Throwing your trash away is an integral part of cleaning up your space. As per most single-use plastics, every time we throw away our trash in the standard black bag, we incur a cost to the environment. Hence we’re going to look at eco-friendly trash bags and the choices you have to bag your trash with less harm to the environment.
Traditional trash bags consist of plastics that end up in landfills. While this may go unnoticed, these bags can take years to decompose, posing harm to our environment.
Also, plastic trash bags break down into microplastics that can contaminate the ocean and poison its animals. Furthermore, the manufacturing and processing of plastic trash bags contribute to greenhouse gas emissions causing environmental pollution.
To save our environment and reduce these negative effects, eco-friendly trash bags like compostable bags, biodegradable bags, reusable bags, and recycled plastic bags have now become the more sustainable option.
In this article, you will find out all you need to know about eco-friendly trash bags to help you make a more informed decision towards protecting the environment.
We all need some trash bags to get rid of things like kitchen trash, wet food scraps, food waste, pet waste, and other trash around our space.
However, using single-use plastic trash bags have a major side effect on the environment.
Manufacturers extract most ‘normal’ plastic bags from fossil fuels which release harmful chemicals into the atmosphere. Manufacturers make regular plastic bags from polyethylene, a common type of plastic derived from petroleum or natural gas.
These plastic bags can take many years to decompose and contribute to a larger carbon footprint. While these carbon footprints may vary throughout the lifecycle of plastic bags, reports show that plastic could be responsible for over 56 gigatons of the carbon footprint from now till 20505.
Each stage of the plastic lifecycle, from fossil fuel extraction to plastic refining and managing plastic waste, releases greenhouse gas emissions leading to global warming and climate change.
Water pollution is also a significant side effect of plastic production and use. Plastic trash bags break down into microplastics, and these microplastics can contaminate the ocean and poison its animals. It also interferes with the ocean's natural ability to absorb carbon dioxide.
When we investigate these environmental effects, we see the importance of choosing more eco-friendly alternatives.
While plastic bags are durable, they are not biodegradable and largely contribute to environmental pollution.
Today, there are several eco-friendly alternatives to plastic trash bags, like compostable trash bags and biodegradable trash bags.
Here are a few things to consider when you go shopping for an eco-friendly trash bag:
Manufacturers make eco-friendly trash bags using sustainable materials like plants. Plant-based bags are one of the best options to go for when picking out an eco-friendly trash bag. They release fewer greenhouse gases and won’t contribute to the plastic waste in landfills, making it a more eco-friendly alternative.
Consider eco-friendly trash bags that come with third-party certifications. This ensures you use a trash bag made of sustainable materials sourced and harvested without harming the environment.
Some of these certifications include ASTM International Standards, TUV AUSTRIA, Biodegradable Products Institute Certification (BPI), OK Compost Home Certified, and so on.
You want to make sure your trash bag saves the planet and gets the job done. Consider trash bags with good sealing properties that keep your trash properly contained and leak-proof.
We often regard biodegradable and compostable trash bags as better eco-friendly alternatives. Sometimes we use the word ‘biodegradable’ and ‘compostable’ bags interchangeably to mean the same. However, they are not the same. Primarily, not all biodegradable trash bags are compostable.
In this section, we will carefully examine the difference between these two trash bags.
We consider a trash bag biodegradable if it breaks down into smaller materials caused by microorganisms when left in a natural environment.
Manufacturers typically make biodegradable trash bags using petroleum-based plastics. However, they manufacture it in a way that allows these bags to break down when exposed to living organisms in landfills.
While this looks marketable on paper, the degradation process can prove vague, and less scrupulous providers may avoid saying how long it takes for biodegradation to happen. Also, microorganisms can break down these plastics into smaller chains of plastic which can still be harmful to the environment.
Furthermore, the Environmental Protection Agency secures a typical landfill in such a way6 that air, sunlight, and moisture, which are necessary conditions for biodegradation, are blocked out.
This means that a biodegradable trash bag could be sitting exposed in landfills, unable to decompose completely.
Compostable trash bags are a better version of biodegradable bags. Compostable bags come from plant matter like corn starch instead of petroleum-based plastics. When a compostable trash bag is exposed to sufficient moisture and heat, it composts easily alongside other organic materials like food scraps and yard waste.
However, it is important to note that we must dispose of compostable bags under the right conditions. These bags do not give off toxins or chemicals that can be harmful to the environment. If these bags end up in landfills, they become equally toxic. A compostable bag should be disposed of in an industrial compost facility, or you can create a home compost pile.
If waste goes through high heat in an industrial facility, it should break down rather quickly. However, a home compost pile decomposes much slower and could take up to a year, depending on the size and conditions.
We have a more detailed breakdown of the difference between biodegradable and compostable over here for further information.
There are some third-party certifications to look out for when purchasing a compostable garbage bag. These certifications validate that the garbage bag is compostable and can decompose in an eco-friendly way.
The OK compost home certification confirms that a product will decompose in a home composting system. They consider factors applicable in a garden compost heap, including lower temperatures and other conditions.
Unfortunately, manufacturers cannot process both biodegradable and compostable bags in recycling facilities. When these garbage bags mix with other petroleum-based plastics, they could contaminate recyclable materials and disrupt the entire recycling process.
Biodegradable bags should be discarded as trash, while compostable bags should be used as compost material.
