How long does it take your garbage to decompose?

Easter-eggHave you ever considered how long things take to deconstruct?

Every Easter in my life has included the après holiday hunt for the lone lost egg. After dying and decorating, hiding and hunting, one egg always gets left behind.  It takes a week before its rotten stink leads reveals its hiding place – stuck behind a cushion, tucked in a shoe, growing mold in a flowerpot.

It’s a family joke; a holiday tradition.  In a deodorized and sanitized first-world society, we’re mostly removed from the reality of natural decay.  The following stats come from the U.S. National Park Service on how long it takes your trash to decompose. 

  • Paper towel – 2 weeks
  • Paper bag – 1 month
  • Newspaper – 1.5 months
  • Apple core – 2 months
  • Orange peels – 6 months
  • Untreated plywood – 3 years
  • Waxed milk cartons – 5 years
  • Leather shoes – 35  years
  • Tin can – 50 years
  • Styrofoam cups – 50 years
  • Plastic containers – 80 years
  • Plastic bottles – 450 years
  • Disposable diapers – 550 years
  • Plastic bags – 1000 years

That list is notional, since materials decompose differently depending on temperature, oxygen levels, presence of water, and chemical recipe of surrounding matter.  And material degrades differently in the ocean.

It’s springtime, a time of renewal. But maybe spend a little time pondering the death of things. It may influence your product choices, and ensure that out longest lasting legacy isn’t the trash we generate.

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