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How long it takes 50 common items to decompose

  • Rope: 3–14 months

    Common rope can take a little more than a year or a single season to decompose, depending on the materials used to make it. Natural materials like hemp decompose faster than synthetic materials like the kind used to produce climbing rope.

  • Sanitary pads and tampons: 25-plus years

    About 7 billion tampons and 12 billion sanitary pads are thrown away every year in the United States alone, most of which contain plastic in the lining or the applicator. The cotton portion decomposes fairly quickly, but the low-density polyethylene plastic takes decades to break down. Never flush plastic applicators, as they can end up in the ocean.

  • Cotton gloves: 3 months

    Common cotton gloves can break down in as little as three months. However, that rate is contingent on the gloves being 100% cotton. The biodegradation rate increases dramatically with the inclusion of synthetics like those used for waterproofing and insulation.

  • Latex gloves: several months to several years

    Latex gloves break down fairly quickly, provided they're made from natural latex rubber. Like all synthetic rubber, synthesized latex can take years, decades, or longer to decompose.

  • Thread: 3–4 months

    From furniture to clothing and car interiors to suitcases, threads are everywhere—including the world's landfills. Thread is thin and light, but it piles up fast; it also decomposes relatively quickly.

  • Paper waste: 2–6 weeks

    Paper waste takes only about a month, give or take a few weeks, to break down in landfills, but the problem is volume and quantity. Even though it's one of the most commonly recycled materials, paper waste takes up more space in landfills than any other product.

  • Iron: several years

    All metal breaks down differently, but iron oxidizes at a fairly rapid rate. People know oxidation as rust—the brown, flaky stuff that's often mistakenly blamed for tetanus infections. Over the course of several years, iron will oxidize completely, particularly in coastal areas that are damp and coated with salt water residue.

  • Food waste: several months to several years

    Americans waste 40% of all the food they purchase every year—a full 35 million tons worth $165 billion. Depending on how it's disposed and what it contains, food waste can break down in a few months or remain in a state of partial preservation for years.

  • Shoes: 25–40 years

    Leather shoes take a quarter-century or more to decompose. Like virtually all wearable leather products, shoes contain chemicals, dyes, and additives that can leach into the water and soil as the leather breaks down.

  • Rubber boot soles: 50–80 years

    Unlike the shoe itself, rubber soles, particularly those fixed to the bottom of heavy boots, can take more than half a century to decompose. Except for a few environmentally conscious brands, virtually all shoe companies use slow-decaying synthetic rubber to make boot soles.

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