Common Ways Boaters Harm the Environment Did You Know? Here are some common ways that boaters harm the environment. If you simply toss your trash into the water, it will be around for years. Here's the time it takes for some common items to decompose. Paper takes 2-4 weeks. Wax-coated paper, such as a fast food wrapper or cup, takes much longer. Tin cans take 100 years. Aluminum cans take 200-500 years. Plastic six-pack rings or any other plastic takes 450 years. Glass bottles take more than 500 years. Small amounts of petroleum products spilled in the water can have a large impact. One gallon of gasoline can contaminate 750 gallons of drinking water. One single quart of oil when spilled can create an oil slick as large as three football fields and remain in the area for up to two years.