How long is the lifespan of litter?

One year, ten years, more than a hundred years? Some everyday items, once discarded in the natural environment as litter, can take years to break down to nothing. How long is the lifespan of this everyday waste? How can we reduce its impact? Here’s our review of details and ideas for reducing the proliferation of all this waste which poses a real hazard to the natural environment.

“It’s the duty of mankind to be nature’s guardian, not its owner.” This phrase coined by Philippe Saint-Marc, one of France’s great environmentalists, encapsulates the issue that dominates today’s zeitgeist: protection of the environment and the planet. One of the areas in which action can be taken easily pertains to litter, which poses a hazard to flora and fauna. Because we can all make a conscious decision to drop litter or not, pick up litter or not, sort household waste or not… Here’s our review of details and ideas for reducing the proliferation of all this waste which poses real hazards to the natural environment.

Hazards to the natural environment are a matter of urgency!


Flora and fauna suffer due to the accumulation of waste that takes a very long time to biodegrade and break down to nothing. The biggest scourge for the ocean is plastic waste which pollutes the marine environment and poses a threat to some animal species. One example is plastic bags that end up in the sea and get swallowed by turtles. According to the website unoceandeplastique.fr, “1,000 tonnes of plastic waste reaches the ocean every hour, with 80% coming from dry land.” Alarming! All the more so since the plastic then enters the food chain…

How long is the lifespan of waste?

What’s the other worst enemy of the environment? Humans, who throw things away without thinking about the consequences of their actions. The time it takes for an item to biodegrade ranges from one year to… A billion years. The time taken for waste to break down is hard to fathom, but it’s a fact!

For example, 12 everyday items:

  • Toilet paper: from 2 weeks to 1 month.
  • Apple core: from 1 to 5 months.
  • Tissue: 3 months
  • Newspaper: from 3 to 12 months.
  • Bus ticket: 1 year.
  • Cigarette butt: 1 to 5 years.
  • Chewing gum: 5 years.
  • Aluminium can: from 200 to 500 years.
  • Plastic bag: 150 years.
  • Plastic bottle: from 100 to 1,000 years.
  • Sanitary towel or disposable nappy: 400 to 500 years.
  • Glass: up to 5,000 years.

Source: ConsoGlobe | SIEDMTO

3 principles to reduce the proliferation of waste for a Clean Planet 

1 – Fundamental rule: no littering  

cendriers portatif - CLEAN FOR GOOD - WE ARE CLEAN

 That means, for example, clearing all your rubbish away and leaving nothing behind after a picnic in the countryside or an afternoon on the beach. And for smokers, it also means not stubbing out cigarette butts anywhere but in an ashtray. There are portable ashtray pouches that are quite a handy way to avoid polluting the environment with cigarettes. 

2 – Embrace anti-plastic habits  

In her book J’arrête le plastique (published by éditions Leduc Pratique), Anne Thoumieux, a contributor to the blog, puts forward several ideas for reducing your plastic footprint from day to day. In her chapter “List of the ten easiest resolutions to commit to” for example, you’ll find advice on buying loose items, ceasing to buy yoghurts that come in plastic pots (which seldom get recycled) and switching to solid shampoo and shower gel. This is so to prevent plastic container residue from settling as a tidemark on the bathtub.

3 – Remember to keep the amount of waste in check


From buying a home composter to deal with organic waste to using a water filter so that you no longer buy bottled water… There are a lot of ideas to be explored in order to cut down on waste. Again, baby steps are the way forward.

There’s no point in changing everything overnight, flagellating yourself whilst chanting “Mother Nature, I salute you” three times a day. No. Instead, the important thing is to find out information, gain awareness of each of our habits and their consequences, and therefore limit the damage as much as possible.

In her book Trois semaines pour diminuer ses déchets (Éditions Eyrolles), Marie Touffet puts forward an array of ideas (and actions) deigned to reach the ideal of zero waste. For example by adopting the rule of the 5 “r”s:

  • Refusing (declining) what you don’t need
  • Reducing what you do need
  • Re-using whilst lengthening the useful life of items
  • Recycling everything that can be recycled
  • Returning matter to the earth (compost)

Aside from this philosophy of (new) life, the author puts forward lots of clever tips to help reduce your environmental impact. A very simple example: keeping an aluminium can into which you post all the other ringpulls, which otherwise generally end up in the bin. Once it’s full… Off it goes to the recycle bin!

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