the big picture how long does-Our waste take to break down

The Big Picture: How Long Does Our Waste Take To Break Down?

23rd Feb, 2017

Responsible waste management is something we’re passionate about here at Skip Hire Network, and for many, hiring a skip is the first step to enacting that responsible waste process. We thought we’d take a quick ganders at how long it takes some common disposed items to break down – we found that given a little bit of context, there were some quite interesting timescales involved!

Up To Fifteen Years

used rope

You thought we were starting small, didn’t you? Well, unfortunately, we are! But there are some things which take under a year to degrade, given the right conditions. Things like train tickets, cotton gloves, cardboard, thread and rope all take around a year to degrade. But items like plywood and wool clothing can take anywhere between one and five years, while lumber, painted board and even cigarettes can all take somewhere in the region of fifteen years to decompose.

For context: fifteen years ago in the UK saw the Golden Jubilee of Elizabeth the 2nd. It’s quite a neat comparison actually, as just this month she’s celebrated her Sapphire Jubilee, marking 65 years on the throne.

Between 20 and 100 years

rusty cans

Some surprisingly commonplace items can actually take decades to fully decompose. When hiring a skip, some of the first things to go in it are ancient or smelly clothes not fit for charity shops. Unfortunately, leather shoes and nylon clothes take anywhere between 25 and 40 years to go, while tin cans and foamed plastic cups take around half a century. Rubber-soled boots can take even longer, at anywhere between 50 and 80 years.

For context: 40 years ago – about the same amount of time it takes for leather shoes and nylon clothes to degrade – saw the brand-new release of Queen’s single We Are The Champions (the band, by the way, not the monarch). 50 years is even more unnerving – 1967 was the same year that the Beatles released their Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. A tin can thrown away on that day would only just have fully decomposed now!

Up To 500 years

plastic bag

Here’s where things get a little bit scary. A humble battery can take a full century to degrade – and that’s the low end of this particular scale. An aluminium can takes about double that, at 200 years, while that’s the minimum amount of time for a hairspray bottle. Sanitary pads, children’s diapers and plastic bags can all take at least 500 years, and can even take around 800 to 1000 years to degrade, respectively. That’s a dizzying amount of time!

For context: War broke out 100 years ago this year; it was to become the biggest global conflict the world had ever seen. Two centuries ago – around the time it would take an aluminium can to degrade – John Quincy Adams became the US secretary of state. Meanwhile in the UK, a hypothetical plastic bag thrown away during the reign of James the 1st would only just be starting to degrade now.

Over 500 years

 glass bottle

So, before we talk about glass bottles, we should probably say that they’re very easy to recycle, given as they are mostly made of sand. But without proper recycling, they can hang around for between a million and two million years. Styrofoam and tinfoil don’t degrade at all, so they’re worthy of particular attention when you come to hire a skip for disposing of waste.

For context: in the time it would take a glass bottle to degrade, we have literally evolved. A million years ago, there were under 30,000 humans on the entire planet! Who knows, leftover glass bottles carelessly thrown away today would likely be witnesses to whole new stages in human evolution. Still, recycling seems like a far more constructive use for them, doesn’t it?

At Skip Hire Network, we’re utterly committed to environmental causes. We ensure that we recycle every bit of your waste that we possibly can – our partners have up to a 100% recycle rate. Not too shabby, if we do say so ourselves! You can click here to read some other reasons to choose us, or alternatively you can go straight to our homepage to enter your postcode and get started on hiring a skip now.

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