The Truth About Fruit and How Long It Takes to Biodegrade

When we talk about ​ how long it takes for items to biodegrade and decompose here at Green and Growing, we typically talk about plastics and other harmful materials. This is to spread awareness so that we can stop depending so heavily on these materials. However, we need to address another matter. What about our everyday kitchen scraps, and more specifically, what about fruit? How long do they take to decompose? The short answer to that question is that it depends. The better the circumstance and environment, the quicker it will disappear. However, it is entirely different when someone leaves a banana peel on the side of the road.

What Does Biodegradable Mean?

In the simplest of terms, an object is biodegradable if it can decompose naturally. The process requires microorganisms that see the object as food. This is why fruit and vegetables tend to decompose faster. They literally are food and microorganisms are more likely to go to it first. Nevertheless, these microorganisms need more than just food to help them break down objects. They need light, water, and oxygen. Temperature can also make a difference because the organisms reproduce faster in warmer weather. They can still work just fine when it is cooler, but it will take more time.

When using this definition, most objects biodegrade over time. Some exceptions include plastic and styrofoam. These items are not food to microorganisms, so they leave the material alone. Over time, the elements will break down the materials, but they never truly disappear. Instead, they exist as microplastics, which can cause even greater harm to people and the environment.

How Long Does It Take for Fruit to Biodegrade?

The good news is that all fruit has the ability to biodegrade. In fact, some fruits tend to do so faster than other types of food and kitchen scraps. As stated previously, the length of time need to biodegrade is different for different conditions. Under ideal conditions, most fruits will take only a matter of weeks to decompose. However, under less-than-ideal conditions, fruit can take much longer. Here is a look at how long it takes for fruit in a compost pile, in a landfill, and in the environment to biodegrade.

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In a Compost Pile

Thankfully, you can compost all of your fruit waste. Some people may confuse the term biodegradable with compostable, but this is not true. Being biodegradable encompasses a broader variety of materials, whereas being compostable uses carbon and nitrogen-rich materials to accelerate the process of biodegradation. If you are going to add fruit to your compost pile, it should go with the other nitrogen-rich materials. For the ideal ratio, you will want about one bucketful of nitrogen-rich materials with two bucketfuls of carbon-rich materials. 

Once added, the compost pile requires regular maintenance to ensure the process goes smoothly. The pile should be slightly damp, but not saturated. Thankfully, fruits naturally contain water and can help regulate the balance. On the other hand, if your compost is already on the wet side, you will want to add sawdust or similar material to absorb some of the moisture. You will also need to mix the compost regularly. If you do it right, your fruits should only take a matter of days or weeks to biodegrade. Some sturdier materials, like orange and other citrus peels, may take several months before they are no longer recognizable.

In a Landfill

When we compost our kitchen scraps, we can get rid of our waste quickly and efficiently. This is because landfills do not offer the light and water needed for microorganisms. Without these necessities, the microorganisms cannot begin the process of decay. This greatly hinders the material’s ability to biodegrade. For example, a group at the University of Arizona conducted The Garbage Project. They unearthed materials in a landfill and found 25 year old grapes that were still recognizable! Typically, grapes biodegrade much faster, but landfills do not provide the right conditions. Many people toss kitchen scraps in the trash because they think it will just decompose at the landfill. However, this is not entirely true.

Our landfills are already filling up due to the reduced rate of decay, so we need to reduce the amount of waste we send there. If you are not able to start your own compost pile, you can always ask if you can add to someone else’s compost. Some cities also have a community compost and pick up the materials on a regular basis. These are much better options than sending your fruits, vegetables, and other scraps to the local landfill.

In the Environment

Lastly, we need to discuss what happens when you leave fruit out in the environment. Some people toss apple cores and banana peels out the window of their car. They tell themselves that it will biodegrade anyway, so it does not matter. This is the same when hikers toss food off the trail. In reality, the fruit still does not decompose at a fast rate. Depending on where you toss it, that fruit can still be there months down the road. In fact, some banana peels can take up to two years to decompose. Banana peels will decompose in a matter of weeks in a compost pile, so the rate of decay in the environment is also slower. This poses a threat to local wildlife and can disrupt their normal eating habits.

It is important to think twice before you discard fruit out in nature. Leaving it on the ground does not allow it to decompose properly and can cause other problems. Instead, if you take fruit with you on a hike, walk, or drive, keep your scraps with you. Once you return home, dispose of them properly. 

What Actions Can I Take?

Under the right conditions, your leftover fruit and scraps can biodegrade quickly. However, this takes work and more awareness on our end. Now that you know what happens to fruit in landfills and in nature, it is difficult to throw out food in good conscience. Thankfully, there are a few things you can do to make a difference. Overall, it just comes down to taking care of waste properly.

  • Stop Littering: The first thing you can do it stop littering. For one, littering is a crime. Secondly, it poses a threat to the environment and local wildlife. Even if you do not litter, you can start groups that help keep your community clean. This will prevent materials like fruit from prolonging the process of decay.
  • Use a Compost Pile or Start One: Secondly, you can either add your fruit and other scraps to someone else’s compost pile or a community one. You can even start one yourself depending on community regulations. This way, you can help your fruit and kitchen scraps to biodegrade at an accelerated rate. Once it decomposes, the nutrient-rich material can nourish a garden or lawn.
  • Spread Awareness: Lastly, it is always good to spread awareness. Not everyone knows how slow the rate of decay is in landfills. They also may not know the dangers of tossing their fruit scraps out in nature. However, we can each be a voice to help people learn about it. Once more people know about this, we can reduce the amount of waste in our landfills and use it in a more effective manner.

Conclusion

Microorganisms are responsible for an item’s ability to biodegrade, but they need the right environment to do it. They need light, water, and oxygen, and the absence of any of these will hinder decomposition. This poses a problem when we send our waste to landfills or dispose of it in nature. The conditions are not always right, which then leads us with more trash than we need. A compost pile is the best place to get rid of some materials, like fruits and vegetables. This accelerates the decomposition process and provides an organic fertilizer that will nourish other plants. Once we help people to realize this problem, we can make an impact on the amount of waste going to landfills.

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Lacey Jolley
 

I love exploring, experiencing new places, and eating good food! I'm amazed every day at how well the Earth provides for us, and I want to return the favor. I hope to help others learn how we can make our world a better, cleaner place.

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