Have you ever wondered whether trash bags could be environmentally-friendly? Or even better, avoided?
This article intends to help you find the right alternative for your home. Feel free to opt for a combination of several solutions.
It is crucial to keep in mind for a Zero Waste lifestyle to avoid unnecessary waste such as packaging.
Moreover, bear in mind that it is vital to correctly separate trash and compost/recycle it accordingly as much as possible.
Combined with a few best practices when doing food shopping (buy in bulk, bring your containers, etc.), these actions will drastically reduce your overall trash amount sent to landfills or incinerators. For us, it was about 80 to 90%!
Starting with the ideal Zero Waste swap in terms of trash bags, we will guide you through the advantages and inconveniences of each option.
We particularly recommend composting in the form of a reusable bin without any plastic bag but rather biodegradable trash bags when convenient. And this, combined with smart recycling practices.
Moreover, we will also investigate the impact conventional trash bags have on the environment and the pollution it represents in more detail.
As you probably guessed, a bin without plastic bags is a great start, from a waste management point of view.
In addition to sorting your trash, and applying the Rs principles (more on this in the tips section), avoiding conventional garbage bags is the first step.
If you have a garden, a balcony, or live in a city where organic waste (this includes food waste) is collected, we highly recommend opting for composting.
Bear in mind that it will not cost you anything! On the contrary, it has many benefits.
- It can reduce your organic waste from about 25 to 50%. Think about the amount of waste that will not be (unnecessarily) sent to landfills or incinerators.
- It will save you money! Indeed, you will reduce the fees related to garbage collection. Moreover, you help municipalities on decreasing costs related to transporting and disposing of waste.
- Composting is like giving back to the earth: in particular, you can use it as a natural fertilizer for your soil and plants. It helps them better absorb nutrients, and, in some cases, it can extend the growing season by moderating the temperature of the soil (1). This also means that you no longer need to buy synthetic chemical fertilizers!
Composting: What And How?
Here are a few starting points:
- Here is what you can typically compost: garden and food waste in general, as long as it does not contain any residue of plastic or any other non-biodegradable material. For example, kitchen trash such as food scraps and eggshells, yard trimmings, tea bags, and even cardboard egg boxes!
- In the same vein, you should not compost pets’ poo (or babies’ nappies). Keep in mind that plastics, glass, metals, and even some types of cartons cannot be composted, but need to be separately recycled. Be careful since biodegradable means that it will break down eventually, but that process can take many years. Therefore, biodegradable items are not necessarily compostable.
- How can you make it a success? Try to find the right balance between the green and the brown items. Indeed, getting the proper moisture and airing is critical for a healthy compost (2). This means that if the compost is too wet, add ‘browns,’ if too dry, add ‘greens.’
Composting in your backyard or with a worm bin can reduce your home waste by up to 50%. Be careful not to confuse compostable and biodegradable items.
What about living in an apartment? If you’re willing to invest in a long term solution, we do encourage you to pay for a smart – worm bin – composting device.
Yes, worms. Rest assured, these creatures are delighted in the compost and will not leave the free feast.
We particularly like the Worm Factory from Nature’s footprint. They contain thousands of worms working non-stop to “efficiently produce highly beneficial, rich compost packed with microbes and water-soluble plant nutrients.”
Worm composts have proven to be more efficient as worms break down the waste faster than a conventional backyard pile.
If you live in Sydney, Share Waste is a fantastic initiative to connect people who have a compost, and those who have organic waste they do not know how to dispose of properly.
Have a look at the instructions here.
In conclusion, composting your food scraps, among others, in your garden or with a worm bin is a great alternative to replace plastic made trash bags.
DIY And Reusable Trash Bags
Often, going Zero Waste triggers creativity and more autonomy! Have a look at what you already have at home, and think of how you could reuse them rather than tossing them right away.
A few ideas on this topic:
- First, reuse and upcycle what you have at home. For example, to store your cans and cartons separately, you could use existing shopping bags or other bigger containers. This type of trash is what we could call ‘dry/clean trash,’ which means you can reuse that bag you already had indefinitely without the need to wash it.
- Do you have buckets at home? That’s the perfect swap for what we could call ‘wet trash.’ You can easily customize it and wash it whenever it is needed before reuse. And there you go, no plastic bag required.
- Moreover, you could give a try to DIY solutions such as repurposing newspapers to protect your bin and avoid the need for plastic bags or washing the container. Indeed, this is particularly helpful in case of wet trash: you can directly put them in your compost as a newspaper is a ‘brown’ type of waste (as explained above on balance between brown and green). We like this option as it is proof that you can compost trash bags together with the waste it contains, and therefore, save time.
- Another DIY and innovative option is to regroup existing plastic bags to create a reliable, reusable grocery bag. You only need an iron, a sheet of baking paper, and a pair of scissors: here is how.
Certified Biodegradable Trash Bags
In case you are hooked on conventional trash bags, the easiest (and smartest!) eco friendly swap you can do is to choose biodegradable bags.
