|MadSci Network: Environment|
Kelly asked how long do paper cups take to break down in a landfill? Kelley let me answer your question first and then discuss the Paper Vs Plastic issue. Your Question is a question that does not have any one number assigned to it. Depending on moisture conditions in the landfill, a paper cup can decompose in 2-4 weeks in wet conditions or many years in dry conditions. The breakdown of waste is a function of time combined with moisture. I have seen newsprint that has been buried for 15 years dug up and still readable. Currently many of the landfills have the waste entombed, in a dry state (keeping the water out means less leachate to treat) this leads to the waste being mummified. Back to the paper cup vs. the Styrofoam. The actual material in Styrofoam is negligent. Most of the volume of the cup is air. If compressed before disposal or actually just leaving it alone, the cup will be under pressure during its trip to the dump. This will reduce the volume substantially. Well this argument is similar for paper cups, but they compress less than Styrofoam. Styrofoam is a petroleum product, paper is a wood product, wood is a truly renewable resource and the paper cup could also be made from post consumer recycled material. The paper cup would take between 5 -15 years to breakdown in a landfill. I don't know if Styrofoam will ever breakdown. The best answer: Paper. When you’re done with the paper cups try shredding them and adding them to a compost pile or worm bin.
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