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A Lesson on the 400-Year Plastic Bottle : Earth Day: Santa Clarita students learn that most household items don't just disappear when buried in a landfill.

April 03, 1991|TRACEY KAPLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

How long does it take a banana peel, Kleenex, newspaper, plastic bottle, aluminum can and glass bottle to decompose in a dump?

Unschooled in the three environmental "Rs"--recycle, reuse and refuse--most students couldn't say after the items were buried four months ago in a flower bed at Old Orchard Elementary School.

"Banana peel--500 years," estimated fifth-grader Julie Eberhart.

"Twenty-six years for the glass bottle," sixth-grader Lisa Klinger guessed.

"A long, long time," fifth-grader Walther Chen said of the plastic bottle.

Actually, the glass bottle would take the longest to disintegrate, the students learned Tuesday after the items were unearthed and displayed as part of Santa Clarita's monthlong celebration of Earth Day.

Volunteers from the Santa Clarita Civic Assn. buried trash at about 19 Santa Clarita schools in December to teach children the importance of both recycling and refusing to use plastic shopping bags when reusable canvas bags are available.

"Little microbes will only eat certain things you throw in the trash," volunteer Tamsie Irvan told the children as she unveiled what remained of the items she had buried about two feet deep.

The glass jar, plastic bottle and aluminum can were dirt-encrusted, but "you could just get your mom or dad to wash them and then reuse them," Irvan said, eliciting groans of disgust from the children.

Irvan said plastic takes 400 years to decompose, aluminum 500 years and glass even longer.

The banana and the tissue couldn't be displayed because they only need six weeks to decompose and had already done so, she said.

Because of the rain and abundant space in the school's mock dump, only a shred of newspaper remained Tuesday after the four months of burial. In a densely packed landfill, it could take as long as 50 years to break down, Irvan said.

"If we can be really good and learn not to throw away too much, then maybe we can save our beautiful canyons from being turned into landfills," said Irvan, reflecting the city of Santa Clarita's opposition to a county proposal to create landfills in nearby Towsley and Elsmere canyons.

Fifth-grade teacher Randie Hauss applauded the presentation.

"It's the kids who encourage the parents to recycle--they're our hope," she said. "Had we had such education, maybe the world wouldn't be in the position it is in today."

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