What is the decomposition time of cardboard?

August 8, 2023
min read

Short answer

The decomposition time of cardboard varies depending on the environmental conditions, such as moisture, temperature, and presence of microorganisms. On average, cardboard takes around 2 months to 3 years to decompose.


Cardboard is a highly biodegradable material that decomposes relatively quickly compared to other types of waste. The decomposition of cardboard is primarily driven by microorganisms, such as bacteria and fungi, which break down the cellulose and lignin present in the cardboard structure. These microorganisms secrete enzymes that break down the complex molecules in cardboard into simpler compounds, which can then be further broken down by other microorganisms. The process of decomposition is facilitated by factors like moisture, temperature, and the presence of oxygen.

During the initial stages of decomposition, bacteria will begin to feed on the cellulose fibers in the cardboard. As they consume these fibers, they produce enzymes that break the cellulose down into glucose molecules. Fungi also play a significant role in cardboard decomposition, as they secrete enzymes that can break down lignin, the compound responsible for the rigidity and structure in cardboard. As the cardboard continues to decompose, the population of microorganisms will increase, creating a diverse ecosystem of bacteria and fungi that work together to break down the organic material.

The decomposition of cardboard is an essential part of the natural carbon cycle and contributes to the nutrient cycling process. As the cardboard breaks down, it releases carbon dioxide and other organic compounds back into the environment. These compounds can be taken up by plants, algae, and other organisms, helping fuel their growth and metabolism. In addition to carbon, the decomposition process also releases nitrogen, phosphorus, and other essential nutrients that can be absorbed by plants and used for their development. Overall, the decomposition of cardboard not only reduces waste but also contributes to the health of ecosystems by returning valuable nutrients to the soil.

Is it possible to recycle cardboard?

Intresting facts

  • Cardboard is primarily made from paper fibers, which are biodegradable. This means that when cardboard is exposed to moisture, heat, and bacteria, it can break down naturally over time.
  • The decomposition process of cardboard typically takes around two months to two years, depending on various factors such as temperature, humidity, and the presence of microorganisms.
  • During the decomposition process, cardboard is broken down by a group of microorganisms called fungi. These fungi secrete enzymes that help break down the complex structure of the cardboard into simpler organic compounds.
  • Cardboard decomposition releases carbon dioxide and water as byproducts. This contributes to the natural carbon cycle, as the carbon dioxide released during decomposition can be absorbed by plants through photosynthesis.
  • When cardboard decomposes in a composting environment, it can serve as a valuable source of organic matter that enriches the soil. Composted cardboard can improve soil structure, water retention, and nutrient content, making it beneficial for gardening and agriculture.

Summary and final thoughts

Cardboard is a biodegradable material that typically takes around 2 to 3 months to decompose in ideal conditions. However, various factors influence the decomposition time, including moisture, temperature, and the presence of microorganisms. When cardboard is properly disposed of in compost or recycling facilities, it undergoes a controlled degradation process, breaking down into organic matter. This can significantly reduce its decomposition time. Overall, cardboard's decomposition time is relatively short, making it an environmentally friendly packaging choice compared to non-biodegradable materials.

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