How Long Do Different Materials Take to Biodegrade (Infographic)

Biodegradation can be defined simply as the breakdown of organic matter by microorganisms, such as bacteria and fungi. How long this process takes will vary hugely depending on the item, which is why recycling materials which resist the process, such as glass and plastic, is so important.

To put into context just how important, let’s take a look at how long some of these materials take to biodegrade.


how long do different materials take to biodegrade


Paper towel

A paper towel takes around 2-4 weeks to biodegrade. Given that this is shorter than most fruit and veg, it’s easy to see why paper towels needn’t be recycled.

Apple core

It might surprise you to learn that apple cores can take as long as two months to properly decompose. The flesh around the core is much more resilient than you might think.

Cotton t-shirt

A cotton t-shirt will take around 2-5 months to biodegrade. A polyester mix t-shirt, on the other hand, can take anywhere between 20 and 200 years to biodegrade, depending on the blend.


An engineered wood crafted from multiple layers of thin veneer, plywood takes around 1-3 years to properly biodegrade.

Cigarette butt

Despite its size, a cigarette butt can take up to 10 years to fully biodegrade. Given that around 18 billion cigarettes are sold every day, this is a frightening statistic.


Although a natural material, leather can take up to 50 years to biodegrade. This is simply due to the way that the leather is treated during the production process.

Aluminium can

This is where things start a little more alarming. An aluminium can take around 6 weeks to manufacture, but it can take up to 200 years to biodegrade.

Plastic bottle

In the UK alone, over 1.7 million tonnes of plastic is produced each year, and a single plastic bottle will take around 500 years to fully decompose. However, only 30% of that plastic is actually recycled.

Glass bottle

While you might have thought that plastic was the most resistant material to biodegradation, it’s in fact glass. A glass bottle could take up to 1,000,000 years to properly biodegrade. Here’s some perspective: by that time, the Great Pyramid of Giza will have also eroded.

At Brown Recycling we provide waste management and recycling service for Stoke-on-Trent, Crewe and the surrounding areas, helping to reduce waste sent to landfill and achieve our zero to landfill target. To learn more about the materials we can recycle and how our services could benefit you, simply contact our professional team today.


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