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How long it takes 50 common items to decompose

  • Nylon fabric: 30–40 years

    Nylon fabric is often used for sports equipment like jerseys and mesh shorts, but it's also found in arts and crafts supplies. Frequently trashed, the material takes decades to decompose.

  • Plastic bottles: 450 years

    Pollution from plastic bottles is a global problem, but in the United States alone more than 60 million bottles are thrown away instead of being recycled every single day. They wind up in landfills, incinerators, oceans, parks, streets, and other public spaces. One of the easiest items to recycle, plastic bottles take hundreds of years to decompose.

  • Cotton T-shirts: 6 months

    T-shirts are one of the most common items in the so-called fashion waste category of pollution, which accumulates when people throw old clothes away instead of donating them, swapping them, or recycling them. The common cotton T-shirt can decompose in six months.

  • Wool socks: 1–5 years

    Like T-shirts, old wool socks are often presumed to be un-donatable and are therefore tossed in the garbage. Unlike cotton T-shirts, they linger in landfills for up to five years.

  • Synthetic fabric: 100-plus years

    Unlike naturally occurring wool and cotton, synthetic fabrics like lycra and polyester can take centuries to break down. The vast majority of fashion waste can be donated or repurposed into things like dog beds or cleaning rags instead of being thrown in the garbage.

  • Aluminum cans: 80–100 years

    Aluminum cans only start to break down after 80–100 years and generally only fully decomposes after several centuries. Unlike many other materials, aluminum can be recycled an unlimited number of times, making it one of the most critical and widely repurposed recyclables.

  • Vegetables: 5 days–1 month

    Vegetable matter breaks down quickly and in some cases in less than a week. This, along with the excellent nutrient content contained within decaying vegetable matter, makes veggie scraps perfect for composting.

  • Orange peels: 6 months

    Fruits can take longer than vegetables to break down, particularly those that are highly acidic. Self-contained and easy to eat on the go, oranges account for more scrap waste than most fruits, and they also take longer to decompose.

  • Banana peels: Up to 6 months

    Billions of bananas are consumed every year, and like oranges, their peels don't decompose for several months. Also like oranges, banana peels are perfect for composting or tossing in the garden.

  • Hairspray bottles: 200–500 years

    Aerosol bottles like the kind that contain hairspray are a common sight in landfills across the world. A single one can remain intact for the entire duration of the Roman Empire before it decomposes.

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