Water bottles are generally made out of a material called polyethylene terephthalate, or PET. Unlike organic materials like wood, plastic cannot be broken down into useful compounds by bacteria. For plastic to decompose, it must undergo a process called photodegradation, which is a fancy way of saying that UV rays can degrade plastics by dissolving molecular bonds. Over time, as more and more molecular bonds break, a large piece of plastic degrades into smaller and smaller pieces, until the bottle finally decomposes entirely. This can take several hundred, or even a thousand years. In a landfill, where many plastic bottles are buried underneath other trash, they may never decompose due to a lack of sunlight.
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