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How Long Your Household Items Take to Decompose – and Eco-Friendly Alternatives You Can Replace Them With

If you’re new to the sustainability and eco-friendly game, then a big “hey there and howdy” to you. If you’re a returning sustainability legend, then welcome back, friends! It can often be hard to know where to start or what changes to make when you’ve been stuck in the same rut for years and years, but we’re here to tell you that making eco-friendly changes isn’t as hard as it seems. There are just a few steps involved in becoming an eco-warrior, and there’s no doubt about the fact that the first step is acceptance. When you realise and accept that your old ways – and the ways that we’ve been taught throughout much of our lives – are damaging our planet, that’s when you can really start to overhaul your routine. So, it’s time to learn just how long your household items take to decompose – and the eco-friendly alternatives you can replace them with. 

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Batteries – 100 years to decompose

If you look around your house right now, there’s a high chance that you have countless electronics scattered around the rooms – and many of these contain batteries. After all, batteries are used to power remote controls, smoke alarms, fairy lights, and so much more. While there’s nothing wrong with using batteries, it seems a little wrong to use so many of them and then just throw them away, especially when they take around 100 years to decompose.

Thankfully, you have various different options if you want to become more sustainable and eco-friendly. You can either purchase a battery charger so you can use the same batteries over and over again, or you could recycle them at specific battery recycling centres. These can sometimes be found in supermarkets and other electronics stores. 

Plastic bag – 500-1,000 years to decompose 

You probably don’t need us to remind you about this one. Since the government changed the law, shoppers are required to pay for plastic bags at the supermarket – but there’s no doubt about the fact that we’ve all found ourselves caught short every once in a while. Although you have every intention to buy “Bags for Life” and keep them in the car, sometimes it’s easy to just forget.

However, it’s important to try and avoid using plastic bags whenever you can, as they take a mammoth 500-1,000 years to decompose. They also pose a serious threat to wildlife, and they’re just pretty rubbish (if you’ll excuse the pun). One of the best ways to ensure you never need to use a plastic bag is to keep cotton totes or reusable bags either in your car or in your handbag. 

Tin can – 50 years to decompose 

Whether you’re a fan of fizzy pop or whether you just love to get poppin’ with a few tins of baked beans every week, then you have probably thrown away a fair few tin cans over the course of your life. Of course, with so many food and drink items sold in these kinds of cans, it can be difficult to avoid them – and even more difficult to avoid throwing them away.

If you throw them away with your normal waste, though, you might be surprised to learn that they take around 50 years to decompose. So, why don’t you ensure that you wash them out and throw them in the recycling instead? Tins cans can be recycled by your local authority, but you could also recycle them yourself if you wanted to. These things make great plant pots, pen jars, candle holders, and so much more. The opportunities are endless. 

Sanitary pads – 800 years to decompose 

What a bloody mess, right? Nobody likes it when their period comes along, especially because they are so incredibly expensive. In order to stop any leakage, those who have periods have to ensure that they are protected by a sanitary product of some sort. When the time of the month comes around, it can be easy to head to the local shop to stock up on sanitary pads and tampons.

Unfortunately, these are rarely eco-friendly, and sanitary pads alone take around 800 years to decompose. That doesn’t mean that you just have to let nature take its course, though. There are many different options when it comes to Mother Nature’s appearance, and you can choose to adopt anything from organic and biodegradable pads to reusable/washable pads, and eco-friendly tampons and menstrual cups.

Plastic bottles – 450 years to decompose

You don’t need to be a genius to know that plastic = bad. The world is now overflowing with used plastic that takes around 450 years to decompose, so it might be time for you to look into some alternatives. The biggest problem when it comes to plastic bottles is the fact that a large portion of the population does not recycle this plastic.

This means that they head to landfill and stand their ground for hundreds of years without any other use. If you choose to recycle your plastic bottles, however, you can rest easy knowing that your local authority will work as one to ensure that they are used to make other products. For example, old plastic bottles are often used to make clothing, sleeping bags, carpets, and more. Alternatively, invest in a reusable drinks bottle to solve the issue!

Disposable nappies – 450 years to decompose 

If you have a child, you’ll know that there’s no greater fear than taking off their nappy – even for the shortest of moments. You have no idea when an explosion or a waterfall is going to occur, which is why you learn to switch them over in super-speed. As a new parent, it’s pretty easy to head to the store and bulk buy disposable nappies, but have you ever thought about what they’re doing to the environment?

