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How long does the decomposition of what we throw into the environment last?

Posted by Maria Cristina Chiulli on

Up to two million years (and sometimes even more)!

The fastest decomposition? Fruits and vegetables

As is easily imaginable, agricultural waste require very short times. Fruit and carrot waste, for example, can decompose in two weeks. And for the rest of the plants, in general, it never takes more than a month. With some exceptions. The banana and orange peels, for example, can even reach 5/6 weeks.

The remains of food, however, should never be thrown away lightly. For two reasons. First of all because they can always be reused. Like compost, for example. Or even to grow our kitchen garden.

The second reason is that they often attract mice! 

Paper and Cardboard

Among the materials produced by man, "leader" in eco-sustainability is certainly paper. Its degradation process can reach 2/3 weeks. Even here, however, it depends. The simple napkin takes two weeks. The newspaper instead reaches 6.

Food cartons - fruit juices and milk, for example - can even reach 3 months. More correctly, in the case of milk, we should talk about Tetrapak. Much depends on the type of processing carried out and on the thickness of the package.

Cotton and other fabrics

The average decomposition time of the cotton is about two months. Here too, however, everything is relative. A t-shirt, in hot weather, degrades in a week. A glove of this material in a few weeks. A rope, because of its very different consistency, will remain in nature for 14 months.

Cotton, if not particularly treated, can also be composted!

Wool instead lasts longer. Sweaters, gloves and jackets can take up to 2 years to decompose. Here too it depends: a sock of this material can remain "alive" up to 5 years.

Synthetic and treated fabrics obviously have a longer decomposition period. Nylon fabric even lasts 30-40 years. The leather 50. Rubber boots up to 80 years.

Plywood, tin and aluminum

Plywood has a variable decomposition period between 1 and 3 years. Painted wood lasts much longer: even 13 years. Tin boxes, 50 years old. Aluminum instead can even reach 200.


Apart from glass, plastic is the material with a longer biodegradation period.

A common plastic bottle of water can last 450 years in the environment. A foamed plastic cup  lasts 50 years. A plastic shopping bag reaches up to 20 years.

Glass: record decomposition

A glass bottle may, depending on the estimates, decompose in one or two million years. And it can also cause serious damage to the animals that ingest the pieces.


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