While a zero-waste lifestyle presents the best option, avoiding waste altogether, when using trash bags, compostable is a better choice. They are legally approved and do not produce plastics or toxic by-products. They are also legitimately disposed of in a compost facility. Alternatively, you can compost it in a backyard compost bin.
Researchers conducted a study to examine regular plastic bags, biodegradable bags, and compostable bags in different environments. Studies revealed that plastic and biodegradable bags could still hold weight after three years in the soil1. On the other hand, compostable bags couldn’t hold out the weight. In a marine environment, compostable bags decomposed in three months.
So, where can you buy a compostable trash bag? Here's a list of some of the best brands that make eco-friendly compostable bags you can choose from.
BioBag is a US-based market leader in sustainable waste management for over 20 years. Biobag trash bags consist of vegetable oils, plant starches, and compostable polymers. They come in different sizes and are suitable for conditions found in home compost bins. It also comes with a star seal for extra durability. This company prides itself on making compostable bags certified by BPI, TUV AUSTRIA, and other third-party certifications.
UNNI is a reputable company with over ten years of experience making compostable bags. UNNI bags consist of plant materials and other bio-based content and come in different sizes and designs.
These eco-friendly garbage bags come with certification from the European OK compost home and Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI), making them 100% compostable in a home composting unit. These trash bags are eco-friendly and still get the job done.
UNNI also makes other compostable products like shopping bags, cutlery, and dinnerware.
Forid is a manufacturing company that focuses on product innovation and sustainability. It describes itself as an ‘ingenuity brand,’ following strict standards on product quality, the configuration of raw materials, and manufacturing.
Forid produces trash bags made from plant starch materials and bio-based content. These bags are compostable, durable, and easy to use.
This compostable bag also comes with an octagonal-shaped bottom that can carry enough weight. From pet waste to yard waste, wet trash, and kitchen garbage, Forid trash bags can withstand at least 12kg of waste materials.
Green Earth is a manufacturing company that produces 100% compostable and plant-based trash bags. Green Earth uses only GMO-free crops.
These trash bags decompose in industrial and home settings. They break down when exposed to carbon dioxide, water, and biomass. They are also BPI certified and meet the standards of ASTM D6400. Green Earth’s bags come in various sizes and can fit into any trash can.
Green Earth donates 1% of sales to conservation-focused charities.
This manufacturing company produces certified compostable and biodegradable garbage bags extracted from plant-based materials like vegetable oils, corn, and sugarcane. Their trash bag is durable and can hold up wet food scraps, making it the perfect kitchen trash bag. They are also BPI-certified, amongst other certifications.
That’s Rubbish crafts eco-friendly trash bags made from renewable plant materials. Their BPI-certified trash bag can decompose when exposed to the natural environment. It is waterproof and also comes in recycled packaging.
There are a few other environmentally friendly alternatives you can consider apart from compostable or biodegradable trash bags. You can try reusable bags or recycled plastic bags. These trash bags are durable and cost-effective.
Recycled plastic trash bags consist of recycled plastics, which are less toxic. Using recycled plastic trash bags helps reduce the pollution problem that comes with single-use plastics that would otherwise end up in landfills. When buying a recycled plastic garbage bag, consider the percentage of recycled content used. The more, the better.
Manufacturers make reusable trash bags using recycled materials. They are strong, durable, and designed for washing after use. They are waterproof and can contain the messiest garbage. Using these bags creates less waste and can save you money in the long run.
Planet Wise is a company passionate about sustainability. All its products are lead-free and PVC-free. Their reusable trash bags have an antibacterial PUL layer that prevents bacteria and fungi growth. They come in various sizes and colors and are perfect for the office, bathroom, or kitchen.
Bagito is a certified B Corp company that makes reusable waterproof bin liners that can fit into different trash cans. Manufacturers make them with organic microban coating that prevents the growth of microbes. You can wash these trash bags several times using a washing machine. These garbage bags also use 100% post-consumer recycled plastics. This means it uses no new plastic.
There are several other ways you can get rid of your trash. You might also consider other bags like upcycled paper grocery bags or a newspaper bin liner for your trash can. This will be suitable, especially if you are composting organic materials like food scraps and find yourself left with non-compostable trash. You might also consider other bags like upcycled paper grocery bags or a newspaper bin liner for your trash can. They are cost-effective and are eco-friendly in comparison to plastic trash bags.
You could also decide to ditch the garbage bag altogether. You can simply clean up your trash can after each use.
We have examined the side effects of a plastic trash bag on the environment, and we have considered some other eco-friendly options. If we make an eco-conscious decision on the type of trash bag we use, we can reduce waste, save our environment, and, ultimately, the planet.
Imogen E. Napper and Richard C. Thompson (2019). Environmental Deterioration of Biodegradable, Oxo-biodegradable, Compostable, and Conventional Plastic Carrier Bags in the Sea, Soil, and Open-Air Over a 3-Year Period.
Bioplastics Division (2016). Industrial Compostability Claims Checklist. (pdf). June 2016.
European Bioplastics (2015). EN 13432 Certified Bioplastics Performance In Industrial Composting. (pdf), 2015.
California Organics Recycling Council (2011). Compostable Plastics 101: An overview of compostable plastics. (pdf)
Lisa Anne Hamilton, Steven Feit (2019, May) Plastic & Climate - The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet. Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL)
Environment Protection Authority (2019). Environmental management of landfill facilities. (Pdf)