How Long Does Litter Take To Disintegrate?


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Since yesterday was Earth Day and I figure a lot of trash got picked up around the world (at least I hope!), and I don’t have a lot of time to write (Mom has been in town visiting, flying home today), here are some facts about the litter that we see laying on the side of the road and riverbanks most of us don’t think too much about. From American Rivers:

Percentages and Types of Litter Found Outdoors:

  • Fast food waste (33%)
  • Paper (29%)
  • Aluminum (28%)
  • Glass (6%)
  • Plastic (2%)
  • Other (2%)

How Long Litter Lasts In The Wild:

  • Orange peel (2-5 weeks)
  • Paper bag (1 month)
  • Cigarette butt (up to 5 years)
  • Leather shoe (45 years)
  • Plastic bottle (430 years)
  • Aluminum can (200-500 years)
  • Disposable diaper (550 years)
  • Glass bottle (Approx. 1 million years)
  • Styrofoam container (1 million years)

Food for thought, no?

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  1. Number 1 trash – fast food waste. Surprising yet totally makes sense. Would be interesting to have a contest amongst fast food restaurants. Do McD eaters litter more or Carl’s Jr eaters? An interesting cultural study.

  2. jimbojamesIV – Glass doesn’t “break down” in the general use of the term, but rather breaks apart. Not sure glass could still be around from that long ago, as all it is is sand. I suppose anything is possible, but that sounds kind of far-fetched!

  3. Thanks for the info. I was searching how long, it takes for glass to disintegrate (i.e. if it disintegrates at all)

    Your website is the first to give an answer (i.e. 1 million years). A previous google entry said it is unknown how long it takes for glass to break down and it might be ‘forever.’

    At least I am getting closer to an answer, but I haven’t answered the basic question: does glass break down? I would think it must as everything does, but it seems like the jury is out.

    P.S. the reason I am looking for an answer is because of the Kebira crater that is said to have produced the wonderful green glass in the deserts of Africa. The reason I am searching is that they claim the impact occurred 100 million years ago, which seemed like an awfully long time for the glass to still be in existence.

  4. The quote about disposable food containers is from the show ‘bones’….an episode about organic farmers 🙂

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