Zero Waste of Time: What are the most eco-friendly trash bags?
By Juliette Fradin
Since moving toward a more intentional and low-waste lifestyle, I always try to lower the amount of single-use plastic I use as every one of them eventually ends up as waste. I’ve found easy ways to switch from plastic to eco-friendly bags in many cases, including food conservation, grocery shopping, produce and trash.
In my family of four, we generate less than a trash bag’s worth of waste per week, but I am finally running out of my plastic kitchen trash bags. Now I face the question: Should I bother buying compostable/biodegradable trash bags, since most of them won’t break down in landfills anyway? The answer is complicated, but there are resources like Columbia University’s Earth Institute out there to help.
Difference between biodegradable and compostable bags
Composting is “a natural process that turns organic materials into a conditioner for soil” according to the Biodegradable Products Institute. Compostable bags are usually made of natural substances (plants) and will decompose way faster in the ocean, if they end up there. But as these bags are so often made from corn, there are the environmental impacts from pesticides and greenhouse gases to consider. Compostable bags might also be less sturdy: Liquids from coffee grounds, fruits, or veggies could jumpstart their decomposition process. To solve this, start composting kitchen scraps instead of bagging them and adding them to your trash. Thanks to Hyattsville’s compost program, it is now easier than ever. Put your weekly remnants in a sturdy, sealed container and place it on the curb on Sunday night for a Monday pickup.
Biodegradable means that the item will eventually break down, but the process could take months, years or decades. Also, a biodegradable item isn’t necessarily all-natural, and it may be toxic (but it also might not be). Biodegradable bags are usually stronger and hold better than compostable ones but might contain more plastics.
Another option is to use bags made from 100% post-consumer recycled plastics. This reduces the production of new plastic, which in turn reduces oil and energy consumption.
Become an eco-friendly ninja: Create less trash.
With lots of pros and cons for each bag option, there is only one clear solution: Reduce your litter. Here are some tips to help you cut back on single-use items:
- Avoid unnecessary packaging and try to get things in glass, metal or paper containers, which are easier to recycle. If paper gets food on it, compost instead of recycle.
- Always use up what you have before replacing it — no need to throw something perfectly functional away, just because it’s made of plastic.
- If you need to replace something, find items made from natural, recyclable and/or renewable resources: compostable bamboo toothbrushes, wooden kitchen utensils, natural-fiber brooms or dusters, toothpaste tablets that come in a glass jar, a fountain pen. The internet is full of clever zero-waste shops!
- DIY a newspaper bin liner. Find a video on YouTube that teaches the proper way to fold a newspaper so it handles your kitchen or sanitary waste. And don’t forget to line trash bins in your office, too.
- Start a BYOB(ag) mission, and use your reusable bags and containers for everything at the store. You can use small mesh or cotton bags for produce instead of using the clear plastic ones, even if they are compostable.
- Buy in bulk. Bulk buying has become harder with COVID-19 restrictions, but you can still find bulk items at local grocery shops like Glut Food Co-op, MOM’s Organic Market and Yes! Organic Market. For cleaning products, check The Fulfillery, a plastic-free-packaging shop based in Takoma Park that sells online with a curbside pickup option.
- Visit your favorite farmers market to find packaging-free seasonal produce.
Remember that, per county guidelines, all trash must be bagged securely. When it comes to your recycling, though, you should not wrap items in plastic bags; just place everything loosely in your recycling bin.
Each of us can make a difference by reducing our consumption and cutting back on plastic. And remember, the more we support green companies, the more the industry will grow, and the more truly eco-friendly choices we will have.