Finding the most sustainable alternative to line your garbage bin might be quite challenging. When trying to choose the right solution for your bin (and the Planet!) you need to do a bit of research to be able to distinguish greenwashing from the rightful claims. To save your precious time, we did this work for you – our Trash Bags Guide will lead you in the right direction.
The most commonly used trash bags are sadly single-use. Apart from the garbage bags that are made out of virgin plastic, you can find a few more single-use varieties on the market including biodegradable and compostable garbage bags. Let’s look at each of them in more detail below.
The word biodegradable has this positive vibe making you think that it easily breaks down in the environment without any harm to the Planet. However, in reality it’s far from the truth.
Biodegradables represent a broad category of more than 20 kinds of biodegradable plastics including polymers that are chemically synthesized using fossil-fuel resources (bummer!). To confuse you a bit more – compostable materials also fall under this same category!
So, can biodegradable plastics actually break down in the environment naturally? The short answer is no. Biodegradable products or materials are able to degrade only if exposed to certain physiological environments where the right temperature, oxygen levels and presence of microorganisms have to be maintained. These conditions are not possible to achieve in landfills – and that’s where biodegradable bin liners end up most of the time.
And it’s not just the environment that can be harmed by biodegradable materials. A number of studies have suggested that biodegradable plastics might pose risks to human health. The thing is that the manufacturing process of biodegradable plastics (including those made out of plants!) involves chemicals such as additives and plasticizers. One of the recent studies on the topic found that 80 percent of tested bio-based and biodegradable plastic products from the European market were made out of 1000+ chemicals, while 67 percent of analyzed products contained hazardous chemicals.
Compostable bin liners is a preferred alternative for many consumers that want to stay away from single-use plastics, but how eco-friendly are they? Compostable materials are made out of plants and other organic materials. Sounds promising, right? But let’s dig a bit deeper.
As all other biodegradable plastics, compostable plastics require special conditions in order to break down – high heat, presence of oxygen and good moisture levels. If your trash bag is home compostable you can place it in your home composter but bear in mind that it might take up to a year for your garbage bag to fully decompose. If you don’t have a composter at home, your compostable trash bag would need to be sent to a commercial composting facility where it will be processed in a controlled environment and decomposed into CO2, water and biomass. The problem is that not all composting facilities can accept compostable plastics including compostable garbage bags with some of them raising concerns about their acceptance and treatment in their plants. When looking at the specific case of compostable garbage bags, the main concern raised is the time discrepancy for breaking down kitchen waste and breaking down of compostable bin liners. If kitchen organic waste takes around six weeks to become compost, compostable trash bags require additional time to fully decompose.
If neither home composter, nor special industrial composting facility are accessible to you, your compostable trash bag will end up in landfill. And that’s a big problem. Deprived of the right conditions for breaking down, your compostable bin liners will be releasing methane – a greenhouse gas that is at least 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after it reaches the atmosphere. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution methane has accounted for about 30 percent of global warming. And it’s important to know that by throwing away your compostable bin liners into landfill you, sadly, contribute to this number.
Waste management as the final stage of compostable bin liners life cycle is not the only stage where they might significantly contribute to climate change. Compostable materials are made out of plants such as cassava, corn, sugar cane or potato – growing feedstock relies on toxic fertilizers that pollute waterways and soil and wastes massive amounts of water.
Whether your bin liners are made out of biodegradable or compostable plastic, they are still single-use. You use them once, then throw them away after a short period of time. At the same time, a huge amount of resources is used to produce them including water and energy. Single-use garbage bags are no different from single-use shopping bags, so why to ditch one and still use another on a daily basis?
As more and more people understand the importance of circular economy as a way to fight climate change and cut down on unnecessary waste, you might want to transition to reusable garbage bags as an alternative to your single-use bin liners.
Reusable trash bags can help you save hundreds of plastic bags and can be used for all types of waste including general waste, recycling and even compost. You can also take them for your camping or hiking trips or a beach day-out.
Reusable garbage bags require cleaning – you can either wipe them down with a cloth or pop them into a washing machine for a quick spin. They don’t need to be washed after each use and can be either line dried or be placed in a dryer on a low setting.
– Sasha Pestano is a Co-Founder at TOMbag – an Australian B Corp certified social enterprise on a mission to rid the world of single-use garbage bags. TOMbag created the world’s first truly circular reusable garbage bag that is made out of post-consumer waste and can be fully upcycled at the end of its life. When not working on TOMbag, Sasha has her hands full taking care of her 2 year old daughter.