How Long Does Landfill Take To Decompose? ♻️ Podcast Ep. 15 Don’t Be A Waster


In this episode of our podcast on all things recycling – we discuss how long waste of all types lasts in landfill before decomposing.



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Transcript – How Long Does Landfill Take To Decompose?


Hello, it’s that time of week again where we cover all things recycling on our regular podcast recycle don’t be a Waster. In some recent podcasts we have covered landfills, we’ve discussed some of the things that landfills can do such as produce energy you know and generally suggest that landfills aren’t that great an idea and that recycling is generally better.


I suppose one reason we will cover what we’ll cover today is we look at one of the principal issues with landfill that items disposed of in a landfill live there for a very long time. Sometimes the length of time is literally mind-boggling and you know when you consider the sheer volume the tonnage that we’re putting into these landfills on a regular basis you know in all our capital cities in all our regional cities you have to start thinking these landfills are going to fill up as our population in Australia increases or you know at least doesn’t decrease.





Notwithstanding the last two years of covid and fundamentally as our cities grow and if we don’t massively boost recycling we are going to need more of these generally unpleasant facilities called landfills that have to be within a reasonable distance of major cities and otherwise the shared shipping and transport aspect gets uneconomical and also emits more you know greenhouse gases, leads to more traffic etc so the reality of these things is you have to have landfills you know in the suburbs on the edge of cities and of course that land is extremely expensive. How Long Does Landfill Take To Decompose?


If you’re like me you’re probably a nimby which I believe means not in my backyard and you know let’s be honest no one in their right mind would want a landfill opening next door to their house and you know smell mitigation is a lot better than it used to be but at the same time you’re going to have some issues with that. You will have issues with increased traffic heavy goods vehicles all those sorts of things so you know in an ideal world I think we want to recycle we want to minimize any landfill development that we need and so that we can do it in a sensible much more controlled manner.




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What we’ll cover today is we’ll just I’m just going to go through and look at some of the lifetimes the time it takes common or garden items to decompose in a in a landfills are they’re a bit different to you know things just rotting away in in the general environment as you know they’re compacted generally so when you this is something important to consider when items are dumped in a landfill the atmosphere that the material is in is very different to what it would be like if it was on the ground so the classic example would be an apple an apple falling from a tree Isaac newton may be washing it or not but an apple will fall from a tree and if it lands on the ground it will rot away and there will be carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.


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There’ll be oxygen and the chemical reactions would be very different than there will be in in a landfill where it’s compacted waste will be placed on top there’ll be virtually no oxygen in that environment and the when it dis when it rots away it’s a different chemical process than it would be in normally and that is argued to lead to more negative greenhouse gas emissions more methane etc than you would usually have if that apple rather naturally but we’ll leave that to a future episode but I think that’s something that’s worth bearing in mind so what we what we’re looking at here is how long it takes just common items to dispose to decompose in a landfill. How Long Does Landfill Take To Decompose?


How Long Does Landfill Take To Decompose



If you ask me how has this been calculated I actually don’t know but I assume people have gone back and looked into older landfills or sections of landfills that they knew were filled in in you know 1940 / 1950 etc go through the materials and see what you can find I have seen instances where magazines or newspapers from you know the day president Kennedy was assassinated these sort of things and you can still read the read the print on newspapers even decades later so some of it is incredibly surprising and it really gives you an insight into how just the sheer volume of stuff it will fill those landfills up and we’ll need to move on.


Let’s kick off with super simple items and we have stuff such as cigarette butts a cigarette butt you know I would have assumed would be wouldn’t last very long at all apparently it can last up to 12 years in the landfill once we get into even items such as leather shoes which are from a natural material from leather they can take 25 to 40 years to break down right away milk cartons which you know the tetra pack style five years even simple items such as cardboard and this you know harks back to the newspaper article cardboard takes two months to break down. How Long Does Landfill Take To Decompose?


One that is quite scary is Styrofoam you know which you’ll have for those classic you know office coffee cups etc the information I have says that it does not biodegrade at all so in theory it potentially can last there forever and when you think how  spacious or how much volume or how much space Styrofoam and polystyrene expand as polystyrene takes up that is sort of a scary thought getting into even to metal so I would have assumed metal tins those sort of items would run away quicker you know obviously even your car if it’s not maintained etc it will rust and run away but a tin can is 50 years is the number I’ve got here aluminium cans even more 80 to 100 years so very long period of time once we get into plastic and materials made from plastic we are really getting into you know really long periods of time to the point where you could almost call it infinite.


Items such as sanitary pads we have between 500 and 800 years depending on the materials and that aspect and we even have items such as glass one of the oldest manufacturer products I think you know humans have made it in theory will never decompose it will stay in landfill forever which is obviously a terrible pity considering that we have you know very effective glass recycling systems and processes in 2022 so when you look at in this regard it really hammers home the importance of preventing these items getting into landfill of keeping them out and of putting them into just more effective systems more recycling removing as much as possible because clearly otherwise those landfills will fill up and the problem will snowball and we’ll have more landfills and more problems. How Long Does Landfill Take To Decompose?


Even items we covered in previous episodes about food waste food waste it doesn’t run away as quickly as many people may expect even an item a simple item as an orange peel 100 organic an orange peel takes up to six months to decompose fully an apple core I’m sure many of us have thrown an apple core from a window to the side of a road or in a parkland as its organic material it can take around two months in a landfill and even a simple banana peel can take up to ten days so you know something’s bizarre some of these items you’d almost imagine they would rot away quicker in your own kitchen if you didn’t you know if they weren’t consumed but in the landfill you know the in the ecosystem or the spa the environment of a compacted landfill it does change things quite considerably.


I think when we’re you know when we’re bashing landfills you know I suppose that’s that is what we do often on these podcasts when we when we say negative things about them and argue and lobby that we need better solutions this is one of the fundamental reasons at the end of the day if materials rotted away and decomposed super-fast the problem wouldn’t be that great clearly there would still be issues with emissions there would be issues with you know misusing or not using materials hence we’d have to produce new ones but like fundamentally if it rotted away that you we could continually use the same landfill over and over again but when you consider I think there we covered on a previous podcast about nappies or diapers as North Americans would call them I think it was over a billion a billion disposable nappies disposed of per annum in Australia alone and you’re thinking that these items take up to 800 years to break down you know what are we talking about here we’re talking like is that nearly a trillion nappies in landfill in Australia if we leave if you know modern society continues without changes you know over 800 years we’re talking yeah getting close to a trillion not even sure how many zeros that is at the end but that is a preposterously large number of nappies and landfill rotting away taking up space and yeah wasting resources. How Long Does Landfill Take To Decompose?


I think it’s good for us to ask people who are focused on recycling who care about recycling and the environment you know your enemy is an old saying know what you’re up against and in this instance you know landfill has clear dangers clear and significant dangers so I think we leave it there today once again like and subscribe that helps us with the algorithms on the different podcast mechanisms and of course you know leave comments if there’s anything you would like you know to hear me discuss hear us talk about or any guests you’d like to have us try and get on the show just yeah leave those leave those messages and I read them all okay thanks very much have a great day and once again recycle don’t be a Waster. How Long Does Landfill Take To Decompose?



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