“Ethan, I have told you five times already to take out the trash, will you take it out already? Please make sure to bring the trash bins to the curb, tomorrow is Tuesday and they’ll be picking up the trash.”
Sound familiar? This is highly common in the typical household. One of the men in the home is required to take out the trash and often the mistress is howling for one of them to take it out. It may take a while, but eventually it will get taken out. But what happens to your trash after the garbage haulers take it away?
While you move on to the next 16-gallon kitchen trash bag, your garbage has a long journey. We are not talking about hours or days but more like months or years. According to Our Everyday Life it can take a baby diaper up to 500 years to fully decompose. So, what does happen to our garbage after one of the boys throw it in the trash receptacle?
Before we get into the nitty gritty details, we must go over what exactly are we throwing out. According to the USPIRG, even though 94% of Americans support recycling, just 34.7% actually recycle. Let’s assume your township hosts a recycling program for plastic bottles and boxes. The remaining items of what you're throwing out consists of unrecyclable plastic and paper, food, and other household waste. (The fact that plastic has been mass manufactured in recent times has been one of the greatest stimulants to the increase in household trash).
Here is how long it will take your trash to decompose
Banana Peel - 2 to 5 weeks: Don’t you love to get that calcium in your morning shake. You peel the banana and toss it into the blender and you now got that smooth banana taste. Having a banana 75 years ago was a great delicacy and the peel was often used as animal feed. Today, we simply toss in the trash and don’t even blink an eye. After the banana peel hits the land fill, it can take anywhere between two to five weeks for it to fully decompose.
Newspaper - 6 weeks: Alright, the kids are off to school and your ready to drink your first sip of the Monday morning coffee. This amazing atmosphere is enhanced by the Daily Gazette which will give you all the important information you already know about. After the ten-minute Monday morning heaven, you toss the newspaper in the trash. If you're living in a city which does not recycle newspapers, it will eventually hit the landfill and take approximately 6 weeks to fully decompose.
Apple Core - 2 months: It’s the end of the day and your about to head upstairs to bed. But your stomach begins to rumble, and you don’t want to go over the daily calorie intake. So, you make the smart choice and bite into a luscious Macintosh apple. Upon finishing all the white flesh, you toss the core in the trash. When the apple core hits the landfill, it will take two months for it to fully decompose.
Milk carton - 3 months: It’s a random day at the office and you find yourself falling asleep at your desk. You head to the coffee room and make yourself a bold coffee to wake you up. It just happens to be you’re the one who finished the milk in the fridge, and you throw out the milk carton made from paperboard coated with a waterproof plastic. The milk carton will take approximately three months for it to fully decompose after it hits the landfill.
Cigarette buts - 1 to 5 years: According to the CDC, there are 34.3 million Americans who still smoke cigarettes. After you finish smoking, the cigarette buts usually end up on the floor or in a waste basket. Thereafter the trash is hauled away and the cigarette buts end up in a landfill where it will take an estimate of one to five years for them to decompose.
Plastic bags - 10 to 20 years: It’s been debated for the past two years as to whether to ban plastic bags in New York City. Whatever side you’re on the fallout of using these plastic bags is that they are very difficult to break up. In addition, many of these plastic bags have been found in the deepest parts of the ocean where little or no life exists. It’s no wonder why once a plastic bag hits the landfill it can take ten to twenty years to fully decompose.
Styrofoam cups - 50 years: Back to the coffee room for the fourth cup of the day. You grab the Styrofoam cup and start dispensing the hot contents into your cup. As you chit chat with your colleagues the heat of the liquid is well retained, keeping the brew nice and hot. Finally, you see your boss stepping out of his office and that’s when you toss the Styrofoam cup into the waste basket. Once the Styrofoam cup hits the landfill it can take fifty years to fully decompose.
Soda can - 200 years: Here is one of the many reasons why countries around the world require soda cans to be recycled. It creates havoc in oceans and landfills due to the difficulty it takes to break it down. Honestly, there are valuable metals which can be reused for other products and there is no reason to let a landfill handle it. The aluminum cans that slip into the landfills will take two hundred years to fully decompose.
Understanding whats in biodegradable plastic bags
Biodegradation is nature’s recycling system in which microorganisms eat waste and converts it into nutrients. The ground will then feed off these nutrients and make the surrounding areas more fertile for the growth of embryophytes and bryophytes. These microorganisms cannot biodegrade regular plastic bags and shampoo bottles which creates a big problem for this under ground ecosystem. That’s why biodegradable plastic has been created to suppress this environmental calamity. It’s the usual plastic which is treated with chemicals that allow it to breakdown easily.
But for it to work, it needs three other elements to allow it breakup, that’s oxygen, humidity, and bacteria to digest which are often not found in landfills around the world. When these conditions are not met, your biodegradable plastic bags will still take around ten to twenty year to fully break up. In addition, they may well end up releasing a toxic greenhouse gas called methane, which is twenty-two times more potent then CO2.
When you see packaging in the store with biodegradable plastic written on it, you need to know what percentage of biodegradable plastic is in it. It may very well be that only a small percentage of the plastic is 100% biodegradable (which can potentially breakdown only in the right environment). That’s why you need to make sure that the outside of the bag says that it's compostable.
What are compostable plastic bags made from?
Unlike biodegradable plastic, the only environment friendly plastic that exists, is compostable plastic. This type of plastic is made of potatoes, corn starch, and seaweed. The outside of the bag will clearly state that it’s “COMPOSTABLE” or have the logo “OK COMPOST”. The manufacture of compostable bags guarantees that ninety percent of the bag will decompose within six months. Again, you are going to need the correct conditions, which includes high humidity and heat. Therefore, many countries like Italy have a separate waste supply chain which manages compostable waste.
Meet compostable trash bags
Running a household is not easy, so who has time to start worrying about how long it will take for my garbage to decompose? On top of that, the average family in the United States produces an average of 2,080 lbs. of garbage a year. Where are we supposed to put all that trash if not in a random black trash bag which might take up to twenty years to fully decompose?
There is another option for homeowners, which is to buy compostable trash bags. These garbage bags are made of biodegradable plastic and can take just three to six months to breakdown in a landfill. Try and imagine that if every family in the United States switch to biodegradable trash bags and reduce the breakup time from twenty years to three months. This will make a positive impact in making our environment cleaner.
So, we now understand that when you throw out your trash it has a long way to go before it completely breaks down. On top of that biodegradable is not that eco-friendly after all, since there are many conditions which often don’t exist in landfills. This leaves us with one type of material, which is compostable plastic. This can breakdown since it is made up of other greens and not polymerization or polycondensation. For compostable trash bags to decompose within six months, we need a highly efficient waste supply chain which handles it correctly.