It is ideal for organic food waste and small trash cans in your home or quick pet pick up.
These premium bags are made from 100% biodegradable cornstarch, which helps to hold your garbage pile clean.
Using a biodegradable trash bag regularly can be quite useful in case your city offers a compost spot or program. Cities like Seattle and San Francisco are leading the way in this matter.
San Francisco, by rolling out its three streams program (compostables, commingled recyclables, and trash), has reduced the amount of waste sent to landfills by 24% since 2004 (3).
Therefore, you can opt for a biodegradable garbage bag containing food scraps even if you do not own a compost, thanks to certain cities’ smart recycling program.
Trash Bags From Recycled Materials
We believe it is a better option than conventional plastic bags, but not necessarily our favorite one.
Even though these bags are usually made from recycled plastic, it is still plastic that will not break down.
However, the fact that they are made from recycled post-consumer material is progress.
And, considering the amount of EXISTING plastic bags, recycling them to other purposes is better than letting them being ingested by animals and marine life.
We vouch for the If You Care brand in general, and in particular, their trash bags made of 89% recycled post-consumer material. They are cruelty and GMO-free.
Moreover, one of these recycled bags can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by at least 1.5 Kg of the equivalent of using 1 Kg (2.2 lbs) of recycled plastic instead of producing new plastic (polyethylene type). This is inspiring!
Additional Tips: Proper Recycling Matters
Why is recycling important?
Simply put, it significantly reduces the need to extract virgin materials. In other words, recycling minimizes the prerequisite of extracting, refining, and processing raw materials.
All of these steps create significant air and water pollution. And saving energy goes hand in hand with reducing greenhouse gas emissions (4).
Therefore, in addition to decreasing trash in the first place (think unnecessary packaging), recycling is the second main area of action in a Zero Waste approach:
1) Separate your trash to ease recycling. Typically in the US, you can recycle paper, cans, and PET (plastic bottles). Looking at the numbers on the EPA website, it is encouraging to take sufficient time to do so (5). They even developed a tool to assess how much energy you can save by recycling certain products!
- Recycling one ton of paper could save the energy equivalent of consuming 322 gallons of gasoline.
- For a ton of aluminum cans, it goes up to the equivalent of 1,024 gallons of gasoline.
- As for plastic bottles, recycling 10 of these could save enough energy to power a PC for 25 hours.
2) Have a look around: ask your municipal trash collection service what the possibilities are. You might be (positively) surprised how easy it is to find Eco Friendly solutions for your sorted trash.
3) Become smarter and more efficient along the way. Once you have identified your ‘trash habits’ and where to recycle it when you cannot compost it, you have achieved the most critical part. The rest becomes easier each week. You will probably start seeing waste as an asset, something to be reused or repurposed before sending it to a recycling facility. We are all eco warriors in our way!
What Is The Issue With Conventional Plastic Bags?
Bags made out of plastic became highly popular in the 60s. We lived without them before that, and it is feasible to live without them now, as demonstrated above.
Have you ever wondered about the link between fossil fuels, single-use plastics, and climate change?
In a nutshell, conventional plastic is made out of fossil fuels, and it is therefore influenced by the demand for (and production of) oil and gas.
In the US, in particular, conventional plastic is traditionally made from petroleum byproducts, which are commonly sourced from natural gas.
Moreover, the processing phase causes environmental issues too: there are harmful chemicals associated with plastics (such as heavy metals, or additives like phthalates), creating a variety of toxicological responses (6).
It is, therefore, crucial that we change our consumption habits, including in developing countries where proper waste management often does not exist.
The fight against single-use plastic must be holistic as plastic pollutes at every stage of its life cycle: when extracting the materials to produce it, during manufacture and disposal.
Plastic Bags In Landfills: The Reality
In essence, there are three possible outcomes for plastic waste (7):
1) Plastics can be recycled or reprocessed. By default, recycling is a short term solution as it only delays rather than avoids final disposal. However, it is commonly agreed that it is a better approach than manufacturing ‘new’ plastics from fossil fuels. This represents about 9 to 10% of all plastics ever produced.
2) Plastics can be destroyed thermally by incineration. During this process, ‘new’ energy can be recovered, but it depends on the efficiency of the technology in place. This represents about 12% of all plastics ever produced.
3) Plastic is left and usually contained in landfills, or uncontained in open dumps. Unfortunately, this is the leading percentage left, i.e., 60% of all plastics ever produced. Remember that this how marine life is harmed, through microplastics ingestion. More on this topic here.
If you wondered how to throw trash away without plastic bags, you can now choose from a variety of more environmentally, low waste ways.
Bearing in mind the harmful impact plastic has throughout its life cycle, we hope this review convinced you of the benefits of this eco friendly swap.
As often mentioned in Puratium, there is no perfect Zero Waste lifestyle. We all produce waste. And that’s fine! What matters is how you regulate it and how you dispose of it.
And, there are a few products to exclude from your shopping list: single-use plastic packaging is at the top of that list. Please do not hesitate to shoot any question our way.