Before we begin, if you think Polymer is a girls name, check out from monomors to hoovers, how plastic is made then get back here.
Plastic is a wonder substance light weight waterproof and rot proof which means it doesn’t biodegrade.
Biodegrading is the breaking down of organic substances, (plants, dead animals, rocks, minerals etc.), by natural means. It happens all the time in nature. We live, we die, we rot and so we feed the next generation. Even if you are a rock. All plant-based, animal-based, or natural mineral-based substances will over time biodegrade.
Here’s how long it takes for some commonly used products to biodegrade, when they are scattered about as litter:
Paper ~ 2-5 months
Cotton rags ~ 1-5 month
Natural fiber rope ~ 3-14 months
Orange peel ~6 months
Wool socks ~1 to 5 years
Leather shoes ~25 to 40 years
Tin cans ~ 50 to 100 years
However products made from synthetic polymers, that’s the plastic we use everyday, do not. These products can last for years, decades, centuries and possibly for ever.
Plastic takes so long to break down because the long polymer, the basic building block, is a man-made. Plastic is a Frankenstien freakoid.
“Nature doesn’t make things like that, so organisms have never seen that before ” Kenneth Peters, an organic geochemist at Stanford University, quoted in Life’s Little Mysteries.
Which means the enzymes and the micro organisms responsible for breaking down organic substances do not recognize plastic. Therefore plastic products are pretty much indestructible – they do not rot or biodegradable.
Of course plastic breaks, tears and cracks. It weathers and sunlight makes it brittle, It falls apart – it degrades – but only into smaller pieces of plastic.
This degrading process can go on indefinitely it seems.
Particles of plastic of 20 microns in diameter (a width thinner than a human hair) have been found in the oceans and are being found in increasing amounts.
These tiny pieces of plastics are called micro plastic… and are entering the food chain – more here
Disposing Of Waste Plastic
Because plastic lasts so long it is hard to get rid of. Find out more at getting rid of plastic.
Life’s Little Mysteries article