Why does Styrofoam take so long to break down in a landfill?



  1. 0 Votes

    One of the reasons that Styrofoam takes +1 million years to biodegrade, which means that it’s not really biodegradable, is because it is composed of 95% air.  The more air in any material, the harder it is to biodegrade, simply because of the fact that it is almost in a gaseous state, and gases cannot really biodegrade, and can rarely be filtered completely.

  2. 0 Votes

    The idea that styrofoam (polystyrene) takes a million years to break down is mostly made up from someone’s imagination. You can find plenty of sources (including one cited in the reference in the other answer) that suggest something like 500 years or  much less. In reality, there is a huge difference between “break down” and “biodegrade” – the latter usually is taken to mean a chemical return of the elements to nature. Plastic bags, styrofoam, and most other plastics, in many (but not all) environmental situations, will break down mechanically into virtually sand-sized pieces within a few years. In fact, the large volume of air in styrofoam pointed out by the other answer significantly improves its ability to break down mechanically. Step on a styofoam coffee cup that’s been outside for 3 months. Try to re-use a plastic grocery bag that’s been in the pile in your kitchen for a year.

    I am not trying to say it’s good, having that stuff around, but it is not correct to envision a styrofoam peanut floating around for a million years. I would bet that within 20 years a loose piece of styrofoam will have broken into pieces that can be incorporated into soil and sediment with no real problem. In huge volume, of course problems can exist. The same can be said for anything, including such easily biodegradable material as human waste and grass clippings.

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