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How long it takes 50 common items to decompose

  • Plywood: 1–3 years

    Plywood breaks down much faster than solid lumber, but it's not a completely natural process. Plywood contains glue that can decompose at a much slower rate than the wood plies it bonds together.

  • Batteries: 100 years

    Common household alkaline batteries are safe to throw away. However, rechargeable batteries, car batteries, and other industrial types must be disposed of according to federal guidelines.

  • Ink cartridges: 450–1,000 years

    The ink cartridges from printers are a double-edged sword. Not only do they take centuries to decompose, but they also leak toxic chemicals as they break down. Most recycling plants won't accept them, but major office-supply stores encourage customers to bring the empty ones back for proper disposal.

  • Leather: 50 years

    Leather comes from animal hides, but it is not a natural product. The tanning process involves treating the hides with a soup of chemicals, particularly if the leather was designed to be water-resistant. That means leather leaches chemicals and other toxins into the Earth as it breaks down over half a century.

  • Plastic bottle caps: 10–500 years

    Bottle caps previously had to be separated from plastic bottles before they could be recycled, as caps and bottles are made from two different types of plastic. However, advancements in the industry mean that bottle caps can now be kept on. Bottle caps are made from high-density polyethylene and polypropylene, both of which can now be recycled.

  • Apple cores: 2 months

    Apple cores don't take quite as long as banana peels and oranges to decompose. However, they remain intact longer than fruits and vegetables that are denser and have a higher water content. Once tossed in the garbage, an apple core takes about eight weeks to biodegrade.

  • Polyurethane seat cushions: 1,000 years

    Polyurethane cushions, commonly found in car seats and home furniture, are made by injecting a foam mixture into molds. Once they hit the garbage heap, however, they remain as is for centuries.

  • Glass: 1 million-plus years

    Since it breaks so easily, people tend to think of glass as fragile, but it's actually one of the most durable products on Earth, at least in terms of decomposition. Relics from the earliest days of glassmaking in 2000 B.C. Egypt still exist, and experts theorize that a glass bottle would take 1 million years or more to fully decompose on its own.

  • Aluminum foil: never

    Americans throw away enough aluminum foil every year to build a fleet of aircraft, and that's a sad statistic for two reasons. First, aluminum foil is easily and completely recyclable. Secondly, the thin, foldable, metallic sheets never break down all the way to full decomposition.

  • Styrofoam: never

    In the world of landfill-clogging waste from America's throwaway culture, there is Styrofoam and there's everything else. More than 3 million tons of polystyrene products are produced in the U.S. every year, the vast majority of which are one-and-done, single-use, throwaway products. Styrofoam is efficient and inexpensive, but making it requires the use of fossil fuels and dangerous chemicals. Virtually no communities allow it to be included in recycling. It is not biodegradable, so it never decomposes. Americans throw away 25 billion Styrofoam coffee cups alone every single year—enough to circle the Earth 436 times.

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