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How Long Until This Waste is Gone?

What exactly does it mean to throw something away? First of all, “away” isn't all that far away.  Every day, waste is dumped into landfills when really it should be recycled. So, just how long does it take for this waste to decompose?

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shutterstock_150550232 aluminum foilSergiy Kuzmin/Shutterstock

Aluminum Foil

First off, it is important to note that the speed of all waste biodegradation depends on conditions including: oxygen, sun exposure, temperature, water, ph, etc.

Aluminum foil is 100 percent recyclable. Unfortunately, most of the aluminum foil waste used in the United States ends up in landfills. According to reports by Metro Recycling, “we throw away enough foil each year to build a fleet of aircraft and recycling a single aluminum can saves enough energy to power a television for three hours”. When aluminum foil is sent to the landfill, it will sit for literally thousands of years. So, next time you unwrap a leftover casserole, think twice before throwing it into the garbage. Check out 11 things you didn’t know about recycling.

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Styrofoam CupsPam Walker/Shutterstock


Styrofoam is not biodegradable and remains in a landfill for hundreds—if not thousands—of years. According to, “Because of Styrofoam’s atomic stability, the plastic repels water and resists acids, bases, salts and other corrosive substances.” Styrofoam is non-toxic and has a long shelf life, making it convenient and cost-effective for businesses. The downside to Styrofoam’s chemical stability is once it’s in the environment, it can remain for generations.

Additionally, styrofoam does eventually fragment into small pieces, making it a choking hazard for animals that ingest it. Keep your pets safe with these 17 tips.

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plastic bagsPavel Kubarkov/Shutterstock

Plastic Waste

Plastic products are very common in our modern life. According to The Pacific Institute, “every year we use approximately 1.6 million barrels of oil just for producing plastic water bottles.” Plastic waste is one of many types of wastes that take too long to decompose. Normally, plastic items can take up to 1,000 years to decompose in landfills. But plastic bags we use in our everyday life take 10-1,000 years to decompose, while plastic bottles can take 450 years or more. Instead of throwing those plastic bags away, here are 15 brilliant ways to reuse plastic grocery bags.

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Speaker Stands Cut Plywood


Plywood is a common building material produced by gluing together several layers of thin wood plies or veneers. This wood becomes susceptible to decomposing or rot when it is left exposed to the elements, or trapped in a moist area such as a basement. The glue used to hold the plywood’s veneers together will begin to break down when it is exposed to moisture over a long period of time. Plywood takes one to three years to decompose, depending on weather conditions. Check out these projects for what to do with your left over plywood.

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Disposable Diapers

Around 15 billion disposable diapers are used annually in the U.S., which translates into 2.4 million tons of waste. These disposable diapers take approximately 250-500 years to decompose in landfills, thus underscoring the efforts of programs offering diaper and absorbent hygiene product recycling. Same goes for feminine hygiene products. Speaking of diapers, here are 12 things you should never flush down the toilet.

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batteries batteryARIELMARTIN/Shutterstock


Batteries are a combination of the outer plastic, metal components and the inner chemical elements. The first parts may take years to decompose, but chemical elements may take millions of years. We encourage battery recycling whenever possible. Contact your local solid waste center for recycling household batteries. Here are 10 things you should know about recycling electronics.

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paper waste garbage recycle shreddedPureRadiancePhoto/Shutterstock

Paper Waste

Paper waste includes old news papers and magazines, cardboard, printer paper, basically anything that is made from paper products. Based on sheer volume, paper is the largest element in American landfills. Normally, it takes two to six weeks for landfills to get completely decomposed. But if paper items were recycled, we could smartly save a lot of landfill space, and save a lot of trees by making new paper from the recycled stuff. Plus, check out our guide for how to safely get rid of anything.

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shutterstock_739269280 open shelving glassesOlya Detry/Shutterstock


Normally glass is very easy to recycle, mainly for the fact that it is made of sand. By simply recycling it we can produce new glass. But the unsettling fact is that if glass is thrown away in landfills rather than recycled, it takes million years to decompose. And according to Education Seattle Pi, it doesn’t decompose at all. Check out this fun project we did with glass yogurt containers.

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soda pop buy in bulkMarkus Mainka/Shutterstock

Aluminum Cans

Every minute, every day, more than 120,000 aluminum cans are recycled in America. Yet, at the same time, in every three-month period in America, enough aluminum cans are thrown out that could rebuild the entire American commercial air fleet. Aluminum cans take 80-200 years in landfills to be completely decomposed, so be sure to recycle them rather than throw them in the trash bin. Check out these 15 items you didn’t know you could recycle.

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compost garbage recyclingKaliAntye/Shutterstock

Food Waste

By weight, food waste is the largest waste item in American landfills. The time taken for food waste to decompose depends on the type of food. Normally, an orange peel takes six months but an apple core or a banana peel takes only around one month to decompose. Rather than throwing out your food waste, try composting it. Check out our composting tips for how to get started.