How long does it take for plastic to decompose?

Different materials naturally take different amounts of time to decompose and the decomposition process does vary. Some materials we can use to our on benefit such as composting as featured in my blog, 5 ways to live greener. Other materials take years to decompose and have a hugely negative impact on our environment if they make it into our ecosystem. This can be litter blowing into habitats or drains and rivers which lead to our oceans.


When was plastic invented?

Plastic was invented in 1907 by Leo Hendrick Baekeland. After World War I mass plastic production became popular in the 1940’s and 1950’s. This lead to it becoming extremely common in the 1960’s for domestic items as it was so cheap to produce.


How long does it take to decompose?


In the last decade we have produced more plastic than ever before and it looks as if there is no slowing down. Between a growing population and a reliance on convenience it’s hard to think of a day going plastic free. During a litter pick in the UK in 2016, litter campaigners found that the average crisp packet was 33 years old. Due to most packets being made of “metalised” plastic film, crisp packets can take 75-80 years to decompose. It’s no surprise they end up in our environment when they are thrown away so carelessly.

seagull with litter

Crisp packets are just one item of many single use plastics that are part of a convenient lifestyle. This is ruining our environment both on land and in the ocean. The UK crisp manufacturer Walkers makes 120,000 of small 25 gram packets per day. That is not including the larger bags and the plastic bag to contain all the small bags. They are the sixth largest crisp manufacture in the world. That makes this a small amount compared to other manufactures or all combined.

ocean litter

Plastic bottles are an even bigger issue, they can take up to 450 years to decompose. As a society we need to take responsibility in ensuring our waste is correctly disposed of and when possible, recycled. In the case of our plastic bottles this means putting them in a  recycling bin and removing the label to give it the best possible chance of being recycled.


What can we do?

  • Reduce our daily plastic use.
  • Buy sensibly – plastic free fruit or paper bags for example.
  • Recycle.
  • Educate ourselves on single use plastic alternatives.
  • Local litter picks.
  • Encourage your employer to have recycling bins in your work place.


What One Change Now can you make to impact your local environment and protect it in the future?

5 thoughts on “How long does it take for plastic to decompose?

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