 months. Pistachio shells are another one that takes a long time, while composting it could take 3+ years. But out in nature, it would take significantly longer for all of these items to decompose.

One that might surprise you, lettuce takes 25 years to decompose! So it’s important to not throw food on the side of the road or in nature, as it takes food a whole lot longer than you might think to biodegrade!

Organic Matter

What about yard waste? Wood from trees, like stumps, branches, and limbs will take a very long time to decompose, upwards of 50-100 years if left whole. This is why for composting it’s best to chip the wood. The smaller pieces take less time to break down. For tree leaves it can take 6 month to 1 year to fully decompose, while grass clippings only take a couple of weeks.

Food and organic matter make for excellent compost! They make a nutrient rich additive for soil and can drastically reduce the amount of trash you send to the landfill. And if you don’t think you can do at home composting, you can always bring your yard waste to Twin Enviro for composting! We take branches, limbs, leaves, and grass clippings that we then turn into compost that our customers can use (subject to availability). Learn more on our blog all about Yard Waste!

Metals

A lot of household items end up in landfills and many of them could be recycled instead of rotting with other trash. For instance, one of the most recyclable materials is metal. From steel cans to aluminum, all of it can be recycled instead of ending up in a landfill. Metals are ideal for recycling because they can be melted down and turned into a pure raw material again very easily. But let’s say it does end up in a landfill, how long will it take to decompose? 50 to 500 years! So remember to recycle your metals.

Paper

Paper is another common household item that is highly recyclable. It only takes 2 to 6 weeks to decompose, but it can also be recycled and turned into a new product. Paper can be recycled up to 6 times before the fibers become too weak to be reused.

Electronics

“What to do with electronics?” is a common question we get. The reason that electronics can’t be put in a landfill is because they are made of many different and possibly harmful materials. From lithium to lead to mercury and many others, these toxic metals can leach into the water system and soil. If not properly disposed of they can cause health risks to humans. They would take thousands of years to decompose and in the meantime they would harm the environment. Luckily almost all of the components in electronics are recyclable! So please, always recycle your electronics, you can bring them to The Phantom Landfill facility at 2500 C.R. 67, Penrose, CO.

Clothes

Clothes take a wide range of time to decompose based on the material they are made from. Natural materials predictably take less time to decompose. With cotton shirts taking 6 months, wool taking 1 year, and silk taking 4 years to decompose. Natural but significantly altered materials, like leather and rubber can take a lot longer, leather shoes for instance take 25-40 years to decompose, while rubber shoe soles 50 to 80 years. Synthetic fibers take a lot longer since they are predominantly made from plastics. Nylon fabric takes 30 to 40 years, whereas lycra and polyester will take 500+ years to decompose.

What will Never Decompose?

Some items will never decompose in a landfill, (like the electronics mentioned earlier), they simply will outlast the maintenance of our landfills. Glass can take up to 1 to 2 million years to decompose, which is why it’s important to recycle glass. It can be melted down and reused indefinitely (just like metals), which is why it’s so critical that glass ends up in recycling and NOT in landfills. Plastics and styrofoam will take +500 years to degrade and while some plastics are recyclable, styrofoam isn’t. Plastics can re recycled and reused 7-9 times before they lose structural integrity and can’t be reused.

To learn more about what is and isn’t recyclable visit our Dos and Don’ts of Recycling with Twin Enviro.