How long do our most common objects in nature take to decompose?

Only when we know how long our most common objects in nature take to decompose will we become aware of the damage caused by the garbage we generate. If we knew the degradation times of certain products, perhaps we would avoid using them or at least reduce their consumption.

The importance of recycling goes beyond reusing objects in other ways after applying certain processes to them. It’s about contributing to the health of the planet and freeing forests, jungles, beaches and savannas from the harmful effect that waste has when it ends up there.

Paper and cardboard

The card is made by cellulose, a polymer formed by thousands of glucose molecules which belongs to the world of carbohydrates. It is found within the main components of a plant and, depending on the different processes it undergoes during its manufacture, will give it its final appearance.

In addition to having a long history, paper is present everywhere: home, work, school, offices. Whether filling out a form, buying a book or writing a note by hand, paper seems to be essential.

Every time we discard a sheet of paper, it will take 5 to 12 months to disintegrate in the environment. It seems little, but it must be in the necessary conditions for its correct biodegradation. This means that it must receive light, water and oxygen for this process to occur naturally.

Aluminum cans thrown away.
Aluminum is a material present in everyday life, both in buildings and in small objects.

aluminum objects

Aluminum is in the light metal group and is used extensively to replace steel in some structures that require a lighter load. Likewise, it is used in construction, the automotive and aviation industries, and in the manufacture of packaging and containers.

In this sense, aluminum cans can be recycled with a very high recovery rate of up to 95%. Almost all packaging is recovered to be recycled and reused. If the can ends up in the trash and isn’t recycled, it will take about 10 years to degrade.

However, a very common type of container that surely many of us use is the tetrabrik, which is made of cellulose, polyethylene and aluminum. In this case, it will take 30 years for it to completely disintegrate.

plastic objects

Plastic is a synthetic material made from petroleum derivatives. There are so many benefits of using it in the manufacture of all kinds of objects that its use has become excessive and a threat to all ecosystems.

Plastic items are among the group that take the longest to decompose. We are talking about centuries. Its degradation can take up to 500 years. However, they do not end up disintegrating, but are transformed into microplastics that are left in the seas, beaches and soils around the world.


Batteries are made up of various substances, among which we can mention some that are very harmful to health and the environment: magnesium dioxide, mercury, nickel and cadmium. In small quantities they may not cause damage, but if we are talking about thousands of tons the picture changes radically.

There are several types of batteries: zinc-carbon, alkaline, lithium. Although each has different uses, all contaminate the soil and water to a greater or lesser extent.

When the process of disintegration begins, its layers release metals such as mercury, which has a worrying polluting power. A single battery contaminates 3,000 liters of water, while a mercury battery does it in 600,000 litres.


Glass is an amorphous ceramic material made up of silica sand and dry metal oxides which are pulverized and introduced into a reactor which can reach more than 1000°C. A liquid of thick consistency is formed which allows it to take shape as it reaches a solid texture.

Bottles, jars, windows, windshields, lamps… all these glass elements are part of life and also go unnoticed. There are two figures related to the glass objects which, in addition to being strong, are shocking. It takes 4,000 years to decompose and is 100% recyclable..

This means that with very little we do, like recycling packaging, we can give the planet thousands of years of health.

Time of degradation of other objects

Microplastics in the hands.
Microplastics are a growing problem that accumulates in the environment and is increasingly present.

To find out how long it takes for the most common objects to decompose, scientists rely on various tests. In those cases they measure the rate of carbon dioxide production or oxygen consumption of the organisms.

For example, they place organic waste in a container with soil and microorganisms, such as an apple peel and a plastic bag, and circulate the air. Over the course of days these microorganisms digest the materials and produce carbon dioxide, the amount of which serves as an indicator of degradation.

In the case of the plastic bag, the organisms’ consumption of carbon dioxide is not recorded because they do not see it as food. This means that this material is not biodegradable, but it is photodegradable and responds to ultraviolet radiation from the sun..

Based on this type of disintegration, scientists estimate that it can take centuries for a plastic bag to break down into microscopic particles. In addition to the items we have already mentioned, we want to share with you the decay time of other items that we use on a daily basis.

Vegetables 5 days – 1 month
cotton clothing 2 – 5 months
wool clothing 15 years
Leather shoes 25 – 40 years old
nylon fabrics 30 – 40 years old
cigarette butts 1 – 12 years
diapers 500 – 800 years
Lighters or lighters more than 100 years
cellphone batteries 450 – 1000 years
Credit cards 1000 years

The time it takes for the most common objects to decompose is a warning sign

Environmental degradation begins when waste is buried. Let’s remember that everything we throw away will begin its decomposition process and release toxins that are harmful to the environment and to us.

Regardless of the years, centuries and millennia that materials may take to disintegrate, the important thing is that we become aware that the health of the earth is in our hands. We invite you to put into practice the concept of the three Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle.

With very little effort we can help conserve the planet now that we know how long it takes for the most common objects in nature to decompose.

The post How long does it take for our most common objects in nature to decompose? first appeared on research-school



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