HomePET Knowledge BaseHow Long It Takes for Plastic to Break Down

How Long It Takes for Plastic to Break Down

Have you ever wondered what happens to plastic after you throw it away?

Have you ever wondered what happens to plastic after you throw it away? Bottle-Grade Polyester Chips can take hundreds or even thousands of years to break down, unlike what many people believe. This means that every piece of plastic ever made still exists in some form today.


Understanding the timeline for plastic breakdown can help us make better choices about how we use and dispose of this material. Let's take a closer look at just how long it takes for plastic to break down and the impact it has on our planet.

How Long It Takes for Plastic to Break Down


What Is Plastic Made Of?

The Basics of Plastic Materials
Plastic is made from synthetic materials derived from organic compounds such as coal, natural gas, and crude oil.

Plastic bags can take up to 1,000 years to biodegrade, and plastic bottles can take between 450 years to never to break down naturally.

These long decomposition times of plastic items contribute to the overwhelming amounts of plastic waste in landfills and natural environments.

It is important to decrease the consumption and production of single-use plastics to mitigate the environmental impact of plastic waste.

Examples of alternative materials include biodegradable plastics made from plant-based sources, and reusable items such as cloth bags and stainless steel water bottles.

These sustainable alternatives provide a solution to the detrimental effects of plastic waste on the environment.


Different Kinds of Plastic

Plastic comes in many types, each with its own special qualities.

For example, polyethylene (PE) is flexible and is often found in plastic bags and bottles.

Meanwhile, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is rigid and used in pipes and window frames.

Different plastics have different effects on the environment when it comes to breaking down.

For instance, PE can take hundreds of years to decompose, while PVC can take even longer.

This means that products made from these plastics can last a long time in the environment, harming wildlife and natural habitats.


Common items made from these plastics include food packaging, toys, and construction materials.

If not disposed of or recycled properly, these products can end up in landfills and oceans, causing pollution and threatening ecosystems.


How Long Does It Take for Plastic Bags to Biodegrade?

Plastic Bags in the Ocean
Plastic bags can end up in the ocean when not disposed of properly. They are often carried by wind or water flow from landfills, beaches, or city streets. Once in the ocean, they are a big threat to marine life. Sea turtles, fish, and seabirds can mistake the bags for food, leading to ingestion and causing injury or death due to blocked digestive tracts or malnutrition.


To reduce plastic bag pollution in the ocean, many countries and cities have implemented bans or fees on single-use plastic bags. This encourages the use of reusable bags instead. Educational campaigns and beach clean-up initiatives also help raise awareness and prevent further pollution.


It's important to properly dispose of plastic bags to prevent them from reaching the ocean. Efforts should continue in finding alternative solutions to reduce their environmental impact.


Plastic Bags on Land

Plastic bags on land have a big impact on the environment. They take a long time to break down, causing widespread pollution in natural areas. Wildlife and ecosystems are also harmed by plastic bags, as animals may eat them or get trapped in them, leading to injury or death.


To reduce the presence of plastic bags on land, people can use reusable bags, and communities can introduce plastic bag bans or fees. Recycling programs can also help by keeping plastic bags out of landfills and natural areas.


In general, the lasting effect of plastic bags on land requires active steps to decrease their use and manage their disposal properly.


How Long Does It Take for Plastic Bottles to Biodegrade?

Water Bottles

Plastic bottles can take hundreds of years to biodegrade due to the chemical structure of plastic. It's resistant to natural decomposition processes. Most plastic bottles don't break down easily, releasing harmful chemicals into the environment when they do. Factors like sunlight, moisture, and microbial activity can affect the rate of degradation, but overall, it's incredibly slow. Plastic is made of polymers, long chains of molecules that can remain intact for centuries without breaking down.


To reduce plastic waste, it's important to consider alternative materials for packaging, and to focus on recycling and reusing plastic bottles to minimize their environmental impact.


Soda Bottles

Soda bottles are usually made from a plastic called polyethylene terephthalate (PET) or high-density polyethylene (HDPE). These plastics can take 450 to 1,000 years to biodegrade in a landfill. Biodegradation depends on light, moisture, and oxygen. In landfills, soda bottles break down very slowly due to the lack of these conditions. The plastic particles can release harmful chemicals into the soil and water, harming the environment.


Recycled soda bottles can be used to make new products, reducing landfill waste. However, this still uses energy and resources. It's important for consumers to think about how they dispose of soda bottles and consider using materials with a lower environmental impact.


Timelines for Common Plastic Items to Break Down

Straws and Coffee Cup Lids

Plastic straws and coffee cup lids have significant environmental impacts due to their contribution to plastic pollution. It can take up to 200 years for plastic straws and coffee cup lids to biodegrade, resulting in long-term harm to the environment. To reduce their environmental impact, alternative materials such as paper, bamboo, or metal can be utilized for straws and coffee cup lids, which degrade more quickly and can be recycled.

Reducing the use of single-use plastic straws and coffee cup lids altogether is also a viable option to limit environmental harm.

