How long does it take different materials to break down?

How long does it take different materials to break down?

The estimated time for everyday items to decompose in landfill is truly startling and underlines the work we have ahead of us to reverse this environmental nightmare.

Research shows that material complexity and the environmental conditions for decay play a role in determining how slowly an item breaks down. However, we know with reasonable certainty that many high-use consumer items will exist in landfill for decades, if not hundreds of years.

Plastic bottles

Australia produces almost 3 million tonnes of plastic per annum, of which less than 12% is recycled.1

It is currently estimated that plastic bottles will take up to an astonishing 450 years to break down in landfill.2 Regrettably, the great majority of plastic bottles never find their way into the recycling stream, simply being discarded into landfill and waterways.

Coffee grounds

Around 6 million tonnes of spent ground coffee make it to landfills around the world every year.3

Most used coffee finds its way into landfill without being separated or treated and won’t begin breaking down for three months.4 As grounds decompose, they release methane—a greenhouse gas that is more harmful than carbon dioxide.


Australia sends approximately 800,000 tonnes of textile waste to landfill annually.5

Clothing fabric varies greatly in the time it takes to decompose. For example, while cotton clothing takes up to six months to break down, a polyester shirt can take up to a whopping 200 years to fully disintegrate.6

A better way

Hand 2 Heart scrubs are made from 100% recycled fabric. At the end of their useful life, we’ll take them back to be remade into new goods. By choosing Hand 2 Heart scrubs, you’re making a planet-positive choice by helping to reduce landfill waste that can take generations to break down.

  1. WWF Australia (Jul 2021)
  2. Down 2 Earth Materials (Feb 2013)
  3. ‘How coffee waste can be used to grow mushrooms and power buses’ (Sep 2020)
  4. Perfect Daily Grind (Sep 2020)
  5. ‘Clothing textiles waste’ (May 2021)
  6. Sustainable Choice (Dec 2021)
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