Items stay in landfill for hundreds of years

Nicole Hennessy

Time capsules of trash will outlive average human

If you throw this newspaper away when you’re finished reading it, it will eventually decompose in a landfill. By eventually, I mean in 20 years the words printed on this page will still be legible.

This is confirmed by William Rathje’s various landfill excavations, which revealed that garbage is being preserved rather than rotting.

In order to avoid contamination, landfills are designed to be impervious to air and water, the elements that help items break down.

Many sources speculate on the rate at which items decompose within them, but these estimations are often disputed.

The following is a list of items and their rates of degradation in a landfill, according to the Environmental Protection Agency:

• Banana peel: 2 months

• Cardboard milk carton: 5 years

• Plastic sandwich bags: 400 years

• Foam cups, car tires and glass bottles: maybe never

Another list on presents a more diverse range of items, which includes:

• Cigarette butt: 2-5 years

• Tin can: 80-100 years

• Plastic bottle: 450 years

• Plastic grocery bag: 500-1,000 years

• Aluminum can: 200-500 years

The estimation of the decomposition rate of an item is based on the chemicals and components it is made up of. Also, the temperature and location of the landfill plays a factor.

Recycling is one solution to avoid creating more giant time capsules of trash, but you can also take these rates into consideration prior to purchasing products such as bottled water and canned beverages that come in one container.

Contact features reporter Nicole Hennessy at [email protected].