Trash Bags: It’s complicated

Day 12 – I was planning on writing about how I ditched the plastic trash bags and switched to compostable trash bags. I was going to go on and on about what an awesome alternative these bags are and encourage everyone to make the change. It seems like a no brainer that a plant-based trash bag would be better for the environment than a plastic trash bag. However, as I delved further into the subject, I found out that it wasn’t that simple. Just because something is labeled biodegradable or compostable, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the best option for the environment.

Here is a short explanation of the various types of bag:

Compostable – Compostable bags are great if going to a compost pile, where they can breakdown properly under the right conditions. If a compostable bag goes to a landfill, there is no oxygen, microorganisms or heat to move the process along. They end up not breaking down and mummifying in the landfill.

Biodegradable – Like compostable bags, biodegradable bags needs oxygen to break down properly. If placed into a landfill they will break down anaerobically and creates methane gas, which is not good for the environment.

Degradable – Degradable bags are mostly oil-based and can break down in an anaerobic conditions. Unfortunately, they break down into microscopic pieces that can be harmful.

Not using a bag – Most municipalities require residents to bag their garbage. Some do not. The biggest problem with this option is the likelihood that loose garbage will have a better chance to blow around and become a pollutant.

So, what is the best option? Sadly, there is no perfect solution. Though, I was sure hoping for one.

Here are some options, not perfect, but better than plastic bags made from non-renewable resources.

  1. Recycled Plastic Bags – The Grove sells a 100% recycled plastic bag. Though made from plastic it is not produced using fossil fuels.
  2. Recycled Paper Bags – If you’re composting, all of your wet garbage has an alternative place to go, so a paper bag is an option for your dry garbage.
  3. Use what you have – If you already have large bags that are going to end up in the garbage, then consider using them. I read about using large dog food bags. Having two dogs that eat a large bag of food a month, this will be a good option for us.

The best overall option is to produce less garbage. This seems like an easy solution, but is by far the most challenging of all.

If you would like to read more about the subject, PBS reported on the topic back in 2019.

Tomorrow, reusable produce bags and the sad realization that it has taken me this long to start using them.