Decay rates and celeration

How often do we discard trash each day? I ate breakfast this morning and had a yogurt (in a plastic container) and then a Del Monte grapefruit cup (cup made of plastic). Later I mailed some items and used my label maker which produced a label and a plastic piece that when to the the trash. After going to the post office I opened my PO box only to find three pieces of junk mail which went into the the trash. I could go on describing the trash I produced and I know you can relate to my story when you think of your own person life and your relation to refuse. What I would like to draw your attention to follows; how long does it take for objects to decompose when we trash them.

As an environmentally conscious person I frequently worry about our relationship with our planet. But I do not directly intend to lecture anyone on their trash producing habits. Instead, I want to focus on decay rates involved with decomposition. Let’s start with the term decomposition. Decomposition refers to how substances break down into simpler forms of matter. For every single substance, decay rates occur as an exponential function. An exponential function simply means a quantity changes (grows or decays) by a fixed percent per unit of time. For example, an exponential increase (growth) in a population of people might come to 3% growth every year. As an example, if the city of Denver (Colorado) had 619,000 people living in it in 2012, a 3% growth would do the following:

Current population in 2012 = 619,000

619,000 x .03 = 18,570 (new people)


619,000 + 18,570 = 637,570 (new population in 2013 with a 3% growth rate).

What about decay rates we see in decomposition? Same process but we use division.

How long does it take for a banana peel to decay? We would need to figure out the decay rate. To do so, we need a unit of time for our calculation. We could choose minutes, hours, or days. Then we need to factor in the process that gives us the percentage for the decay rate. In the case of a banana, bacterial growth act on the organic material causing it to decompose. When the bacterial organisms multiply and work on the organic material, the more organisms created (exponential increase), the more quickly the item (like the banana) will decay. Of course, much factors into decay rates like temperature and humidity (which impact the rate of growth for the bacteria).

Different types of substances decompose at different rates due to the processes that act upon them. Look at the following graphic and observe how long different forms decompose. The items have different decay rates because each substance has a different chemical structure; the decay rate is directly influenced by the active agent involved in the decay. For organic material, bacteria and other lifeforms hasten decay. But for inorganic material like glass and plastic, chemical decomposition occurs. Or perhaps, chemical change would more accurately describe what happens. Nevertheless, glass and plastic change forms but do not decompose like the banana peel. A plastic bag will break down into simpler components, and again, depending on the circumstances and environment factors take an exceptionally long time to change.


I write this blog post on decay rates because I do have deep concerns about trash and what we do as a society to recycle and reuse finite materials, but also I want to draw your attention to a direct corollary with Precision Teaching. We have a change measure called “celeration.” Celeration refers to how much a quantity changes (grows, decays) over a time period. For the daily Standard Celeration Chart, if a quantity grows, which we call acceleration, the value represents how much it has multiplied for a week. Let’s say I started off the week with 20 behaviors in a minute. If I have a celeration of x2.0, then at the end of the week my quantity of 20 behaviors/minute will have grown or accelerated to 40 behaviors/minute (20 x 2 = 40).

The same holds true for decay rates or deceleration. If I started off the week with 100 behaviors/10 minutes, and I have a celeration of ÷2.0, then at the end of the week I will experience a 50% reduction and have 50 behaviors/10 minutes (100 ÷ 2 = 50). Just like I described above with the decay rates for organic materials, many factors would effect celeration when it comes to behavior change. But that can wait for another blog post, for now, how very awesome is it that we have the celeration change measure!!! (You know I am excited because I used three exclamation marks instead of one).

Whatever personal interest you have in behavior change, losing weight, learning how to play the guitar, biting your nails less, or some other personal project you desire a change in, celeration gives you the measure to say exactly how that behavior changes across time. Perhaps you hold a personal or professional stake in the behavior change of someone else. Maybe you have a kid brother than needs to learn to read better, or a neighbor kid that you are coaching to play better soccer. Or you might have a professional stake in helping a child hit his peers less or eat more food. Celeration is not only your best friend when examining and evaluating behavior change, but a critical, indispensable measure for everyone serious about determining the effects of an intervention.

Why is celeration so important? Let’s go back and look at the decay rates for trash. If we control the conditions affecting decay rate such as temperature, humidity, and available oxygen, we end up with predictable, consistent decay rates. This is science at it best, controlling variables and then receiving consistent information regarding nature. How long until a banana peel decomposes? Under specified conditions 5 days. What about an orange peel? Again under specified conditions 3 months and 15 days.

Decay rates tell us how long we can expect to have the trash we put in landfills, fields, lakes, and oceans will remain with us. Likewise, celeration tells how long behavior takes to grow or decay. Concerned with how long it will take your child to learn to tie his shoes? Celeration gives us a standard line (slope) along with a number telling us exactly how much shoe tying is changing. Anything we find important, any human behavior, we can put on a chart and look at its celeration. The growth and decay rates (we call both celeration) are immediately available providing the chart reader critical information showing and quantifying change across time. Like the decomposition rate poster above, one day we can produce similar posters for learning showing what procedures produce for whatever outcomes we find important.


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3 Responses to Decay rates and celeration

  1. sushma sharma says:

    We can also match the celeration tendency of human behavior like atoms of an element. As an atom of carbon or of any element changes when the physical or chemical conditions are changed. So the behaviors alter due to the out side effects.What I find more unique is the structure of behavior which we may assume just like the structure of an atom consisted of electrons,protons and neutrons having the same charged particles the +,The – and neutral. And these particles change their circles or place by loosing or adding charges.These charges I feel move in a spiral series.

  2. Rick says:

    Great comment Sushma. In Precision Teaching we definitely talk about behavioral elements combining to form a behavioral compound. The science of behavior is amazing when you look at it through the lens of nature :-)

  3. sushma sharma says:

    Definitely Rick in nature we have seen how Homo sapiens who were ones a rare species, lived precariously, terrified of wild beasts , and Yes only these behavioral compounds must have helped in increasing numbers, and very certainly it must have not been the aim but the effect.
    In future I hope to understand it well.Thanks to introduce me with a new dimension.

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