Single Use Plastic – 450 Years or More

single use plastic

By Dale J. Harrington

All of us have read and heard about why we should stop using single-use plastic water bottles. While a mind-boggling number of them are recycled, too many of them still go unrecycled.

I decided to check on how long it can take a plastic bottle to decompose; if it is not recycled and instead placed in landfill. The answer – 450 years or more, according to an article on the Balance Small Business website. Even worse, the plastic bags we use in our everyday life can take 10 to 1,000 years to decompose.

These figures should cause all of us to reconsider when we use plastic and certainly how we dispose of it.

Decomposition: Organics versus Plastics

single use plastic
Unless recycled, plastic degrades into micro particles in sunlight and enters the earth’s ecosystems.

This same site explained why plastic takes so long to decompose. It’s “because petroleum-based plastics like PET don’t decompose the same way organic material does. … This kind of decomposition requires sunlight, not bacteria. When UV rays strike plastic, they break the bonds holding the long molecular chain together.”

By comparison, vegetables take five (5) days to one (1) month, aluminum cans 80 to 100 years, glass bottles one (1) million years and Styrofoam cups 500 years to forever.

Plastics will degrade into small pieces until you can’t see them anymore (so small you’d need a microscope or better to see them). But, do plastics fully go away? Most commonly used plastics do not mineralize (or go away) in the ocean. Instead, plastics break down into smaller and smaller pieces.

How many animals die from six-pack rings? Plastic rings have been available for four decades, and they are now more heavily regulated than they were when first produced. In 1987, the Associated Press reported six-pack rings kill one million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals every year.

Another article, on the website Sciencing, noted it takes 100 years for a flashlight battery to decompose.

Rossmoor’s Compostable Alternative

single use plastic
Single use plastic is ubiquitous in today’s marketplace: straws, pens, product wrapping, and all types of bottles and bags.

With composting now available in Rossmoor, it is a good idea to look for items that are compostable when having a picnic, such as eating utensils, plates, cups, napkins, etc.

My wife and I recently hosted a family reunion here in Rossmoor and we used compostable utensils, plates, and napkins. To avoid confusion for the guests, we had containers with notes that listed the items for disposal. They included recycling, landfill and compost items. However, instead of listing these words on the labels, we provided a list of the items for each, such as cans and bottles, utensils, plates, cups, pizza boxes and napkins.

Courtesy of Rossmoor News, June 26, 2019.  Email Dale Harrington at dalejharrington@gmail.com.

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