How long does it takes for common products to decompose?
Many everyday and so-called ‘green’ items take so long to break down that they’ll still be here long after you’re gone… and your grandchildren’s grandchildren.
Every year, Australians generate millions of tonnes of waste, with the country’s latest National Waste Report showing 74.1 million tonnes of waste were generated in 2018-19.
But not all waste is the same. When sent to landfill, some items will take only a few months to break down, while others take many centuries… if they break down at all.
Here are some common items that may outlive you.
Disposable coffee cups
Takeaway coffee cups are handy for when you need a caffeine hit on the go. And the cups are repeatedly (but wrongly) thought to be recyclable as they appear to be made of cardboard.
Unfortunately, most single-use, disposable coffee cups are lined with plastic which causes them to take 20 to 30 years to break down after being disposed of. According to Sustainability Victoria, 2.7 million single-use coffee cups every day, adding up to one billion cups every year – all of which take decades to break down.
Reusable ‘keep’ cups are a great alternative as they can be used repeatedly for years. If you struggle to remember to bring a keep cup, try having several – one for at home, one in the car and one at work, so you’ve always got one handy when heading to a café.
Coffee pod (or capsule) machines have boomed in popularity in recent years, with the market expected to exceed US$9.8 billion in the next 10 years.
That’s great news if you like quality coffee at home, but not such great news for those concerned with waste. The coffee pods used in such machines can take from 150 to 500 years to decompose depending on the material they’re made from.
To combat this wastage, some recycling companies have started recycling pods made from aluminium, while other manufacturers have created biodegradable pods that can break down in months (instead of centuries).
Consider investing in an at-home espresso machine where you simply can wash and reuse the parts and dispose of the coffee grounds in your compost or organic waste bin.