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How Long Does It Take for Waste to Decompose?

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How Long Does It Take for Waste to Decompose?

Do you ever say a certain word so many times it begins to sound like gibberish? It’s almost like the more times you say it, the less definition the word has and you can’t even remember what it really means anymore. This is reminiscent of phrases we say or actions we do that become so automated and habitual, stopping to think about the origin or meaning of them doesn’t exactly happen.

For example, what does it mean to “throw something away?” The item doesn’t just vanish into thin air or fall off the face of the earth, and you don’t really throw it and it doesn’t exactly go away. The item has a destination but it’s so far out of reach for those fortunate enough to avoid waste, that thinking about where it’s headed isn’t on the top of the to-do list. This is where the disconnect between individuals and their waste enters the chat. 

Out of sight, out of mind is a more than sufficient way to describe the nature in which most consumers treat their waste.

If we’re not educated on a concept, how could we care to change the way it operates?

In India, ~62 million tons of solid waste is produced in our country every year, of which less than 20% or 12 million tons are treated. The remaining ~49 million tons of waste remain “untreated” and contaminate land or disperses into waterways. This untreated waste does not dissolve in water or break down shortly—it decomposes.

Think about all of the convenient items we use everyday from paper towels to plastic sandwich bags. Every single one of those paper towels takes 2 weeks to a month to decompose, while plastic can take upwards of 20 years.

Ever enjoy a refreshing can of soda? That can will leave the earth in about 80-200 years.

This amazing illustration by Daily Dump, the composting experts, provided detailed insights into the hidden connections of our waste and how everything is connected.

These statistics might be shocking to hear, as we consistently hear about the health risks of calorie dense drinks and foods like soda, chips, or cookies but are never informed about the issues with packaging. Shouldn’t we be informed about how the warming climate is affecting our health from the impact of the packaging in the atmosphere too?

Unfortunately, we are continuing to fill our climate with harmful materials derived from profit-driven companies. We can do our part by simply limiting waste as much as possible and dividing up trash so the items that can be recycled can be broken down and reused eventually. Zero-waste methods like homemade personal care products, cloth diapers, reusable bags, and more are an excellent solution to limit waste, as well. 

We can help mitigate the climate crisis, if we prioritize our consumer values. By becoming familiar with what happens to our waste after we “throw it away,” we can better understand where reform needs to be implemented. Remember to always know what is in your products and what it comes in!



Written by: Molly Brown