How Long Does Plastic Take To Decompose?

Plastic product manufacturing has gone up by 70% plus in the past 30 years. Single-use plastic goods make the most significant segment of plastic manufacture and waste, for instance, plastic wrappings, bags, and bottles. This makes plastic a typical household and workplace item. Experts say that 55% of plastics have been sent to landfills over the last century, thereby making plastic control a developing challenge. However, plastics are often seen afloat in landfills.

How Long Does Plastic Take To Decompose?

Plastics take up to 450 years to decompose. Plastics take a long time to decompose because they contain chemicals that bacteria find hard to consume and break down, for example, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastics. Bacteria consume and break down waste material, thus making the waste decompose faster. 

For instance, plastic bags remain intact for 20 years before they decompose, whereas plastic bottles take up to 450 years to break down because they are made of

This article provides the estimated range for each single-use plastic product, such as plastic bottles, straws, and bags.

The following table shows how long various plastics take to decompose.

Plastic Material Approximated Decomposition Period in Years
Fishing Line600
Disposable Diapers500
Tooth Brushes500
Plastic Bottles450
Soda Can Rings400
Plastic Straws200
Plastic Coffee Cups30
Plastic Bags20
Cigarette Butts5


Why is it Difficult to Degrade Plastic?

It is difficult to degrade plastic because it is not a natural material despite being derived from crude oil which is a natural resource. Plastic entails organic matter molecular bonds and plastic chemical bonds. The carbon bonds in plastics are different from the chemical bonds that occur naturally. Therefore, it makes it difficult to decompose because they require a lot of energy.

What Happens to Plastic in Landfills?

Plastic is subjected to photodegradation as long as it is exposed to sunlight in landfills. The landfills are constructed to maximize the space for new wastes and the permanency of the area. This is achieved by compacting and covering the soil layers of the landfill areas to make room for the next day’s waste. However, this practice limits the amount of sunlight reaching the plastics. Thus lowering the photodegradation rate and encouraging the permanency of plastic wastes in our environment.

However, not every plastic waste material ends up in landfills. Approximately 3% of plastic waste end up in water bodies, precisely oceans, because of the incompetent management of landfills and human littering. In warm ocean climates, plastics may experience faster photodegradation. It is detrimental to the environment—the plastics break down into microplastics that are less than 5mm in length. The microplastics often disguise as food for aquatic animals as well as birds and sometimes can find their way into household water sources.

Plastic decomposition in the oceans is detrimental because it releases toxic chemicals, for instance, bisphenol A (BPA), in water sources and animal habitats. BPA and other plastic chemical components are dangerous to humans and animals because they can interrupt the body’s normal hormonal and reproductive functioning.

How to Address the Plastic Waste Crisis

The world is in a plastic waste crisis considering the health and environmental hazards presented by the recycling challenges of most plastics. Experts estimate that plastic production will increase by 20% in the next three decades, and half of the plastics will reach the ocean or landfills. Therefore, responsible use of plastic is imperative in addressing the plastic waste crisis.

Implementing the reduction and replacement policies of traditional plastic bags sits at the core of the reduction strategies. Swapping plastic bags with tote bags and considering reusable water bottles would help minimize the use of plastic globally.

Switching traditional plastics with biodegradable substances presents a viable route towards reducing the plastic waste environmental burden. BDPs or biodegradable plastics decompose to natural components, making them compostable. For example, plant materials such as Miscanthus (elephant grass) plants have been used to create the BDP prototype materials. Also, BDP technology proposes making biodegradable plastics that are robust enough to use in vehicle parts beaded on the approach and materials.

Recycling rates globally are low. Reducing the use of plastics requires us to recycle them as much as possible. Therefore take time and learn about the recycling program in your area of residence. Gradual recycling of plastics will help minimize the menace.

The kitchen is the cradle of plastic waste. Thus it would be best if you made it more sustainable. You can ensure this by opting for plastic-free alternatives, for example, using glass jars and cast irons.

The Problem with Plastic Recycling

Overall, recycling plastic materials is a great concept. However, there are noticeable barriers to recycling plastics. Environmental Protection Agency posits that we only recycle 10% of plastic materials and wastes because many plastic types are not recyclable.

Plastic does not maintain its value after you have recycled it, unlike aluminum or glass. In the recycling process, plastics get converted into low-quality products and eventually end up in landfills or water bodies. Nonetheless, it would be best if you do not stop recycling your plastic wastes. Recycling plastics aids the conservation of fossil fuels that are used in manufacturing industries.

It is advisable to substitute plastic products with plastic-free products and sidestep plastic because plastic cannot participate in a circular economy. Alternatively, you can use plastic bags for functions such as wrapping food or cleaning fans.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long Does it Take for Plastics to Turn into Microplastics?

The plastics in the landfills or water bodies, i.e., oceans, will take 450 to 1000 years to turn into microplastics. Approximately it’s the time since the death of the Roman Empire to date.

How Much Plastic is in the Ocean?

The amount of plastic is approximately 5.25 trillion, micro and macro. In every square mile of ocean, there are 46000 pieces of plastic weighing approximately 269,000 tonnes. Eight million plastic items enter the ocean each passing day.

How Much Plastic do we Eat?

We consume 5.5lb or 2.5kg of pipe in a decade. This is equivalent to two sizeable plastic pipes. IOneconsumes roughly 44lb or 20kg of microplastics. in a lifetime

Bottom Line

You will find plastic everywhere, and it will be available for a longer period by the current information. Plastics are great and useful. However, it is detrimental to human health and the environment when it becomes a waste product. To be precise, we don’t know the time plastics take to decompose because the plastics have been used since 1907, but the active circulation of plastics began in the 1970s. Experts propose that plastics can last for hundreds of years before they decompose.