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 time 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 is 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 paperboard

The paper is made from cellulose, a polymer made up of thousands of glucose molecules that belongs to the world of carbohydrates. It is found within the main components of a plant and depending on the different processes it goes through during its manufacture, it will give it the final appearance.

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

Each time we discard a sheet of paper it will take between 5 to 12 months to disintegrate in the environment. It does not seem like much, but it does need to be in the necessary conditions for its correct biodegradation. In other words, it must receive light, water and oxygen for this process to happen naturally.

Aluminum is a material present in everyday life, both in construction and in small objects.

You may be interested: How to make homemade and biodegradable bath salts

Aluminum objects

Aluminum is in the group of light metals and is widely used to replace steel in certain structures that require a lighter load. It is also used in construction, in the automotive and aeronautical industry, and in the manufacture of packaging.

In that sense, aluminum cans can be recycled with a very high recovery rate that can reach up to 95%. Almost all the packaging is salvaged for recycling and reuse. If the can goes to the trash and is not recycled, it will take about 10 years to degrade.

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

Plastic objects

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

Plastic objects are within 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 sea, beaches and soils around the world.

80% of the pollution of seas and oceans comes from the land.

Continue reading: Microplastics: How do they affect health?


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

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

When the disintegration process begins, its layers release metals such as mercury, which has a worrying polluting power. Only one battery pollutes 3,000 liters of water, while a mercury battery pollutes 600,000 liters.


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

Bottles, jars, windows, windshields, lamps … all these glass elements are part of life and even go unnoticed. There are two figures related to glass objects that, in addition to being blunt, are shocking. It takes 4000 years to degrade and is 100% recyclable.

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

Continue reading: How to recycle glass bottles to decorate your garden

Degradation time of other objects

Microplastics are a growing problem that accumulates in the environment and has an increasing presence.

To find out how long the most common objects take to decompose, scientists rely on different tests. In these instances they measure the rate of carbon dioxide production or the oxygen consumption of organisms.

For example, they put organic waste in a container with soil and microorganisms, such as an apple peel and a plastic bag, and circulate air. Over the 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, there is no carbon dioxide consumption by the organisms because they do not see it as food. This means that this material does not biodegrade, but 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 turn into microscopic particles. In addition to the objects that we have already mentioned, we want to share with you the degradation time of other elements that we use daily.

Vegetables 5 days – 1 month
Cotton garments 2 – 5 months
Woolen garments 15 years
Leather shoes 25 – 40 years
Nylon fabrics 30 – 40 years
Cigarette butts 1 – 12 years
Diapers 500 – 800 years
Lighters or lighters More than 100 years
Cell phone batteries 450 – 1000 years
Credit cards 1000 years

What it takes for the most common objects to decompose is a red flag

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

Regardless of the years, centuries and millennia it may take for materials 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 R's: 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.

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