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Bananarama: An Unap-peel-ing Decomposition Time
To cut right to the chase – it depends on the landfill.
A banana in a correct decomposition environment should break down between two and ten days.
On the other hand, depending on the chemical composition, size, and the heat of the landfill, it could take up to two years to properly decompose.
Why is this important?
Well, it all comes down to a common misconception we have about natural waste products.
When we casually toss a banana peel behind ourselves on a hike or just chuck it straight in the regular garbage and do not compost it, we naturally make a few assumptions.
- “It’s natural, right? It’ll break down into compost, that’s good for the environment!”
- “Banana peel breaks down quickly, that’s why it works for compost!”
- “Even if it doesn’t break down quickly, surely it cannot hurt the environment!”
Unfortunately, all of these are wrong. Well, they are wrong in certain ways.
While banana peel will compost, it can take a huge amount of time to do so when not placed in a proper composting environment.
Furthermore, the notion that because it is natural, it will be good for the environment does not quite track.
These banana peels can be exceptionally bad for animals that go past and try to munch on them, often becoming choking hazards.
In the rest of this article, we will be breaking down how bananas decompose, why it sometimes takes them so long in a landfill, and what the ideal environment is for banana peel decomposition.
What’s the science behind banana peel decomposition?
When it comes down to it, a lot of myths and misconceptions around the decomposition of banana peel arise from slight, understandable misinterpretations of the science.
When something decomposes, it first reaches an ambient internal temperature that bacteria and microbes enjoy – allowing them to develop and fester inside the object or thing.
Another important factor that plays into proper decomposition is oxygen content and availability in the air.
As with most living creatures, our lovely little microbes require access to plentiful oxygen so they can thrive.
Soccer players often train in low-oxygen areas to optimize how much oxygen they use – and if you are a microorganism decomposing a large banana peel, you might well need an equivalent access to oxygen.
Alongside that, it develops enough moisture to foster a warm, damp internal and external environment that is also good and nurturing for the little microbial creatures.
All these conditions need to be met for those tiny organisms to do what they do best.
Now you understand the science behind the decomposition of banana peel, it will be much easier to understand exactly why it takes so long to break down in a landfill.
Spoiler: it has to do with this wide-ranging list of different criteria not being properly met.
So, why does a landfill not decompose banana peel properly?
The reason that environmentalists recommend you compost your vegetable and fruit peel is that introducing it to a classic landfill is probably one of the worst things you can do for a piece of this peel.
First things first, you need to consider the surrounding environment of a landfill. The name itself, a portmanteau of “land” and “fill”, tells you a bit about this.
The very purpose of a landfill is to fill it full of stuff, and as such, there is unsurprisingly a bad oxygen flow throughout these areas.
This means that one of the key requirements for decomposition is not properly met – the huge number of organisms needed to decompose the banana peel have to compete for a relatively tiny quantity of oxygen.
The temperature of a landfill is one that constantly fluctuates and is not a carefully controlled area of biological cultivation, as a proper compost would be.
In the winter, this temperature will plummet, and for several months of a year it will be at a temperature that is inhospitable to microbial activity.
As a result, microbes do not get access to either oxygen or temperature in a consistent manner in a landfill.
Because of this, banana peels are not put in a proper environment for effective decomposition when they are placed in a landfill.
As such, you will often find fruit peels sticking around for up to 2 years in these environments.
Where would a banana decompose quicker?
As you may have gathered from the rest of this article – banana peel does not decompose as quickly as it should do in a landfill.
Some fruit peel has even been reported to fossilize in certain landfills and other places of non-optimal decomposition.
Archaeologists have done digs and carbon-dated some fossilized fruit peel, discovering that it originated from some landfills in the 1950s!
If you want to get rid of your fruit peel in a way that is good for the environment, consider investing in a compost bin or making your own.
What you need is a bin or trash can that have plentiful holes in the outside (which you may have to do yourself).
Fill this can be full of dead leaves up to about halfway. Start collecting any waste vegetable matter you have (banana peels, onion skins, slightly decaying peppers, that kind of thing) in a container in the freezer (which halts decomposition until you have enough vegetable matter).
When you have a large amount (maybe consider a plastic shoebox of some kind for a good size container) of this waste vegetable matter, take it from the freezer.
Place it in with the leaves and mix it around.
This provides what is known as an “aerobic” atmosphere for the decomposition to take place – meaning there is a whole heap of oxygen being released around the banana peel and other vegetable matter.
When placed in this kind of composting environment, banana peel can take as little as 2 days (up to around 10) to fully decompose – considerably better than in a landfill.