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Day 348 of our Green Year: Understanding Waste Decomposition

Posted Apr 05 2009 11:38pm
Many times throughout Our Green Year, we have used one of our blogs to help spread information that we can all use to make better green decisions. Recently on Green Living Tips we came across a list of waste decomposition rates, and we thought this was a great thing to center a blog around. The reason is that when people understand how long it truly takes things to break down in nature, they will make better green decisions. Too often people throw something away and assume that it will just eventually disappear.

Most people will be surprised by just how long things take to decompose. Both Layla and I were.

Here are decomposition rates of various items we all throw away, again courtesy of Green Living Tips, along with some of the events that occured that same number of years ago to put it in perspective.
  • Glass Bottle: 1,000,000 years. Roughly one million years ago humans were just learning to walk upright.
  • Mono-filament fishing line: 600 years. Six centuries ago it was 1409. That was over 80 years before Columbus landed in the New World.
  • Plastic beverage bottles: 450 years. Four and a half centuries ago it was 1559. Back in that year, Queen Elizabeth I was crowned Queen of England.
  • Disposable Diapers: 450 years. See above.
  • Aluminum Can: 200 years. Back in 1809, Charles Darwin was born in England.
  • Boot sole: 80 years: Back in 1929 the Stock Market crashed, paving the way for the Great Depression.
  • Tin Can, Leather and a Styrofoam Cup: 50 years. Back in 1959, Fidel Castro took control of Cuba.
  • Nylon Fabric: 40 years. In 1969, man landed on the moon for the first time.
  • Plastic film canister: 30 years. In 1979, the Edmonton Oilers joined the NHL and Wayne Gretzky played his first NHL game.
  • Wool sock and Cigarette filter: Five years. In 2004 I first met Layla and George W. Bush was re-elected as President of the United States.
  • Plywood: Three years. In 2006, Layla and I were married and the Edmonton Oilers came within one game of the Stanley Cup (Yes, I am an Oilers fan :) )
  • Wax milk carton: Three months. In January, Barack Obama was sworn in as President of the United States.
  • Apple core: Two months. In February, a Russian and American pair of satellites collided over the Earth.
  • Newspaper: Six Weeks. In March, NASA's Keplar mission is launched to search for extrasolar planets.
  • Paper towel: Four weeks. In March, see above.
So, by looking at these decomposition rates we can learn to recycle and reuse so that these items don't end up in the landfills where they can sit for decades, centuries or even 1,000,000 years.
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