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What Takes the Longest to Break Down in Landfills?


We have an ever-growing trash issue that is swarming the world. Around 146.1 million tons of waste are put into landfills each year, and this number is only increasing! With this in mind, consumers and businesses should consider the materials they are purchasing and using.


To help put things into perspective, SEAGreen Solid Waste and Recycling Division compiled a list of the top five (5) items that take the longest to decompose in landfills:


Aluminum Cans

From manufacturing, aluminum cans have a lifespan of 6 weeks before being disposed of. We use a whopping 80,000,000,000 aluminum cans every year! Aluminum cans rust and flake into the atmosphere to decompose, but this process takes an extremely long time.


It takes a minimum of 80 years for an aluminum can to decompose and can sometimes take up to 200 years!


Plastic Bags

To say that plastic bags 'break down' is a little bit of a myth! While they do decompose, they don't break down completely. The decomposition process for plastic bags leaves microplastics that can absorb toxins and wreak havoc on wildlife and the atmosphere.


Plastic bags break down through ultraviolet radiation, which breaks down the polymer chains which make the plastic. Unfortunately, this process is no walk in the park; it can take 200-500 years for plastic bags to decompose in a landfill.


Plastic Bottles

As with plastic bags, plastic bottles also break down from radiation and leave harmful microplastics in the environment. We still use around 481.6 billion plastic bottles every year, yet they take 450 years to decompose. Maybe it’s time to switch to reusable flasks!


Disposable Diapers

Just counting UK figures alone, for instance, 8 million disposable diapers are thrown away into landfills each day! Their decomposition process isn't pretty either; as they degrade, they emit a greenhouse gas called methane, which contributes to harmful climate change effects.


Disposable diapers spend up to 500 years breaking down, making them a top culprit for waste issues worldwide.


Glass Bottles



To say that glass bottles break down is technically accurate, but they break down on a ridiculously slow level. It happens from them absorbing moisture, which engages a process called devitrification. This causes the outer layer of the bottle to flake off through crystallization.


Brace yourself for this figure: Glass bottles take one million years to break down! This makes them by far the worst material to throw away in a landfill.


Think Twice Before You Buy & Use


In our current climate, everyone should be more aware of the effects of the materials they consume and dispose of. As you can see, everyday household items are nightmares for landfills due to the amount of time they take to decompose.


If you regularly use any of these items, try and find sustainable alternatives to your items, such as durable bags that will last you a lifetime instead of plastic ones. If that's not possible, wash them out properly and recycle them. This way, they don’t get stuck decomposing for an eternity in a landfill and can be put to good use.


For more information, visit our News section to stay up-to-date on the latest from SEAGreen Solid Waste and Recycling Division. Click here to find the nearest Reycling Locations in Southeast Arkansas!

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