Compostable
How long does it take for paper to decompose

How long does it take for paper to decompose

How long does it take for paper to decompose? It takes between two and six weeks for a paper to begin to decompose and break down. However, the amount of time that it takes paper to decompose, depends on various factors. It is not black and white and neither is it a clear cut answer.

Research has shown different results over the years and these are all influenced by different factors such a how many papers are being decomposed, the space they are in, the type of weather conditions, the amount of moisture in the air and so many more factors. Before deciding and settling on one answer it is important to know the conditions you are dealing with. 

paper, cans and other trash in a trolley

How long do other materials take to decompose? 

Research shows that paper can be in a landfill for weeks before it begins to decompose. Materials decompose at different rates. Plastic bottles, for example, can take between 70 and 450 years, plastic bags can take between 500 and 1 000 years. Tin cans, on the other hand, can take up to 50 years, leather shoes need between 25 and 40 years, milk packets can take up to 5 years, sanitary napkins and diapers can take up to 800years whilst glass bottles can take up to 2 million years to decompose. 

An orange or banana peel will take between 2 and 5 weeks, an apple core will take up to 2 months to decay, plywood will need 3 to 5 years, whilst a cigarette filter needs approximately 5 years to decay. Nylon fabrics can take up 40 years to decay, which is about the same amount of time it took to narrow down the gender pay gap by a whole 20cents!

With so many years it would take to decompose some of these everyday materials, it is an important and human responsibility to make sure that the tools and things we use daily, such as paper,  are properly recycled and reused. The impact this has on the environment is profound. Our waste management habits can affect generations to come. This is why we need to be deliberate in how we take care of the planet. 

What should I do with my waste paper? 

Paper is one of the things that we use daily and the amount we use is staggering. More people are being encouraged to transfer their work to online platforms and soft copies, as a way of reducing the amount of paper that is used. Over 80 million tonnes of paper are used in America, on average, in a year. A lot is being done to drastically reduce this number. This is why it is so important to have efficient recycling means. Using less paper, and recycling it, means having to cut down fewer trees from which trees are made of. 

4 colour coordinated recycling bins

One way of adding more life to the environment is by recycling paper and reusing it. When it is sent to landfills, more gases are then put out into the air as the paper is destroyed. Recycling plants negate the need for the building of more landfills. When a paper is thrown out and incinerated, it adds to the global crisis of global warming, which is something we all need to be working together to stop.

When the amount of waste is minimized, the release of methane gas is also reduced and the earth is a bit safer. Methane poses a much bigger threat to the earth as it is 25 times more than carbon dioxide threats. Minimizing the amount of methane that goes out into the atmosphere, is doing the earth and humanity a big favor. 

Recycling paper has many different advantages that include the reduction of cutting down trees. Plants and trees make up a third of the raw materials that go into making paper. The more paper you need the more raw materials you will need. By recycling and reusing paper you are also helping save plants and trees. When we reduce our need for fresh raw materials, you reduce the need to cut down trees which are leading to deforestation and many other climate issues. 

When you choose to recycle paper, you also help the world’s water sources, maintain clean water. Research shows that when a paper is freshly made, the wastewater from the process has more pollutants than the wastewater from recycling paper.

This means that when you constantly make fresh paper, the wastewater with more pollutants finds its way into freshwater sources, which compromises the quality of the water. When you recycle paper, you reduce the impact that the process of fresh paper making has on the environment. The decision to recycle, saves oil, the climate, energy and cuts air pollution. It saves forests and the earth for generations to come. 

You can do your bit by ensuring that you recycle and reuse paper. Recycling is a good initiative, but you can go a step further and make conscious decisions to use paper you can recycle and reuse. Biodegradable paper that does not need to be burnt is fast gaining popularity. If you can avoid using paper products that will need to be incinerated or left out for weeks to decompose, then do that.  You can use tote bags instead of grocery plastic paper bags, or you can use cloth napkins to make sure that you do not have to add to the amount of paper that needs to be disposed of. 

