The expression “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” comes from a common english christian funeral rite which includes the following quote from the King James Bible: “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, until you return to the earth; for it is from him that you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you will return.
It’s a fancy way of saying that at some point, like everything else on Earth, we’ll eventually break down. The word decompose means “to separate into parts or building blocks or into simpler compounds,” according to Merriam-Webster. Biodegradation is a similar process, but defined by elements that can be broken down into harmless parts by the action of living things such as worms or microorganisms.
All non-living things are ultimately broken down into simple molecules by the elements, microorganisms, and the ravages of time, but some things take much longer to break down than others. When a person throws something in the trash, the thrown object seems to be out of their life forever. However, the object’s journey to decay or elemental decay has only just begun. Organics, like leftover salad that someone couldn’t finish, can come back to earth in a matter of days, but the plastic the salad was wrapped in can stay put for thousands of years.
It is important to note that many variables affect the decomposition and that the times shown in this article are derived from averages or mergers based on large samples. Decomposition rates can vary widely depending on factors such as temperature, humidity, exposure to sunlight and the elements, presence or absence of microorganisms, and whether the object is buried or exposed. Additionally, some items like plastic bottles contain a variety of items made differently from varying amounts of different materials. In other words, not all plastic bottles are the same, so they are likely to have varying rates of decomposition.
While the decomposition rates are inherently inaccurate, this is a topic worth discussing when considering 8 million tonnes of plastic waste are dumped into the ocean every year. In a world overflowing with discarded things, it’s important to know how long the trash will hang around.
Stacker looked at how long it takes for things people to throw away to decompose. Read on to find out for yourself below.
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