General Article The decomposition of waste in landfills

Topic Selected: Waste and Recycling Book Volume: 385

A story of time and material.

By Rick Leblanc

From a sustainability perspective, it’s important to know how long it takes various types of garbage to decompose. We should focus our efforts especially on reducing the consumption of products that generate waste materials that take a long time to completely break down.

Let’s review how long it takes for various waste categories to decompose in landfills, along with some relevant statistics.

The rate of decomposition can depend on landfill conditions.

Plastic waste

Plastic products are very common in our modern life. According to the Pacific Institute, we used approximately 17 million barrels of oil just for producing plastic water bottles in 2006. Plastic waste is one of many types of wastes that take too long to decompose. Normally, plastic items can take up to 1,000 years to decompose in landfills. Even plastic bags we use in our everyday life take anywhere from 10 to 1,000 years to decompose, and plastic bottles can take 450 years ...

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