Biodegradability of paper and cardboard: how long do they take to decompose

Elizabeth Smith

Fortunately, with the evolution of people’s environmental awareness, we are talking more and more about recycling, reuse and recovery of the materials we use. But what are the decomposition times of paper and cardboard? What is their impact on nature?

How long does it take for paper and cardboard to decompose

Among the materials produced by man, the “leader” in eco-sustainability is certainly paper. Its degradation process can take 2/3 weeks. Here too, however, it depends.

The simple napkin takes two weeks. Newspaper, on the other hand, reaches 6 weeks. The decomposition time of a cardboard box is 2 months.

Food cartons – fruit juices and milk, for example – can last up to 3 months. More correctly, in the case of milk, we should talk about Tetrapak. Much depends on the type of processing carried out and the thickness of the package.

Biodegradability and compostability

But be careful. In fact, a biodegradable element is not automatically compostable. Biodegradable is defined as any material that can be broken down by bacteria, sunlight and other natural physical agents into simple chemical compounds such as water, carbon dioxide and methane.

A process that involves a multitude of materials but which can provide for each element its own degradation time, even a long one. However, European legislation establishes limits.

To be defined as biodegradable a product must decompose by 90% within 6 months. On the other hand, compostable (transformable into compost, a natural fertilizer) is defined as that material which is not only biodegradable but also disintegrable and whose decomposition process takes place in less than 3 months.

Not all types of paper are compostable. In fact, they take from 1 to 12 months to disintegrate, depending on the composition. Thanks to these characteristics, paper and cardboard are materials with low environmental impact.

Read also: How long does it take for plastic to decompose

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