How long does litter take to rot?

How long does litter take to rot?

Eco Council

  • Anti-litter campaigners recently found 33-year-old discarded crisp packets
  • Plastic bags & bottles could last hundreds, thousands or millions of years
  • Not just man made problem – banana skins can hang around for a month

We all know a stretch of road that is festooned with litter. Perhaps it’s next to a lay-by, an unsightly sprawl of drinks cans, coffee cups, burger cartons and cigarette packets.

We live in hope that by the next time we go past, the local council will have tidied it up — but no, it will still be there the following week, and in all likelihood the week after that.

In fact, as anti-litter campaigners in the Forest of Dean have just discovered, litter can stick around for a lot longer than just a few weeks.

It’s not just man-made items — even banana skins can hang around for more than a month, while orange peel can take up to two years to fully disintegrate

During a clean-up along the A48, the campaigners found crisp packets that were a staggering 33 years old, which meant they had been thrown out of car windows some 1,716 weeks ago.

Disturbingly, even though the crisps would have been eaten when Margaret Thatcher was in power, the packets looked no more than a few days old.

You might have thought this litter could constitute some sort of rubbish record, but you would be wrong.

Plastic bags and bottles could potentially last hundreds, thousands or even millions of years without decomposing, according to scientists.

And it’s not just man-made items — even banana skins can hang around for more than a month, while orange peel can take up to two years to fully disintegrate.

Here, in a list of junk shame, is your guide to how long litter lasts. Generally, these times will apply to litter thrown at the side of a road or dropped on a country walk, where it will be affected by animals and the elements…

TWO WEEKS
Apple cores. Although this is a rapid decomposition time, throwing away cores and other pieces of fruit encourages scavengers such as rats, which are seldom welcome anywhere.
AROUND A MONTH

Paper towels, paper bags, newspapers, tissues. With these items, decomposition time can vary enormously depending on how they are disposed of.

Toilet paper put into the ground actually takes far longer to decompose than if it is exposed to the elements.

SIX WEEKS

Cereal boxes, paper bags, banana skins. And banana skins can take far longer than this to decompose if the weather is cool.

As the skins are designed to protect the fruit inside, they are full of cellulose, the same material from which cellophane wrappers are made.

Earlier this year, conservationists warned that Ben Nevis was being blighted by discarded fruit peels including banana skins, which were taking months to decompose.

Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s not litter.

TWO TO THREE MONTHS

Waxed milk and fruit juice cartons, cardboard. With such items, the decomposition time will vary enormously depending on the thickness of the carton.

Keen gardeners should bear in mind that cardboard can be composted, so don’t necessarily chuck it out.

SIX MONTHS

Cotton clothing such as T-shirts, paperback books.

Of all textiles, cotton is the most biodegradable — it is, of course, made from a plant. Cotton can be composted, and if the conditions are damp and warm enough, a piece of light cotton clothing can biodegrade in as little as a week.

ONE YEAR

Light woollen clothing such as pullovers and socks. Wool is a natural product and will rot outside just like the carcass of a sheep.

In fact, when wool decomposes it releases into the soil useful nutrients such as the protein keratin, so although it may look unsightly as litter, it does no long-term damage to the environment.

TWO YEARS

Orange peel, plywood, cigarette ends. However, some research indicates that cigarette ends can last well over a decade.

Cigarettes contain more than 600 ingredients, of which the longest lasting is cellulose acetate — a plastic found in 95 per cent of cigarette filters — which takes a very long time to biodegrade.

UP TO FIVE YEARS

Heavy woollen clothing such as overcoats.

TEN TO 20 YEARS

Plastic bags, but a few studies suggest these can sometimes last for around 1,000 years. Many newer bags are designed to decompose when exposed to sunlight, though the majority are made from high-density polyethylene.

This is made with refined petroleum and it is not easily decomposed — the natural micro-organisms in soil don’t recognise the chemicals as food, so don’t break them down.

30 TO 40 YEARS

Nylon items such as tights and wind-cheaters, carpet, disposable nappies — although some think these could last 500 years, depending on conditions.

While they are immensely convenient, disposable nappies really are pretty toxic items, even if they haven’t been used. They are treated with many chemicals, such as toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene and dipentene, as well as a chemical called dioxin, which is a highly toxic carcinogen.

50 YEARS

Tin cans, car tyres, trainers, foam coffee cups, leather — but leather that has been chemically treated, as it is for most fashion items, can last far longer. Thicker leather found on shoes can take a similar length of time — perhaps some 80 years.

75 TO 80 YEARS

Crisp packets. In fact, the recent finds in the Forest of Dean are relatively young compared with that found by Neil Phillips on Saunton Beach in Devon in 2012: a packet of Golden Wonder crisps from 1967 that looked as if it had been thrown away only a week before. With many packets made from ‘metallised’ plastic film, they last an absurdly long time considering how quickly their contents are consumed.

100 YEARS

Six-pack plastic ring holder — though it may last up to 450 years. These are particularly hazardous to animals, as the rings can get trapped around their necks and choke them, or cut into limbs.

AROUND 200 YEARS

Aluminium drinks cans. These could actually stick around for up to half a millennium and, again, are a danger to small animals, which can crawl inside and get stuck.

