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How Long Does It Take For Everyday Items to Break Down?

How Long Does It Take For Everyday Items to Break Down?

We all want to leave a legacy for future generations – but what if that legacy is our rubbish?

Decomposing waste can take years – even a lifetime – to break down, having significant impacts on the environment as it does so. Reducing waste, reusing products or recycling materials is now more important than ever.

We’ve put together this guide to shed light on waste decomposition for everyday items.


Some plastics can be reused or recycled, but many plastic items end up in landfill. It takes anywhere from 20 to 500 years for plastic to break down, with material structure and environmental factors impacting the decomposition process.

When it comes to plastic bags, they are usually made from different grades of polyethylene. Supermarket bags are made from the strongest product, high-density polyethylene (HDPE), while lighter bags used in clothing stores are made from a lower-density product.

If we’re thinking about supermarket bags, it usually takes around 20 years for one to completely decompose.

Plastic bottles have traditionally been made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which makes them light and flexible yet difficult to break down. Plastic PET bottles take around 450 years to decompose.

As they break down, they form smaller nanoplastics, which often go undetected and can easily enter the ecosystem.


In contrast to plastic, metal and stainless steel are far more beneficial for the environment. Metal is able to be recycled time and time again, and can easily be reused. If metal does find its way into landfill, it does take many years to decompose.

Steel decomposes in approximately 50 years, while it can take up to 200 years for aluminium to break down.

Stainless Steel

Rust-resistant stainless steel is perfect for use around the home – but it’s not so great when it finds its way to landfill. As stainless steel is difficult to break down, it can take over 1000 years for it to decompose into more natural materials.


Glass is a little more complex. As jars, bottles and containers are made to be recycled and reused, it’s almost impossible for them to break down.

Some research has shown it takes around a million years for glass to decompose. If a Pyrex or heat-resistant dish ends up in landfill, it can take even longer.


Wood naturally breaks down – a crucial element of the natural carbon cycle. If a product is made with wood fibres, it doesn’t usually break down so easily.

Plywood can take between one and three years to completely decompose.

Lumber, which is used in construction, is a heavier material and takes longer to break down. It can take between 10 and 15 years for lumber to fully decompose.

Cardboard is easy to recycle and reuse. It can take between three months and several years to break down completely.

Paper’s also very easy to reuse and can be repurposed up to six times. When it finds its way to a landfill, it takes a matter of weeks to break down and leaves a small carbon footprint.

Take Care of Waste With E&E Waste

Established in 2002, E&E Waste is a family-operated business with a local heart. Its owner, Shane, has decades of experience in the industry and proudly heads a staff of trained, passionate professionals.

Our reliable team and exceptional fleet and equipment provide outstanding, affordable waste management services to Goondiwindi, Toowoomba and surrounds.

Contact us today on (07) 4671 2403.


Use our form to estimate the initial cost of renovation or installation.

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