Just how long will it all last?

Working through all my observations of beach litter  my focus is drawn  to  the length of time that our litter will last on our beaches and floating in the seas.

The time line for the existence of  litter into the future is something I am grappling to understand.  Figures vary hugely for instance on many educational websites for schools covering organic waste such as Oranges & bananas Orange peel upto 2 years cigarette butts 1-5 years, plastic coated paper 5yrs, plastic bags 10-20years, nylon fabric 30-40yrs, aluminum cans 80-100 years glass bottles 1million years, plastic bottles indefinitely.  Other sources predict little breakdown of  tough plastics (boxes etc) in 10’s of thousands of years. Such figures are generalised projection estimates for degrading in the environment.

Many scientific  organisations  are trying to shed light on  biodegrading of  different materials specifically in the marine environment , one such research body is published by the Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education (C-MORE) in Honolulu,  USA, they have calculated an estimate below with which I intend to use over the next few days as I set about trying to date how long the  litter  on our beaches will exist with the help of pupils and residents along the coast.

                                       Marine Debris Biodegradation Time Line


Time to degrade

Paper towel

2-4 weeks


6 weeks

Cardboard box

2 months

Waxed milk carton

3 months

Apple core

2 months

Cotton gloves

1-5 months

Wool gloves

1 year


1-3 years

Painted wooden sticks

13 years

Photo-degradable beverage holder

6 months

Plastic beverage holder

400 years

Plastic bags

10-20 years

Plastic bottle

100 years

Glass bottle and jars


Disposable diapers

50-100 years

Tin can

50 years

Aluminium can

200 years

Monofilament fishing line

600 years

(Mote Marine Laboratory, 1993)

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