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Feb 01, 2018

Things That Don’t Break Down in Landfills


We don’t think about the items we toss into the trash can or recycling bin. We figure someone else will haul them away, never to be seen again. But many of those used-once, non-biodegradable items can linger in our landfills, not breaking down for hundreds or even thousands of years…if ever.

As professional junk haulers, 123JUNK must be knowledgeable about Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations, the types of items we haul, and their impact on our ecosystem and environment. We don’t just take everything to the landfill and dump it off. We make a conscious effort with each pickup to cull through and remove items that can—and should—be recycled and deliver them to the proper recycling centers located throughout our region.

More harmful items that don’t break down in landfills:

Plastic Bottles

Because plastic bottles are designed to hold liquids, they also are designed to keep other elements out, which can prevent them from being broken down by the very microorganisms that facilitate decomposition. Eventually, say in about 500 years, they may break up into smaller pieces, but they will never break down.

Glass Bottles

Similarly, glass bottles are also designed to resist penetration by liquids or organisms. Since they are made of up silica, just like sand, they are resistant to breaking down. Some say they could take up to a million years to biodegrade, but nobody’s been around long enough to measure.

Plastic Bags

Grocery bags and sandwich bags that end up in the landfill can take up to 1,000 years to break down. An even larger problem is the issue they post with wildlife. Birds and animals are attracted to food or odors left by foods in the bags and chew into or swallow the plastic bags, which wreaks havoc with their digestive systems and can prove fatal. Washing out and reusing plastic bags is one way to help recycle.

Aluminum Cans

Even aluminum can take between 80 and 200 years to break down in a landfill. Metals, like tin cans, will eventually rust and flake apart, but are not biodegradable because microorganisms do not feed on metal.


Styrofoam, or polystyrene foam, was actually designed not to break down, it is toxic to burn, and normally cannot be reused. It will retain its shape for thousands of years. And since it is light enough to float, it can end up in polluting our waterways.

Disposable Diapers

Disposable diapers are made up of a number of layers: plastic, absorbent, paper. And in addition to taking up to 500 years to decompose, disposable diapers carry biohazards in the human excrement that can cause bacteria and diseases to flourish. Don’t even think about putting disposable diapers into your recycling bin.


Most electronic appliances and devices contain heavy metals like lead, cadmium, mercury and beryllium, and hazardous elements including hexavalent chromium, arsenic, brominated flame retardants, and polyvinyl chloride (PVC plastic) that can leech into the soil and pollute our ecosystem. Some are extremely toxic, even in very low concentrations. A modern cell phone can contain 500 to 1,000 elements.

Printer Ink Cartridges

Printing ink contains harmful chemicals like alcohol, fungicides, ethylene glycol and toxic metals that although they are not toxic to humans, can release toxins into the environment. Their contents can also be flammable, reactive or corrosive, and make take 500-1,000 years to break down.

Fluorescent Light Bulbs

CFL, or compact fluorescent lamp bulbs, contain mercury phosphorous and yttrium that, if broken, could contaminate local ecosystems. LED bulbs contain aluminum. Both of these types of light bulbs are much more damaging to the environment than the older-style incandescent bulbs.

123JUNK Knows Its Stuff

As you can see, we in the junk hauling business have to “know our stuff” to do our jobs right. There’s more to it than just hauling junk to the landfill. Yet sadly, not all companies consider the environmental impact when operating their business.

Schedule a Junk Pickup with 124JUNK

If you need to make a junk pickup in Northern Virginia, Maryland or Washington DC, call 123JUNK. We were the thought leaders in our donate—recycle—dispose philosophy that is the heart of our business. Contact us today and talk live to one of our friendly representatives.

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