How Long Do Paper Plates Take to Decompose?

Trash in landfills takes years to decompose.
••• Wire Trash Can image by Julie F from

When asked, "paper or plastic," some people may choose paper thinking they are helping the environment. However, studies show that paper does not decompose much faster than plastic. Whenever it's an option, avoid using paper plates and choose reusable plates.


According to the New York City Department of Sanitation, paper plates generally decompose in five years.


The way a paper plate is disposed affects its decomposition rate. The more moisture and heat available, the faster the plate decomposes. Also, paper plates in compost piles that are aerated more frequently decompose faster. Another factor is the paper plate's thickness. Thicker plates take longer to degrade. However, if the plate is ground up or cut up, its decomposition rate increases.


Paper plates stained with grease often can't be recycled.

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