Additionally, designs that are reusable and durable offer a sustainable alternative to single-use plastic straws and coffee cup lids. These eco-friendly alternatives play a crucial role in minimizing the negative environmental effects associated with plastic waste.


Plastic Cutlery

Plastic cutlery doesn't break down easily. It's made of materials like polystyrene and polypropylene that take a long time to biodegrade, sometimes hundreds of years. Environmental factors like sunlight, and microbial activity can influence the breakdown process, but it still takes a significant amount of time. The lasting nature of plastic cutlery raises environmental concerns due to the buildup of plastic waste in landfills and oceans, posing a threat to ecosystems and wildlife.


To address this, there's a focus on using sustainable alternatives like biodegradable or reusable options instead. Despite efforts to minimize its impact, plastic cutlery remains a major concern in the global movement to reduce plastic pollution.


Toothbrushes and Razors

Toothbrushes and razors are made of plastic, which takes a long time to biodegrade. Sunlight, moisture, and soil affect the breakdown process. Recycling plastic parts and using alternative materials like bamboo can help speed up breakdown and reduce waste in landfills. Choosing products with less packaging and using reusable razors also helps cut down plastic waste.


It's important to be mindful of the environmental impact of everyday items like toothbrushes and razors and make conscious choicesto reduce their impact on the planet.


What Affects How Long It Takes for Plastic to Biodegrade?

Environmental factors affect how fast plastic breaks down. Factors like temperature, sunlight, and oxygen levels make a difference.


For example, high temperatures and sunlight speed up degradation. Different types of plastic also break down at different rates. Some, like polyethylene and polypropylene, take hundreds of years to degrade. Others, like polylactic acid, break down faster. Human actions, like recycling and using biodegradable plastics, also affect degradation speed. These practices can lessen the environmental impact of plastic waste.


The Process of Plastic Degradation

Plastic degradation depends on factors like the type of plastic, environmental conditions, and sunlight exposure. For example, a plastic water bottle can take up to 450 years to fully biodegrade, and a plastic bag can take 10-1000 years.


The process begins with the plastic breaking down into smaller pieces due to sunlight, heat, and oxygen, known as photodegradation. Over time, these small particles can further degrade into microplastics, which are tiny particles less than 5mm in size.


It's important to note that while plastic degrades, it never truly biodegrades like organic materials, meaning it never fully disappears from the environment.


Ways to Speed Up the Breakdown of Plastics

One way to speed up the breakdown of plastics is through photodegradation. This process uses sunlight to break down the plastic into smaller pieces.


Another method, biodegradation, involves microorganisms like bacteria and fungi to decompose the plastic.

Natural or chemical additives like enzymes or pro-oxidants can also accelerate plastic degradation.


Environmental conditions like temperature and moisture can be adjusted to promote plastic breakdown. For example, higher temperatures and increased humidity can help degrade plastic.


These methods and environmental factors are important for speeding up the breakdown of plastics and offer potential solutions for the issue of plastic waste accumulation.


Real Examples of Plastic Pollution

Plastic pollution harms marine life and ecosystems. In the North Pacific Ocean, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a huge area of floating plastic debris. It's a serious threat to aquatic animals. On land, plastic pollution comes in many forms like bags, straws, and food packaging. This litter can be found in parks, beaches, and cities. The environment suffers from the pollution, affecting soil, water, and wildlife. Plastic bottles are a big part of this problem.


They end up in rivers, lakes, and oceans, polluting water sources and threatening aquatic species. It takes hundreds of years for plastic bottles to decompose, causing long-term pollution.



Plastic takes a long time to break down in the environment. Factors like the type of plastic, environmental conditions, and exposure to sunlight can affect how it breaks down. It can break into smaller pieces, but it never really goes away. This slow breakdown contributes to the buildup of plastic waste in the environment. Look for a great amount of PET plastic at Wkai PET Resin.



How long does it take for plastic to break down?

It takes around 450 years for plastic to break down. However, certain plastic items like plastic bags can take up to 1000 years to decompose.


What factors affect the breakdown of plastic?

The key factors affecting the breakdown of plastic include exposure to sunlight, heat, moisture, and mechanical stress. For example, UV radiation from the sun can accelerate the degradation of plastic, while extreme heat can cause it to break down more quickly.


Can all types of plastic break down at the same rate?

No, different types of plastic break down at different rates. For example, PVC can take hundreds of years to break down, while PET may break down in a few decades.


What are the environmental impacts of plastic breakdown?

Plastic breakdown contributes to pollution through microplastics in the ocean, soil and water contamination, and release of harmful chemicals. It also affects marine life and disrupts ecosystems. Promoting recycling, reducing single-use plastics, and proper waste management can help mitigate these impacts.

Is there any way to speed up the breakdown of plastic?
Yes, one way to speed up the breakdown of plastic is by using specialized bacteria and fungi, such as the ones found in composting systems like BDP™ EcoPure®. These organisms can break down plastic into harmless byproducts like water, carbon dioxide, and biomass at an accelerated rate.

Previous article
Next article