How long do plastics last in the environment?

How long it takes for glass to degrade

The oceans are the true lungs of the planet, covering about two-thirds of the Earth’s surface. And yet, marine surfaces are threatened by human action, as is the case with the dumping of plastic waste.

Plastics are present in a multitude of everyday products, many of them disposable. Unfortunately, 80% of them end up in landfills, incinerated or thrown into the environment itself, including the seas and oceans, arriving through waterways or water drainage systems in urban areas.

To try to raise awareness and “radically change the way we consume these and other goods”, Greenpeace shows, through the report Damn Plastic. Recycling is not enough, the magnitude of the problem. The recycling of plastic packaging would thus stand at 25%, while the overall recycling of light packaging is 77.1%.

Lighters, in addition to being a fire hazard, last for about a century and pollute the environment. To give you an idea, this is the time that has passed since the mythical RMS Titanic sank.


Inorganic waste represents a fundamental problem: it does not degrade easily in nature. If we know how long it takes for some of the materials we throw away every day to disappear, we will better understand the importance of recycling them.

Inorganic waste is waste that does not come from biological sources. They are, however, products obtained by industrial processes. The degradation time of inorganic waste, when it is deposited in the natural environment, is so long that it is vital to promote initiatives to raise public awareness of the importance of disposing of inorganic waste correctly. If you want to know how long it takes for chewing gum to degrade or how long it takes the Earth to dispose of a plastic bottle, read on.

Materials that take years to decompose and during this process pollute the environment.

What does it depend on whether a waste decomposes sooner or later? Not all waste takes the same amount of time to decompose. The two most decisive factors are the composition of the material and the environmental conditions. In particular, plastic is one of the most resistant materials and therefore takes the longest time to decompose.

This explains why decomposition in water is much slower than on land. In the sea, where the vast majority of waste ends up, waves and currents carry it downward. Their impact accelerates decomposition, yes, but when these plastics reach the surface, they are covered with organic and inorganic matter, which reduces their exposure to the sun’s radiation.

What specific object did you think of when you asked yourself this question? Colored balloons are the plastic products that take the shortest time to degrade: about six months. If that sounds like a long time, wait until you hear about the next ones.

This is good news to prevent pollution of the seas. However, the environmental organization warns that the current quantities are so large that it is not enough to enact laws, but it is also important the individual responsibility of consumers.

How long does it take for a plastic bottle to degrade?

Plastic production revolutionized all industrial sectors but today it has become an environmental problem that affects the sustainability of the planet. It is a functional, cheap and widespread material but also polluting if it is not treated and recycled properly. Plastic bags, for example, take decades to disappear from the environment.

But it is not only on the European continent that efforts are being made to reduce plastic. In countries such as Argentina, a resolution was passed establishing that hypermarkets, supermarkets and self-service food and beverage outlets should not give out non-biodegradable plastic bags. The Uruguayan government, through its ‘Law on the sustainable use of plastic bags’ establishes several measures to discourage their use and promote their reuse and recycling.

Could we live in the near future without plastic? “It seems very difficult. Now we would have to go the other way around to use materials with the fantastic characteristics that plastics have. We have enjoyed some advantages while looking the other way without seeing the negative impacts of plastic,” Arribas says.