Over $9.5 billion (yes, $9,500,000,000!) worth of trash bags were sold and used globally in 2019 alone. And more worryingly, the market for these garbage sacks shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.
If you’re looking to make the switch to eco-friendly trash bags, there are three main options to consider.
Probably the best balance between being eco-friendly whilst not requiring much effort to use, compostable trash bags are able to fully break down even when they’re not sent to a dedicated composting facility.
Biodegradable bags, despite sounding eco-friendly, are not as green as you might think. You see, most biodegradable bags end up in landfill (obviously), and landfill is not a place where things are able to biodegrade easily.
The three key elements that the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) requires landfill sites to block out (air, moisture and sunlight), also happen to be the three key elements needed for decomposition. Not an ideal scenario.
So when are biodegradable bags eco-friendly? If you’re able to ensure your biodegradable bags are sent to an industrial composting facility, then the biodegradable credentials are valid. However, with most bags being used for normal trash, this won’t be possible in a lot of cases.
A true zero waste option, reusable trash bags naturally require more work and cleaning vs regular trash bags. Despite being the most sustainable option available, reusable trash liners can only be used in limited scenarios, namely where you don’t need to dispose of the bag with the trash. Zero waste trash bags are good for situations such as:
These jumbo kitchen bags are primarily designed for kitchen food scraps and organic collections. The bags are jumbo size and extra strong, ensuring they won’t break when fully loaded.
Bag to Nature is a BPI certified brand, so you can be sure the bags are genuinely compostable.
The bags are produced in North America meaning the distance they have to travel to you is minimised VS some other options that are produced in Asia and further afield.
As with other compostable bags on the market, the manufacturer recommends that these bags are used within 6-9 months of purchase and kept in a cool, dark place when not in use. This is to ensure that the bags don’t start to decompose before you use them.
ProGreen is another manufacturer that specialises in compostable and biodegradable bags.
The featured bags are made from plant and vegetable starches, ensuring that the bags are BPI compliant and able to decompose in industrial facilities.
You get 100 2.6 gallon bags in a box (with a selection of other sizes available), and the manufacturer says these should last one year from purchase.
These compostable bags from STOUT by Envision come in packs of 48, split into 4 smaller packs of 12. This is particularly useful for storage and prolonging the life of the bags.
The bags hold 30 gallons and measure 30″ x 39″, making them suitable for larger piles of organic waste.
The bags will typically degrade in 10 to 45 days, and biodegrade in less than six months in a commercial compost facility.
These compostable bags are made from 100% plant starches. They’re fully biodegradable within 45-60 days and are completely free from plastic.
The bags are made in Canada, meaning that the distance they have to travel to reach you is significantly less than other products made in Asia and further afield.
As well as being local and plastic free, the bags meet ASTM D6400 standards for composting, guaranteeing that they’ll decompose in municipal or industrial composting facilities.
It’s recommended that the bags are used within one year of purchase, to prevent any premature decomposition.
These fully compostable sacks by Second Nature have a number of certifications including being BPI compliant, ASTM 6400 certified and more interestingly Vinçotte “Ok Home Compost” certified for backyard composting.
The sacks are available in a variety of sizes for different uses, including:
The sacks are very durable, being able to hold food waste in some cases for up to two weeks.
They’re made from renewable materials including vegetable oils, plant starches and sugar-cane to name a few.
Second Nature are so certain you’ll love their items, they even offer a 100% satisfaction guarantee.
We haven’t tried this ourselves, but they claim “if you are not completely satisfied, contact us and receive a replacement or full refund, guaranteed!”.
These certified compostable waste bags from Primode are ideal for tall kitchen trash cans and yard cans. The bags measure approximately 24″ x 29″ and can hold up to 13 gallons of waste.
The bags are reasonably thick, measuring 0.87mm, but not quite as thick as some of the other options on our list. The bags are also extremely durable being made from plant and vegetable starches.
Some users have reported success in composting these bags in their backyard compost bins.
We recommend keeping your compost bin aerated and add supplemental nitrogen if needed to speed up the process.
These ‘guaranteed compostable’ bags made by Green Earth are able to decompose in both home and commercial composting facilities, leaving only humus, water, and CO2.
As well as being compostable at home, Green Earth say these bags are made with GMO-free crops only.
The bags hold up well to most items of household trash, including wet items which some compostable bags aren’t best suited for.
Reusable garbage bags are an interesting concept. On one hand, the prospect of saving $150+ a year on disposable garbage bags seems interesting enough. B
ut on the other hand, having to regularly clean what could be a grimey and smelly bag suddenly makes the extra expense seem more palatable.
There is of course a balance to using reusable bags, and done in the right way can not only save you money, but reduce your use of disposable bags, whether they’re compostable or not.
If you already separate your waste into organic food scraps and other non-compostable materials (which you should!), then the switch to reusable bags should seem like less of a hurdle.
Let’s take a look at our favourite washable and reusable garbage bags available to buy today.
K.A.N Bags have a number of reusable trash bags in their range, with this 13 gallon reusable bag being one of the most popular.
The bags are made from recycled canvas, making them easy to clean or pop in the washing machine.
The canvas material also gives the bags some structure and durability to stand up without being completely full.
The design of the bag means that it can resist stains, mold and odours. This is particularly important for a reusable trash bag, where the thought of having to regularly clean it may put off some users.
This reusable garbage and recycling liner is designed to not be washed (due to its size), but when used correctly should replace up to three months of disposable liners.
Some users report much longer lifespans for their bags (6-12 months), but this is largely dependent on what you fill the bag with and how many people use it.
This reusable bag is made in the USA from PVC and BPA free materials.
The bag is waterproof and washable (including machine washable), and should last many years under normal use.
This Planet Wise Bag holds up to 5 gallons of waste, being ideally suited for replacing plastic bags in small wastebaskets around the home.
A larger 13 gallon bag is available for replacing traditional sized garbage bags too.
As with buying regular plastic bags, there are a few things to consider before making your purchase.
Ensuring your eco-friendly bags are the correct fit for your trash can should be just as easy as usual.
Most of the bags we’ve featured in our best buys list come in multiple sizes for different cans and uses.
Due to the compostable nature of eco-friendly bags, they tend not to be as strong as your typical plastic sack.
The manufacturers have realised this durability issue over the past few years, and now actively promote the durability of their decomposable sacks.
All of the bags featured in this article are very durable as standard, however if buying another brand, it’s worth checking the thickness and material to ensure a strong bag.
Most, if not all, compostable trash bags do not have drawstrings or handles.
Most traditional trash bags are made with reinforced polyurethane plastic to support the extra stresses on the bag by having these drawstrings.
If a bag is labelled only as ‘biodegradable’ then there’s a good chance it will not decompose as you may expect when disposed of.
The term ‘biodegradable’ is not protected and can be interpreted differently by different manufacturers.
Having said that, the term ‘compostable’ is protected, and ensures that any bags labelled as such have been tested to show their ability to decompose in municipal or industrial composting facilities.
We recommend always purchasing bags that are labelled as compostable to ensure their environmental impact is minimised.
The exact amount of time will vary depending on the materials used to make the bag, the bag thickness and also whether the bag is being composted at home or in industrial facilities.
Most of the bags we’ve featured in this article claim to fully decompose within six months (some even sooner) in industrial facilities.
Veronica has a passion for all things eco-friendly. After growing up on a farm in Ireland, she went on to study Chemistry and Environmental Sciences. Veronica has also volunteered in many sustainability roles, including conservation efforts in Bangladesh and teaching Environmental Sciences to schoolchildren in Kenya.