Think That’s Going to Decompose? Think Again!

More than half of all waste produced in the United States every year ends up in our landfills. With a current annual rate of 220 million tons of waste generated, we add more than 110 million tons to landfills each year–many of which are already at capacity.

These numbers are incredible. These numbers are staggering, but most people don’t think about how much time all that waste will remain in landfills before it naturally decays.

When you look at the time it takes for common items in our landfills to decompose, and how fast recycling can take place, it is easy to see why recycling is so important.

These 7 items and the decomposing times of them will be a surprise to you.

Glass bottles

Glass bottles
Glass can take up to one million years to naturally decay. By contrast, it takes only 8 hours to recycle 160 tons!

Aluminum cans

Aluminum cans
Left in a landfill, it can take aluminum cans anywhere from 80 to 200 years to oxidize and break down on their own. Recycled aluminum cans are often returned to the shelves in 6 weeks.

Styrofoam coffee cup

Foamed plastic
Foamed plastics can sit in a landfill for 50 years before decomposing. These types of plastics can be recycled, fortunately. There are mail-back programs available for these types of plastics, such as the Alliance of Foam Packaging Recyclers.

Stack of paper

Paper products
Paper products are the best for the environment because they take the longest time to decay. It takes paper anywhere from 4 to 6 months to completely decompose on its own. Recycling paper takes only one hour, so it is an easy way to dispose of it.

Closeup of batteries

Batteries are one of the most dangerous items to leave in a landfill. The thin metal exterior of a battery will decompose within 100 years, exposing the heavy metals inside, which will never decompose and are toxic to the environment. Both single-use and multi-use batteries can be easily recycled. You can drop off your batteries at some stores.

Energy efficient lightbulb

Energy-efficient bulbs
Energy-efficient bulbs will never decompose; rather, they will sit in a landfill indefinitely. These bulbs can be recycled quickly. Many hardware and home improvement stores offer recycling services in-store.


Appliances will not decompose, unlike larger items. Appliances will not decompose, and they will be able to remain in landfills for a long time, taking up valuable space. Many appliances can be recycled. Some recycling companies will even pick up appliances from your house or curb.

Recycling bin in field

Taking the responsible next step
When comparing not only the length of time it takes for these various items to decompose, but also the effects they have on the environment, it is easy to see the importance recycling plays in protecting our environment.

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