Each individual nappy takes around 450 years to decompose, and they cannot be recycled when they are soiled. Because of this, it might be time to make a few eco-friendly changes. Cloth nappies are becoming increasingly popular with parents, and you can even buy specific biodegradable options. Get ready to say goodbye to disposable nappies forever…

Foam cups – 50 years to decompose 

There’s nothing better than a nice, hot cup of tea, is there? We thought not. We’re pretty busy people, though, so sometimes it’s not possible to sit on the sofa and drink your tea in peace. Instead, you have to drink it on the go or buy one as you’re out and about.

Foam cups should be a definite no-no in your new eco-friendly and sustainable life because they take around 50 years to decompose – and this planet hasn’t got the time or energy to deal with that. Why would you want to use a foam cup that you just throw away, anyway? You could buy yourself a quirky and unique reusable cup that suits your style, is big enough to hold the perfectly-sized cup of tea or coffee, and one that doesn’t ruin the environment at the same time. 

Ziploc bags – 500-1,000 years to decompose

Let’s be honest; Ziploc bags have come in pretty handy over the years. In fact, small little plastic sandwich bags have saved most of us when we’ve had leftover food, wanted to keep nuts and bolts safe, or just when we couldn’t find any other plastic wrap.

Unfortunately, anything to do with plastic can be really hurtful when it comes to our planet, and these particular bags take around 500-1,000 years to decompose. That doesn’t mean that you have to just let everything hang loose for the rest of your life, though. There are many alternatives to plastic Ziploc bags, and you can use anything from tin lunch boxes to beeswax wraps and biodegradable sandwich bags. There are so many options on offer. 

Glass bottles – One million years to decompose

No, you’re not reading that wrong. A glass bottle really does take around one million years to decompose, because glass is not biodegradable in the slightest. We bet that really makes you rethink those seven bottles of wine you drank at the weekend, huh? Don’t worry, though, because we’re not telling you that you can’t have a tipple or seven, because you just have to make sure that you recycle your glass bottles instead of throwing them in with your general waste.

If you do this, you can then ensure that they are going to be repurposed and reused to make something else. If your local council does not collect bottles within your normal collection service, then you could always make your way to your bottle bank, where you can dump as many as you please. 

Nylon fabric – 30-40 years to decompose 

If you look in your wardrobe right now, you will probably come across a fair few pieces of nylon stuffed in there. That’s because nylon is often used within the likes of tulle, sheer hosiery, veils, gowns, and blouses. This fibre is hugely common without fashion and textiles that can be found around the house – but it’s not exactly the most eco-friendly material on the planet.

If you were to throw your nylon clothes away, they would sit on the landfill for around 30-40 years before they eventually give in and decompose. So, what if you stopped that from happening? If you want to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle, you could give these items of clothing to charity so that another could make use of them, you could repurpose them into something else, or you could send them to a clothes bank where they will be recycled. 

Tin foil – 400 years to decompose 

Tin foil is the kind of household item that has so many uses. You can wrap up your sandwiches for your day at work, you can lay your turkey – or your Tofurkey – on it for your Sunday roast, or you could simply bunch it into a ball for your cat to play with. Because of this, you probably have a few rolls in your kitchen right now.

Did you know that tin foil actually takes around 400 years to decompose? This might make you want to think twice when it comes to using it, but that doesn’t mean that you have to completely stop using it altogether. If you can, try and reuse tin foil as much as possible before throwing it away and go for recycled options. If you do want to cut it out completely, you can embrace beeswax wraps for your sandwiches or silicone trays for your turkey. 

Ink cartridges – 450-1,000 years to decompose 

Whether you work from home and regularly have to print items off the computer, or whether you just print off the odd recipe here and there, you’ll know that every regular or photo printer needs to use ink cartridges. Without these bad boys, you wouldn’t be able to print anything off. Of course, ink cartridges aren’t for life, and they do eventually run out, meaning that you have to get rid of them in one way or another.

While it can be easy to simply throw them in the bin and forget about them, it’s hard to do so when you realise that they take around 450-1,000 years to decompose. What’s so amazing about ink cartridges, however, is the fact that you can refill them yourself or at various tech stores if you want to. As if that wasn’t enough, many computer stores also have recycling bins for you to get rid of your old cartridges. 

Plastic straws – 500 years to decompose 

There’s something about drinking out of a straw that makes the whole process much more exciting, but it should come as no surprise to learn that plastic straws are no longer the popular kid. We’ve all seen the devastating photos of plastic straws getting stuck up the noses of sea turtles and filling up landfills around the world, and it’s not nice to see.

If you want to make a change and don’t want to wait out the 500 years it takes for one single plastic straw to decompose, then you need to embrace another type of straw instead. This may be a paper straw that can be recycled after you have used it, or it may be a reusable straw that you can simply wash yourself and then reuse time and time again. Some of them even come in handy little cases, so you don’t lose them! 