It is far better to recycle aluminium, as this can be done indefinitely and the energy cost of recycling cans is far lower than creating new ones.

Twenty recycled cans can be made using the same amount of energy it takes to make one new can, and recycling just one can save as much energy as it takes to power a television set for three hours.

500 YEARS

Plastic bottles — though petrochemical products like these never fully biodegrade and the chemicals just stay in the soil.

Many plastic bottles are made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is almost impossible to break down within any reasonable length of time.

It therefore really does need to be recycled, and bottles made from PET are increasingly being recycled to produce synthetic carpet fibres.

ONE TO TWO MILLION YEARS

Glass jars and bottles, but these may last indefinitely, as glass formed in lava flows millions of years ago is still present today.

Glass is mainly composed of silica, which is one of the most stable and enduring minerals on the planet.

And as well as looking unsightly, the greatest problem with glass is that it is breakable, and shards do appalling damage to creatures tempted to eat or lick any food or drink residues.

AND EVEN LONGER

Batteries. While the thin metal casings break down eventually, the chemicals inside, such as zinc chloride, lead, mercury and cadmium, endure in the ground and are toxic.

This is why they should be recycled rather than put in the main bin.

Two to three months: Waxed milk and fruit juice cartons, cardboard. With such items, the decomposition time will vary enormously depending on the thickness of the carton

50 years: Tin cans, car tyres, trainers, foam coffee cups, leather — but leather that has been chemically treated, as it is for most fashion items, can last far longer

With many packets made from ‘metallised’ plastic film, crisp packets last an absurdly long time considering how quickly their contents are consumed

500 years: Plastic bottles — though petrochemical products like these never fully biodegrade and the chemicals just stay in the soil.

Plastic bags can take 10 to 20 years to decompose but a few studies suggest these can sometimes last for around 1,000 years

Batteries – while the thin metal casings break down eventually, the chemicals inside, such as zinc chloride, lead, mercury and cadmium, endure in the ground and are toxic

by May 18, 2016 No Comments
Duke of Edinburgh Adventures

Duke of Edinburgh Adventures

Duke of Edinburgh

Article written by Halle Preston yr10

It’s Monday morning, and even having gone to bed an hour early, I’m still feeling particularly tired. But it isn’t just a normal Monday morning- it’s the day after the Duke of Edinburgh practice expedition; two days and twenty-two kilometres of walking in the scorching hot sun.

After arriving at school at half past seven (which was a struggle for me, I’ll admit), we set off in the minibus for a one hour drive. The atmosphere was lively despite our early start, and we all chatted amongst ourselves until we finally arrived at our destination. We sorted out our bags and collected our maps, and soon enough we headed off on our own into the wilderness of Skipton.

Carrying backpacks weighing up to twenty kilograms, the twelve Duke of Edinburgh candidates split into teams of six, taking different routes around the countryside. Although the first thing our group did was climb a very steep hill, our route fortunately evened out, and we took every opportunity to rest and refuel with sweets and chocolate along the way. Despite a close encounter with a herd of cows, almost getting lost twice and getting roasted by the midday sun, we finally reached camp at about three o’clock, feeling rather fulfilled having navigated our way there independently and evaded disaster. Taking off my walking boots and stepping into my flip-flops was a heavenly feeling, and soon we were pitching our tents and organising our gear for the night ahead, including many bags of sweets and cookies. I was quick to jump in the shower, although I still ended up muddy all over again- the rope swing in camp was too big a temptation to resist.

Having enjoyed a hearty meal of chilli con carne and rice (lukewarm perhaps, but I wasn’t complaining), we settled down to sleep, aching and fatigued. Well, not quite settled; throughout the night, I woke myself up several times shivering, and wished that I hadn’t taken the blessing of the warm sunshine for granted earlier in the day! We were woken at seven, and had two hours to get cleared up and going. Being unaccustomed to this sort of rushing, I only just managed to collect myself by the time my teammates were ready to go.

By now, my shoulders were quite tender, my skin burnt and muscles aching relentlessly, so I was dreading the trek ahead. However, the second day’s walk proved extremely pleasant! Although it was even hotter than the day before, we passed through the first two checkpoints early without even stopping, so even before it was time for lunch we’d accumulated quite a lead. We took the opportunity to rest in the shade by a stream, where I tried to distribute the remainder of my sugary snacks. As we walked on, we witnessed spectacular scenery from our breath-taking vantage point up high in the hills, and all of our efforts seemed a lot more fulfilling.

dofe2

The last stretch felt like the most toiling of all, knowing we’d soon be home and free to rest! When we reached the end, I almost fell asleep in the shade before we’d even got on the bus; I was eager to have a nap as soon as possible, and couldn’t even wait until I got home. And once we set off on the return journey, everyone else seemed to be drifting off around me too- I can’t blame them!

For the rest of the evening, I recounted the experience to my parents, caught up on all the messages and notifications I’d missed while my phone had been abandoned at home, and ate my heart out (as a reward, of course). Needless to say, it was amazing to finally be home! That aside, I think that even though it was incredibly hard, our trip was something that I’ll never forget. The thought of doing it all over again, though…now that’s something I’m trying not to think about just yet!

by May 11, 2016 No Comments