How long Does litter last? January 2, 2010

HOW LONG DOES LITTER LAST?

Decomposition time for common items:

Aluminum:                                    80-100 years

Cigarette butts:                        1-5 years

Glass bottles:                                    1,000,000 years

Leather:                                    50 years

Milk Cartons:                                    5 years

Orange & banana peels:            6 months

Paper:                                                10-20 years

Styrofoam:                                    never

Wool socks:                                    1-5 years

The above estimates are general.

National Parks spend15 million dollars per

year picking up all the waste we leave behind.

January 2, 2010.  This is day 2 in my year long experiment.

The list above is part of a larger one my friend Hunter Levinsohn made for a recycled labyrinth which we worked on together for the town of Chapel Hill a year or so ago.

These lists abound, and I am sure they are mostly true…

I am not a scientist or a judge here.  I do have a compost bin, and like most Americans, a house with too much stuff in it.

So, I have spent most of this morning, cleaning and sorting and making a big pile for the thrift shop.  Phew–

Yesterday, I made it through 2 parties and a dinner out without using plastic silverware or a plastic drinking straw.  This is because I remembered to tell the waitress and she remembered back.  As far as the parties, I got out my trusty travel silverware to use instead of the plastic silverware offered.  Didn’t cowboys, at one time carry their plates and bowls?

At party  #1 Frank Phoenix encouraged me to read CRADLE TO CRADLE by William McDonough & Michael Braungart.  Here is what the book jacket says:

“Reduce, reuse, recycle,” urge environmentalists; in other words, do more with less in order to minimize damage.  But as architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart point out in this provocative, visionary book, such an approach only perpetuates the one way, “cradle to grave” manufacturing model, dating to the industrial revolution, that creates such fantastic amounts of waste and pollution in the first place.  Why not change the belief that human industry must damage the natural world?  In fact, why not take nature itself as our model for making things?………..

So, now I have a book to read and a new paradigm to consider.

Today, I did go to the Durham farmers market and see how it will be easily possible to buy any vegetables I want with out using plastic bags.

Also, Portia Mcknight, farmer and cheese maker volunteered to wrap any cheeses I want in paper–all I have to do is call her.  This is an excellent discovery as the cheese thing has been worrying me.

Today, I am feeling like I have given myself a year long homework assignment, and am not quite sure what the point of it is, unless, perhaps, it is to train my eye as to what is biodegradable and what is not.   So–happy new year all–may your closets be clean and your compost bins cooking.

3 Comments
Steve Cherry January 3rd, 2010

Bryan, congratulations on your year-long endeavor to help extend the lifespan of Mother Earth. Man is the only animal known which arrogantly destroys the very envionrment on which he depends for survival. Your discovery process will take you to many places; and with lots of new eco-friendly ideas for better living. The Internet is loaded with great ideas. Most people you encounter spend several hours per day consuming info here and other places i.e., newspapers, books, magazines, conversations, etcetera. Too bad all this information doesn’t always make us wiser. The items you describe here are often found alongside the highways in NC and called “litter”. The NC Dept. of Transportation’s budget for annual litter clean-up is over $4.0 million! Those monies could be better spent somewhere else (my opinion). One small way you can help is to organize an Adopt-A-Highway group of volunteers to remove roadside litter somewhere near where you live or work. Over 6,000 groups of North Carolinians have been doing this since 1988. You’ll be surprised and delighted what a difference it makes. And, don’t forget that Earth Day 2010 (April 22) is the 40th anniversary of this worldwide program. Best of luck in your educational pursuits.

Jennifer Deer January 4th, 2010

Good luck, Bryant!! awesome project/inquiry. You should see the sea of styrofoam cups that wash up in my back yard from the creek every time it rains!

Bryant January 12th, 2010

Jennifer–Thanks–Next time the styrofoam washes up, call me. I want to document it, plus, pick it up.

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