Why should I recycle?

There are several reasons why you need to consider recycling as a viable option. Waste paper creates a considerable chunk of litter which costs city authorities a lot of money to clean up annually, funds that could otherwise be diverted to better and more worthy causes. Apart from the above stated, there are a couple more reasons why you should be thinking of recycling and reusing paper. More jobs are created in the recycling plants. There is less pollution in the air because of reduced incineration of waste paper. There is also the saving of raw materials that would be ordinarily needed for making fresh paper. It will also conserve energy.

paper being thrown into a recycling bin

Paper remains the largest waste in American landfills. Since it takes up to 6 weeks for the paper to completely decompose, you can do the environment a favor and recycle as well as reuse paper as much as possible. This way less goes into the landfills and a lifeline is extended to the planet. The number of weeks or years hat it takes for matter to decompose once you are done with it should give you an indication as to what you need to be doing with the paper that you use daily.

In as much as it is a daily need in offices and formal settings, modern technology has offered alternatives to going paperless. An efficient office nowadays is one that operates with virtually no paper being printed or exchanging hands. In the same way, money is now transacted differently, the way our workspaces operate can also exclude the use of paper. 

What influences the way matter decomposes?

How matter decomposes is largely dependent on several factors. Landfill conditions can be one of the greatest influences on how fast a material decomposes. For a material to decompose, it needs certain conditions. Organic matter, for instance, needs photo-oxidation, leaching, mineralization as well as comminution to take place. Comminution is what stimulates the decay. When something has decomposed, it would have broken down into a simpler matter. 

This is all part of a necessary process of recycling and maintaining balance in the biosphere. Decomposition can be sped up by a chemical process or by a physical process. Paper decomposes over time. However, it needs certain conditions such as the right temperature. If the temperature is too cold, it will not decompose. You can speed up the process of decomposition by adding the paper to a compost heap or mixing it with organic matter that decomposes quickly. Living organisms such as worms can also speed up the process. 

Does the type of paper have an impact on how quickly it decomposes?

There are different types of paper and they all have various properties that react differently with the factors and conditions you place them in. Plastic takes a much longer amount of time to decompose as compared to tissue. Not all types of paper will decompose in the same way or at the same rate. Gloss paper, such as the one used in magazines, can take longer than the average paper to decompose.

It can take months to decompose, unlike newspapers which may need a couple of weeks to completely deteriorate. Adding moisture can also speed up the decomposition process. If you are placing the paper I a compost heap, along with organic matter like orange peels and other food items, then you can till it after a couple of weeks to make sure that the different organisms living in the soil get to assist in decaying the paper. 

Can you compost paper?

Composting paper is a great way to get rid of shredded paper as it is difficult to take to a recycling plant and incinerating should be far from your mind if you are making conscious decisions to care for the environment. Placing paper in a compost exposes it to moisture and organic matter waste, which helps speed up the break down of the matter. Paper, along with cardboard, can be composted. 

Today, there are several corporations that have gone green and using less paper as a way of preserving the climate. Some have made it a rule of thumb to not use paper. This way they reduce the amount of paper that is used and in turn reduces the amount of paper you will need to dispose of.

The landfills will have less paper in them and the environment will not have to wait up to 5 weeks for the paper to decompose. A lot of time and effort is spent on getting the waste paper to be reintegrated into the ecosystem. You can reduce this by using less paper. That way you do not have t find ways of disposing of the paper. 

With each passing year, the issue of trash and how we dispose of it, including paper continues to rage on. Countries are fast running out of space to place all the waste and this has led to a lot of people thinking about burning the trash is the best solution, especially when it comes to disposing of paper. 

Unfortunately, this causes air pollution, and so this becomes an action of shooting yourself in the foot. Getting rid of paper by creating a different problem is not the solution. The way we dispose of paper can take a conscious decision on the part of all humanity. It means deciding to be a certain way about the way you use paper after you have used it, especially in light of the amount of time it takes to decompose paper completely.

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