Before you toss that water bottle onto the floor, stop and consider for a moment just what the repercussions of your actions might be. Because while you might think you’re just making more work for the cleaners in the area, it’s actually a lot worse news than that. Here we will look at just what happens when you leave a plastic bottle to biodegrade, and how long some other things might stick around for if you don’t clear them up too.
How Long for a Plastic Bottle to Degrade?
While the title of this article might have grabbed your attention, in reality it’s a bit more complicated than that (sorry!). While some plastic bottles will take around 1,000 years to biodegrade you see, it actually depends on the ‘type’ of plastic being used. Yes, some will take 1,000 years, but other might degrade a lot more quickly and some will never degrade (those made from Polyethylene Terephthalate). If you throw one of those on the floor then it will stay there until some poor schmuck picks it up. Those ‘reusable’ bottles might save you some money in the short term, but it’s the environment that will pick up the tab.
The average amount of time it takes for a plastic water bottle to biodegrade meanwhile is a still-terrible 450 years. When you consider that over 90% of bottles don’t get recycled you can see why we have a problem on our hands. Not only do these bottles look like an eyesore sitting on the floor, but they can also contaminate the area with plastic fumes and cause small animals to get stuck and injured.
The production of those bottles too is bad news – as around 1.5 million barrels of oil go into their production every year resulting in a lot of wasted energy and carbon gases. So if you are intent on throwing your bottle on the floor or into the trash where it will end up on a landfill site, then you’ll be harming the ecosystem, contributing to global warming and wasting energy.
The good news here is that some bottles will clear themselves up much more quickly if they are made from biodegradable materials, while recyclable ones will be much cheaper to turn into new bottles that we can use. If you’re a little more discriminating in your choice of ventricle and where you put it when you’re done, then you don’t need to contribute to the damage.
So that’s water bottles, something you use fairly regularly but still only one item. On a daily basis we will get through many other wrappers, containers and materials, so what are their stats like?
Glass: So we’ve looked at plastic bottles… what about glass ones? Well the news is even worse – glass bottles can take 1-2 million years to completely decompose. And while glass bottles might be less likely to contaminate the surrounds, they are nevertheless much more likely to cause injury for the local wildlife whether it causes a cut that could get infected, or it’s swallowed where it can cause damage internally.
Cigarette Butt: Many of us will think nothing of throwing a cigarette butt onto the floor after smoking, but it’s not just ourselves we’re harming here. Not only will that butt take 10-12 years to decompose, but in the meantime it will contaminate the area and can even cause animals in public areas to develop nicotine addictions!
Chewing Gum: The precise amount of time it takes for chewing gum to dissolve again varies, but it’s worth noting that gum is not edible and contains certain ingredients very similar to rubber in their composition. Gum can seriously harm animals, and if you’ve ever wondered what those white marks on the pavement are… then here’s your answer.
Foamed Plastic Cups: Foamed plastic cups are disposable which makes them convenient, but you might want to consider how convenient they are for the environment before you use them. These cups can take up to 50 years to degrade, so make sure you opt for one of the many recyclable alternatives.
Electronics: Electronics are also known as e-waste, and should always be disposed of by specialists due to certain substances and materials that go into their production. So if you thought it was okay to throw a TV in the skip then think again.
Plastic Containers: Again it depends on the plastic being used and the particular container (size of course is a factor). On average though, if you consume a sandwich, or throw away a vacuum pack onto the floor, it’s going to take around 50-80 years to disappear.
Cardboard: There are certain things that we throw on the floor thinking it will biodegrade in no time – and seeing as it’s made from trees you’d think that cardboard would be one of those things.
Aluminum Can: Aluminum cans are one of the worst culprits taking around 200-500 years to degrade and causing a lot of potential damage in that time. Tin cans are only somewhat better, taking around 50 years to completely leave the scene of the crime.
Disposable Diapers: Parents – you’re not off the hook either. A disposable diaper takes around 550 years to decompose, so again it’s time to be a conscientious shopper.
Biodegradable foods are the only thing you can safely throw on the floor. If the food is 100% natural – such as a fruit or vegetable – then there’s no reason to worry about throwing it in a bush. It’s interesting to know that a banana peel will still take 3-4 weeks to degrade while orange peels can take 6 months (longer than many mad made things including cotton gloves!); but the point is that in that time the food won’t cause any damage – instead helping to fertilize the soil and even providing food for the local insects and wildlife.
So don’t just worry about your carbon footprint – worry about your plastic footprint too. Your legacy of garbage won’t just outlast you, but could even outlast humanity if you aren’t careful what you throw away.