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How Long Does It Take for Plastic to Decompose?

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How Long Does It Take for Plastic to Decompose?

As the eco-friendly movement continues to grow, many people have questions. It’s pretty clear what the benefits are, so that’s typically not one of them anymore. But many people ask, how can I join the eco-friendly movement?

Or, how long does it take for plastic to decompose? And with plastic products everywhere we look, what are our alternatives? At EcoRoots, we have dedicated our time, love, and energy to answering questions like these.

If you have questions about plastic decomposition, everyday products that linger for years after we discard them, the difference between biodegradable and compostable, or how you can make a difference, you’ve come to the right place.

How Long Does It Take for Plastic to Decompose – Stats You Should Know

From 1850 to 2012, plastics growth averaged 8.7% each year, growing from 1.7 million tons to nearly 300 million. It was right around this time that many people began to see how much damage we were doing to our planet and ourselves with all that waste.

If you haven’t been following along with the movement, you might be surprised to find that plastic products can take up to 500 years to break down. To put that into perspective, let’s consider the fact that the current life expectancy in the United States is 78.99 years.

That means that many of the plastic products we use will linger on for over six lifetimes. A damaged planet is not the kind of legacy that we’re interested in leaving behind for future generations. And since you’re here, we know you feel the same.

So, let’s jump right into what these products are, what we can use instead, and why composting is such a hot topic these days.  

Plastic-Based Products That Live the Longest 

Every day products like plastic bags, straws, water bottles, toothbrushes, and razors long outlive their users. In the United States alone, we produce over 380 million tons of plastic each year, and some reports conclude that up to half of it is single-use.

Something that we utilize for a week, a day, or sometimes even mere moments can continue to clog up our plant for several hundred years after we’re done with it. But it doesn’t have to be this way. There are alternatives to every one of these products.

Alternatives to Everyday Plastic Products

Many generations that came before us didn’t have a choice. We do. We can choose organic cotton string bags to grocery shop with instead of taking home single-use plastic bags. And these aren’t just limited to carrying food.

Choose natural loofah or soap saver bag instead of synthetic ones. Learn more about natural loofah here.

Take one with you to the library to carry books or pack your clothes in one for a weekend away. They are sturdy and versatile, so you can use them any way you choose. And when you’re packing your new eco-friendly bag, don’t fill it with single-use plastic bottles or straws.

Choose a reusable glass cup with a splashproof recyclable lid or a stainless steel tumbler and stainless steel straw. Why continue wasting money on disposable razors and plastic-based toothbrushes that only last for three months?

Instead, choose a sturdy, long-lasting safety razor and an eco-friendly, natural bamboo toothbrush or a zero waste deodorant. Everyday plastics are bad for the planet and our bodies. Our safety razor glides gently but firmly over the skin to give you a clean, close, and nick-free shave. Learn more about safety razor tips here.

And our natural toothbrushes are made with one of the most environmentally sustainable materials available: bamboo. That’s right, bamboo isn’t just for pandas anymore!

Why Bamboo is a Big Part of Sustainable Living

Bamboo is the world’s fastest naturally renewing resource. It is also naturally anti-microbial, anti-fungal, and anti-bacterial. It’s hard to beat packing that many benefits into one little brush! Toothbrushes may seem small and inconsequential.

But even just switching up your dental routine can make a big impact. One billion plastic toothbrushes are tossed away each year. In the United States alone, toothbrushes account for 50 million pounds of annual waste.

Because they are compostable, bamboo toothbrushes won’t sit in a landfill or ocean for 500 years. By making the switch, you can help protect and preserve our one beautiful planet. And with a long list of health benefits, your oral health and hygiene will thank you, too!

But why stop there? A well-rounded and eco-friendly dental routine also includes zero waste toothpaste and zero waste floss. The toothpaste comes in two incredible flavors: peppermint or peppermint and charcoal. Now, there’s a dental routine you can feel good about!

How Long Does It Take for Plastic to Decompose When You Recycle It?

If you’re wondering, “how long does trash live,” the answer depends on a few different things. The type of plastic and method of disposal are two important factors. But despite what many people believe, recycling an item does not guarantee it won’t damage the planet.

Whether plastic is recycled or thrown in the trash, there is a chance that it will end up in an ocean or waterway. There is a chance that it will pollute a landfill for half a century. Recycling plastic does not guarantee a better outcome.

Plastic simply does not decompose easily. It remains present, in one form or another, for many years. And as it builds up in landfills and waterways, more and more of it leaks into the environment. Over time, this can be incredibly detrimental.

The chemicals in certain plastic products can seep into the ground and spread. Further, these same chemicals can end up in our bodies when we drink and eat from plastic products. Plastic isn’t just bad for the planet. It’s bad for us, too. Thankfully, we’ve got better options. Learn more about recycling here.

Why is Plastic so Difficult to Degrade?

After asking, “how long does it take for plastic to decompose,” your next question might be, “why?” Most plastics we use today are made of a substance called polyethylene terephthalate. Most people call it PET for short.

