How long does it take for a plastic bag to decompose?

There is no denying how plastic products have become a staple in our daily living. Its convenience and cheap price made plastic a favorite material to produce all sorts of things, such as containers, bags, utensils, etc. 

A telltale fact of how dependent the world is on plastic is this: 1.6 million barrels of oil is estimated to be the world’s yearly consumption to produce bottled plastic water. 

Not only does it consume that much oil and go through tedious manufacturing processes potentially harming the environment, they also take 1000 years to decompose in landfills. 

Plastic bags, specifically, need 10 to 20 years to decompose. Despite decaying a little quicker than other plastic materials, this does not mean it is okay for us to keep using them. It would still be best for us to switch a more sustainable alternative if we want to keep the earth healthy.

Why do plastic bags take so long to decompose?

Plastics are purposely manufactured to last long. They are made to offer convenience and durability, which proves true to this day. However, those are the same qualities making it impossible for these things to be recycled.

In the case of plastic bags, they are designed to endure the wear and tear of everyday use. Because they are made to be used in packing groceries, special treatments were done to these bags to make sure they do not give in to the weight of what we purchase. It would have been better if we are to use them over and over, but because they pile up and get thrown to landfills, these plastic bags create a bigger problem.

What about other wastes?

The time it takes for plastic to decompose in landfills depends on quite a few things, including type of plastic and the condition of the landfill. For these trash to decompose better in a landfill, there has to be enough exposure to sunlight, moisture, and oxygen. It should also be noted that every plastic type requires a different landfill setting to completely decompose.

Indeed, our best option to lessen plastic consumption is to check out the market for greener alternatives that are more sustainable and eco-friendly. Let’s take a quick look on how these popular plastic alternatives fare in terms of decomposing.

  • Glass. Glass is most probably the closest to plastic when it comes to appearance. It could even be the inspiration for making plastics in the first place. Generally, glass is easier to recycle because it is made of sand. By simply breaking them glasses and melting their broken pieces, we can produce a new glass. However, if glasses are thrown away in landfills, it will take millions of years to decompose. Some sources even go as far as saying glass doesn’t decompose at all.
  • Aluminum cans. Research shows that more than 120,000 aluminum cans are recycled in America alone. Despite its high recyclability, studies show that every three months, there are enough aluminum cans thrown away in America to rebuild the entire American commercial air fleet. What’s even more alarming is the fact that aluminum cans take 80-200 years in landfills before they are completely decomposed.
  • Paper Waste. Based on its volume, paper makes up a high percentage of wastes in landfills. It normally takes  2-6 weeks in landfills to completely decompose. A better way to dispose of our paper products is to recycle them. This way, we can save a lot of landfill space. We also reduce the energy and material requirements of making non-recycled paper.

How long does it take for other wastes to decompose?

  • Aluminum Cans – 200-500 years – Painted Board – 13 years
  • Leather Shoes – 25-40 years – Nylon Fabric – 30-40 Years
  • Rubber Boots Sole – 50-80 years – Lumber – 10-15 years
  • Cigarette Butts -10-12 years – Ropes – 3-14 months
  • Train tickets – 2 weeks – Cotton Glove – 3 months
  • Batteries – 100 years – Sanitary Pads – 500-800 years
  • Waxed Milk Carton – 3 months – Tinfoil – it does not biodegradable
  • Milk Cartons – 5 years – cardboard – 2 months
  • Monofilament Fishing line – 600 years – Styrofoam – it does not biodegradable
  • Foamed Plastic Cups – 50 years – Tin Cans – 50 years
  • Plywood- 1-3 years – Wool Clothing – 1-5 years
  • Canvas Products – 1 year

It’s easy to say that there is nothing we can do about increasing waste volume. Despite being a challenge, it is a social responsibility for us to never stop looking for ways to address this problem. 

If we do not take immediate preventive steps to control this volume as much as we can, we won’t find enough space on earth to dispose of all these trash we generate. 

The best way to deal with this is to avoid products that generate waste materials that take more than a year to decompose in landfills. 

Common questions about how long it takes for a plastic bag to decompose

Do plastic grocery bags decompose?

Unfortunately, no. These plastic bags do not decompose, they just photodegrade. Through this process, they turn into microplastics which keep polluting the environment. Because they cannot be recycled, they stay in landfills for a very long time.

Why do plastic bags take so long to decompose?

Plastic bags are made from polyethylene, which is composed of polymer chains keeping them together. When exposed to the sun’s UV rays, these chains turn brittle, turning plastic bags into microplastics that never decompose.

Are biodegradable plastic bags good?

To this day, there is no such thing as biodegradable plastic. Plastic bags marketed to be biodegradable are just that, a marketing ploy. Despite looking like they were made from sustainable materials, the fact that they still have traces of plastic defeats the purpose all together.

With plastic wastes taking so many years to completely decompose in landfills, we should reduce consumption of products that generate waste materials that take a long time in landfills to get completely decomposed. 

This harsh reality brought awareness to a lot of people about how bad the problem is when it comes to plastic pollution. While there is nothing we can do to shorten the time it takes to decompose plastic, we can certainly apply some lifestyle changes to not worsen the problem.