This story is part of a series on ocean plastics.
Some things you toss in the trash will have a longer life span on this planet than you will ― and that’s not good news for the environment.
Americans generated 258 million tons of trash in 2014, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. While some of this trash gets recycled or composted, most of it ends up in landfills, where it releases greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. A lot of it also ends up in the oceans, where animals can eat it or get harmed by it ― particularly if it’s plastic trash like bottle caps or fishing nets.
And while an apple core might take just two months to decompose, a plastic water bottle can take up to 450 years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. What’s more, plastics may never fully disappear, scientists say. When plastic trash is dumped into the ocean, for example, it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces known as microplastics. Fish and shellfish eat these particles, and people who eat seafood are consuming them too.
SaveOnEnergy, a company that helps people choose their power provider, recently created a pair of graphics that bring to life the problem of long-lasting trash. The group used NOAA and other government sources to find decomposition rates for everyday materials ― and the results will give you some food for thought:
“Bringing simple data like decomposition rates to the surface and manifesting the impact of mindless ‘tossing’ on generations to come is one small way to contribute,” SaveOnEnergy editor Heather Bailey told HuffPost in an email.
On the upside, there are some easy ways for you to fight pollution in your everyday life: You can try not to consume as many single-use items ― such as straws or takeout containers ― and recycle any items you do use. You can also volunteer to help at local beach clean-ups.