Leather shoes – 25-40 years to decompose 

For centuries, leather shoes have been all the rage. After all, they’re strong, they’re durable, and they’re able to withstand the crazy weather than we often experience on a regular basis. However, it seems as though the reputation of leather is going down a notch, and that’s all thanks to animal activists and those who refuse to use animal products in their home or on their bodies.

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Yes, not only is leather used from the skin of animals, but it also takes around 25-40 years to decompose. Because of this, it might be time to invest in some eco-friendly leather alternatives. Nowadays, you can buy leather made from everything, including apples, pineapples, cacti, and so much more. These are all much more sustainable and are all much healthier on the environment. 

Light bulbs – one million years to decompose 

Unless you’re the kind of person who shuns technology and lives by candlelight, there’s a high chance that you have a fair few lightbulbs in your house. Not only should you really have switched to energy-saving light bulbs by now, but you should also avoid throwing them in the general waste bin when you’re done with them. That’s because light bulbs take around one million years to decompose.

Yes, one million years! If you want to keep things eco-friendly, then you might want to think again about just throwing them in the bin. Instead, look around your local area and see if there is anywhere where you can recycle them. Some local councils allow them to be recycled as part of their collections, while most tech stores will take them off your hands. 

Wet wipes – 100 years to decompose 

Whether you have a child, whether you love to clean, whether you love to take off your makeup, or whether you can’t stand sticky fingers, you may like to keep a pack of wet wipes on your person at all times. We get it; they’re pretty nifty. What’s not-so-nifty about these things, though, is the fact that they take a whopping 100 years to decompose – and don’t even get us started on people who simply flush them down the toilet!

There are so many alternatives to wet wipes, depending on what you want to use them for. If you want to clean your house, you can make your own using old cloth, if you want to remove your makeup you could buy reusable makeup remover pads, and if you want to just wipe your fingers, you could use your own, homemade disinfectant. 

Tyres – 50-80 years to decompose 

It’s safe to say that most people don’t have a whole collection of tyres sitting in their house, but if you do happen to have a few spare tyres lying around, please try to avoid sending them to the landfill. That’s because they will take around 50-80 years to decompose, and that’s if those working at the landfill don’t just set them on fire and allow the toxic fumes to make their way into the atmosphere.

There are so many options when it comes to disposing of tyres in an eco-friendly manner, and perhaps the easiest option is to repurpose them within your own home. Tyres can be used as planters for your flowers, they can be made into quirky little garden seats, or you could make your own tyre swing! If you don’t want to do that, head to your local mechanics’ shop and see if they will recycle them for you. 

Wooden furniture – 13 years to decompose 

If you’re the kind of person that loves to ensure that your house looks as stylish and as modern as possible, then you may find yourself throwing away the old furniture you don’t want. If you just happen to have an old wooden dining table, old wooden bed frame, or old wooden wardrobe, then you may be inclined to simply head to the dump and throw them on the furniture pile.

However, wooden furniture takes a whole 13 years to decompose – and that’s not very eco-friendly. If you want to dispose of wooden furniture more sustainably, there are various different options. The best option is to look at your furniture in a new light. Could you do anything to spruce it up? Sometimes a lick of paint can really transform something old into something brand new. 

Mattress – 120 years to decompose 

There’s a high chance that you don’t buy a new mattress on a regular basis, but if you do find yourself with a spring sticking into your back when it’s time to sleep, then that may be a sign that you need to buy a new one. But what do you do with your old mattress? It’s a huge item that would sit on the landfill for 120 years before decomposing, so what are the options?

While the opportunities for recycling mattresses are certainly few and far between, there are many charities and organisations that will accept old mattresses as donations. If it really is too badly damaged, you could alternatively tear it apart and repurpose the old parts. We’re sure you could make something out of springs and sprung material. Also, look at environmentally-friendly and ethical alternatives, such as the Ely Mattress.

Paper waste – 6 weeks to decompose 

It might be the junk mail that you get through the door or it might be the homework that your kid just couldn’t master, but this paper waste all seems to add up as the weeks go by. If you’re the kind of household who finds themselves overwhelmed with excess paper, it can be easy to simply throw this stuff into the general waste bin.

However, did you know that paper takes 6 weeks to decompose if it goes to landfill? It’s important to remember that paper can be recycled, and doing this makes a huge difference to the world. Instead of adding more to the giant landfill sites across the world, recycling this paper will take it to a recycling plant, where it can be transformed into something else in less than an hour! What could be better than that?

Household items often take a huge amount of time to decompose, but that doesn’t mean that you have to just stand by and let the weeks, months, years, centuries, or millennia go by. These eco-friendly alternatives should be right up your street. 

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