Materials that do not decay (or take a looong time!)

  • Date: May 14, 2022

Often when we fail to recycle or re-use something we do not realize how long it will stick around in landfill – often it will exist long before we are gone, and in some cases may never decay. Glass and polystyrene foam are some of the worst culprits. Here we take a look at the lengths of time that some typical trash can material will persist. Be prepared to be shocked!

Glass bottles

Glass  bottles are still widely used. It is 100% recyclable – it is, after all made of sand – and has the added benefit of not losing its quality when used to make new products. It can be made into new bottles or used in a variety of different other ways from road surfacing to filtering water. However, glass has one major downside – it is non-biodegradable. If it is not recycled it will sit in landfill until the end of time! You can’t recycle drinking glasses unfortunately but they can be reused in other ways.

Polystyrene foam

Polystyrene foam, also know by the brand name ‘Styrofoam’, has lots of uses from packaging to disposable drinking cups. Since its invention in the 1940’s it has been widely used due to being inexpensive and lightweight. Contrary to popular belief it CAN be recycled. However, it is uneconomical to do so – making it quite an unattractive business proposition. It is best just to avoid this type of material completely. More and more eco-friendly alternatives are becoming available form biodegradable (and edible!) packing peanuts to edible cups!


Plastic bags are still widely used but are becoming less commonplace due to local government initiatives, such as charging for plastic bags in supermarkets, and increasing environmental awareness. More people are beginning to use reusable cloth bags or reusing plastic bags instead of throwing them in the trash after one use.

From storing drinks on-the-go to containing cleaning supplies, plastic bottles are convenient for our everyday lives. Society is showing signs of living in a more eco-friendly way when it comes to plastic bottles, turning to refillable plastic bottles and refill packs of cleaning products. Plastic bags and plastic bottles can take up to a massive 1000 years to decompose – great reason to ditch the single-use bags and bottles for good.

Ink cartridges

Although more people are going paper-less as the world becomes increasingly digital, printers are still a common part of everyday life – especially for businesses. When the ink cartridges run out of ink most people simply throw them away rather than refilling them. This is a particular problem since these can take up to a whopping thousand years to degrade. When buying a printer, you should ensure the model you choose has an easily re-fillable ink cartridge – you can buy refill kits online or at your local supermarket! If not, an ink cartridge can hang around in landfill for up to 450 years….


Aluminium drinks cans are one of the easiest to recycle for the consumer. Lots of recycling points are available and it is well-known that drinks cans can be recycled. However, frustratingly, tons still end up in landfill every year. In 2019, in the USA, 81,000 cans per minute were sent to landfill – 42.7 billion over the course of the year. That’s a lot of cans.  Unfortunately, those that aren’t recycled can take up to a century to decay.

Tin cans – those that you would find your baked beans or soups in – are also widely recyclable. These types of cans are extremely durable and ideal for storage. However, this is not the ideal quality for easy decomposition in a landfill site! They take roughly half the time of an aluminium can to decompose – about 50 years.

Disposable baby diapers

As well as being a magical time, having a newborn is expensive. One of the most expensive parts is the endless supply of diapers needed. They are generally made of a variety of plastic-based components, therefore they will stick around in landfill for a long time (up to 500 years!). There are some more eco-friendly diapers available, however, even these can take up to 50 years to biodegrade. Why not try a washable/reusable diaper? Although coming with their own pros and cons, they will save you money and lessen the impact on the environment.

Sanitary towels/feminine hygiene products

Single-use sanitary products also have a large quantity of plastic-based ingredients and, as a result, they don’t break down easily.  Similarly, can take up to 500 years to degrade. More and more alternatives are coming onto the market to suit everyone’s needs, from menstrual cups to reusable sanitary pads.

The bottom line

Great strides have been made regarding the re-use and recycling of household waste. People are taking a more active interest in the environmental impacts of their decisions. It can even save you money by ditching one-use disposable items and opting for the re-usable alternatives.  With landfill sites growing by-the-day it is important that we try to re-use and recycle as much as possible to avoid adding to them. focusing particularly on those materials that take the longest time to decay.