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Landfill in a Bottle

How long does it take for garbage to decompose? Try simulating your own landfill in a plastic bottle and learn about how long it takes for different waste to decompose.

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  • What materials will you need for this adventure?
  • What kinds of things do we throw away?
  • How long does it take garbage to break down?
  • Why does it matter if we throw away lots of garbage?


  • Ask an adult to help you cut the top off of your bottle.
  • Cover the sides of the bottle with something to block light from getting in (construction paper or a paper bag works). This simulates the conditions in a landfill, where sunlight can only reach the top layer of dirt.
  • Add dirt and garbage to your bottle, alternating a layer of garbage with a layer of dirt. Your top layer should be dirt.
  • Mist your top dirt layer with some water.
  • Take your bottle home and place it near a window – add water to your landfill daily, or as needed to keep the top layer of soil damp.
  • Check on your landfill regularly – do you see anything breaking down? Are some items breaking down faster than others?


  • Which items broke down the fastest? Did that surprise you?
  • Did you learn anything about throwing out garbage?
  • What can you do to try to throw out less garbage?
  • Take a look at the items that broke down the slowest – is there anything you can do to reduce the amount of those items that you use?
  • Remember to submit your activities on our Scouts for Sustainability Take Action Map


Per landfill (per person or small team)

  • Plastic bottle - 1L or 2L pop bottles work well
  • Paper bags/construction paper
  • Tape
  • Dirt (from a yard, not a bag)
  • Different kinds of trash (apple peel, plastic, aluminum foil, etc.)
  • Spray bottle with water
  • Tarps or newspaper to cover the floor or tables

Keep it Simple

  • Make one landfill per small team, rather than per person. Have a Scouter bring them home and bring them back to your meeting every few weeks so you can see the landfill’s progress.

Take it Further

  • Did you know that landfill also creates gasses as items decompose.  If you add a balloon to the top of your bottle, you can also keep note of the gases that are created during decomposition.