This substance makes plastic products nearly indestructible. While bacteria will naturally degrade and decompose many other substances, it doesn’t work that way with this one. Bacteria happily munches away through wood, paper products, food, and other materials.

But bacteria can’t break down PET plastics. It is up to UV rays from the sun to break down PET plastics. And as you could guess from plastic’s 500-year timeline, that process takes a long time. The sun is working hard to degrade all the plastics we’ve disposed of in our lifetimes. 

And we can make that easier by not adding more to the pile. The real question isn’t, how long does it take for plastic to decompose? The real question is, what can we do to stop making more products that take so long to decompose?

What Does Biodegradable Mean?

Speaking of bacteria, that leads us into our next topic. A substance is biodegradable when it can be decomposed or degraded by bacteria or other living organisms like fungi that do the same job. Plastics are not biodegradable.

But woods, papers, food products, and others are. Plant-based, animal-based, and natural mineral-based products are biodegradable. And when products are made from biodegradable materials, they won’t sit in a landfill or ocean for 500 years.

Bacteria and other natural biological processes will break them down much faster than that. For this reason, and several others, biodegradable products are significantly better for the planet.

What Does Compostable Mean?

The words biodegradable and compostable are mentioned frequently in the movement for sustainable living. But are they the same? Or do they mean different things? We mentioned earlier that what makes something biodegradable is its ability to be broken down by bacteria.

Compostable substances are similar to biodegradable substances. All compostable substances are also biodegradable, but not all biodegradable substances are compostable. If this is confusing, we can explain.

To label a product biodegradable, it must be able to turn into organic matter or natural elements. Two examples of these natural elements would be water vapor and carbon dioxide. Biodegradable substances or products take an average of three to six months to break down.

Now, here is where the difference comes in. While biodegradable objects break down into a few natural elements, compostable ones break down into one. When you compost something properly, it can be broken down in a few short months. Learn more on this topic about what is compostable here.

Essentially, composting something means recycling organic waste for reuse. After composted items break down, you are left with healthy soil that has a nutrient-rich makeup. One of the most sustainable processes out there, composting allows organic carbon to return to the earth.

This reduces those troublesome methane emissions we’ve heard so much about in recent years. Another benefit to composting is that it is easy enough to do at home. With the right amount of oxygen, light, and bacteria, both biodegradable and compostable products make excellent alternatives to wasteful plastics.  

Is EcoRoots Packaging Recyclable or Compostable?

Another question we see a lot is about the difference between something being recyclable or compostable. What makes recycling different from composting is the energy that it takes and the result of that energy.

Composting uses natural processes to break things down into organic materials and return them to the earth. Recycling uses machinery and human input to try to repurpose items instead of breaking them down.

They each serve their purpose and are better for different things. And both processes are better than throwing items in the trash or using non-recyclable plastics. That’s why we always ship plastic-free.

Depending on the product, the item and its packaging may be recyclable, upcyclable, or compostable. When one of our products is compostable, that is the option we always recommend. It is the most natural and sustainable option.

But we also recognize that composting is not always an option. You may not have the space or the right climate for composting. And further, not everything can be composted. One of the best things about the growing sustainability movement is that you always have options.

We ship in zero-waste packaging, plastic-free, biodegradable, compostable, or recyclable cardboard. We choose biodegradable and compostable materials for our products when we can. And when we can’t, we try to make them decorative and upcyclable.

Our glass and metal jars make the perfect touch on a bathroom counter or shelf. Many of our products also have refill packs so that you can order refills instead of starting over and accumulating more containers.

How to Stop Wondering, “How Long Does It Take for Plastic to Decompose?”

Instead of asking, “how long does it take for plastic to decompose,” choose a better way. If we stop buying plastic products, large corporations will have no reason to keep producing them in such large numbers.

Help keep plastic waste out of landfills and oceans by making your routine more sustainable. At EcoRoots, we make it easy to make a change. No matter where you are in your journey to a more sustainable lifestyle, we will meet you where you are and help you get where you need to be. So, why not start today?

Going Zero-Waste with EcoRoots

By now, we’re sure you’ve encountered the troubling statistic about our oceans in the next 30 years. But sometimes, we could all use a reminder. Scientists and researchers believe that by the year 2050, there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish.

We can all do our part to ensure that this doesn’t happen. If you’re here because you’ve asked yourself, “how long does it take for plastic to decompose,” we already know you want to make a change. Or you want to help someone else make a change. We gladly encourage both.

And we are here to make that change easier. We already mentioned reusable bags, bottles, and dental products, but those are just the beginning. At Eco Roots, we offer a wide range of sustainable, eco-friendly alternatives.

Shop our bath and beauty or home and beauty collections to build a lifestyle you can feel good about. You can also browse new arrivals or stay informed by subscribing to our zero-waste blog. We only get one planet. Let’s do what we can to treat it right.

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