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Name: Aalan
Status: Educator
Grade: 9-12
Location: CA
Country: United States
Date: August 2007

I am teaching environmental science to 11th graders this Fall and would like some specific info regarding the decomposition rate of garbage, in general, for instance: plastic, Cellophane, Mylar (like the balloons that are so popular), glass, aluminum, etc. If you do not have this information, do you have a source I can tap?

The "chemistry" of municipal solid waste is complicated -- very complicated. The rate of decomposition of various trash components depends not only on what the component is, but what other materials the component comes into contact. For example, at neutral pH (~7) aluminum is very stable, but at low pH (~3) or high pH (~9) it decomposes rapidly. Below are several web sites, but I caution you that solid municipal waste (trash) "chemistry" is very complicated, and full of surprises.

Vince Calder

Be aware that since many of today's land fills are sealed, decomposition rates are very low due to the dry and essentially oxygen free conditions in the land fills themselves. According to New Scientist Magazine, plastic shopping bags are better in these conditions than paper. The reasoning is that plastic takes up 1/10 the space of paper and the paper takes so long to decompose that land fill volume is the critical ecological factor.

A superb source fro all thinks trashy its the Tucson Garbage Project and books and articles by William Rathje.

R. Avakian

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