trash can

Living a more sustainable lifestyle doesn't have to be all-or-nothing. Going green is not about overhauling your life all at once; it's about making a series of small steps that add up to something big. For example, by simply swapping from a conventional product to its eco-friendly alternative, you can help reduce your environmental impact, support green companies, and help to lower carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions from landfills.

One easy place to start: trash bags. If you've already swapped your plastic grocery bags for paper bags or reusable totes, it's time to move on to your bathroom and kitchen trash bags. Below, we're breaking down everything about biodegradable trash bags, the pros and cons of using them, how they're different from conventional garbage bags and compost bin bags, and what to look for in a product. Then, we'll highlight a few of the best biodegradable trash bags.

What are biodegradable trash bags?

As the name suggests, a biodegradable trash bag is designed to break down in a landfill. The bottom line is, compostable or biodegradable trash bags are more environmentally friendly than bags made from virgin or recycled plastics. While conventional waste bags are made from petrochemicals, these biodegradable plastic alternatives use plant-based materials that degrade over time in recycling facilities, landfills, and composting facilities.

What are biodegradable trash bags made out of?

Instead of plastic, these waste bags are made from a plant-based material that is better for the environment. The components of biodegradable trash bags vary from product to product; the majority include plant starches, vegetable oils, semi-synthetic chemicals, and plant-based polymers.

Pros and Cons of Biodegradable Trash Bags

Switching from a plastic bag to a compostable and biodegradable trash bag is an easy way to increase your sustainability efforts and help create a healthier planet.

Here are a few pros of making the swap:

  • Better for the Environment— Swapping from plastic trash bags to compostable or biodegradable bags is an easy way to reduce your carbon footprint. Many brands produce their bags using renewable energy and use recycled materials in their packaging.
  • Reduces Plastic Usage— Both virgin and recycled plastic bags release microplastics as they break down. These tiny plastics are a major source of pollution in marine environments and are hazardous to fish and animals that consume them.

As with any environmentally-friendly option, there are a few cons of using trash bags made without plastic:

  • Leaking— Because the bags are designed to break down in a landfill, they sometimes disintegrate and leak if left sitting in water or liquid for too long. This happens most frequently with the food waste in your kitchen compost pile, as the moisture and heat in composting conditions can speed up the decomposition process.
  • Price— The downside of using sustainable production methods and substances is that compostable bags are slightly more expensive than traditional kitchen waste bags. With that being said, the majority of products on the market are still pretty affordable.
  • Avoid Greenwashing Products— To make their plastic trash bags appear better for the environment than the product really is, many manufacturers will utilize greenwashing marketing tactics and describe a product as a bioplastic trash bag, biobag, biodegradable plastic garbage bag, or another misleading term that deceives consumers.

Biodegradable vs. Compostable Trash Bags

Though often used interchangeably, compostable and biodegradable don't mean the same thing. Unfortunately, the two terms can be confusing for consumers, so let's quickly examine the differences between the two.

Compostable bags are made with ingredients that the high-heat temperatures, and microorganisms can easily break down in soil and compost piles. Their biodegradability and lack of petrochemicals and heavy metals allow them to dissolve quickly in a backyard bin or industrial compost facility. However, while they're great for holding kitchen scraps and yard waste, the material is often too thin to hold a heavy bag of rubbish, especially if it contains liquids or excess moisture from plants or food waste.

On the other hand, biodegradable trash bags can be made using petroleum-based additives and bioplastics that offer advantages like increased durability, added thickness, and reduced risk of tears. Unfortunately, while bacteria will break them down over time, they aren't always nature-derived.

What to Look for in Eco-Friendly Trash Bags

With a growing number of environmentally-friendly bags on the shelves, you'll want to key an eye out for the following things when choosing between brands and products:

  • Size— First things first, you'll want to double-check that the trash bags you're purchasing are the correct size for your bin. The average kitchen trash can fits 13-gallon tall kitchen trash bags, and smaller bathroom trash cans hold around 2 to 4 gallons. Home compost bins are between 1 to 2 gallons.
  • Bag Style— In addition to size, you'll also need to choose between drawstrings, handles, or tie closure bags.
  • Thickness— While biodegradable bags are designed to break down over time, they shouldn't fall apart in your garbage bin. Look for garbage bags made from thick, durable materials to help prevent tears, leaks, and annoying messes.
  • Price— It's easy to assume that all eco-friendly products come at a slightly higher cost, but there are numerous affordable biodegradable and compostable trash bags on the market. With that being said, it may be worth spending an extra dollar or two on a pack to ensure they're made with high-quality materials that won't leak or tear.
  • Certifications— Many companies use greenwashing marketing schemes to make their products seem more eco-friendly than they actually are, so you should always look for credible certifications (such as BPI) to back up these claims.

The Best Biodegradable Trash Bags

Hippo Sak Tall Kitchen Bags

Best Kitchen Trash Bag

Hippo Sak's Tall Kitchen Bags are one of the best eco-friendly kitchen trash bags on the market. The USDA-certified biobased product is made in the USA from plant-based materials and renewable resources. According to the brand, "for every 1 kg of raw plant material used to create Hippo Sak Plant-Based Tall Kitchen Bags, they reduce CO2 emissions by 2.15 kg and reduce the consumption of fossil fuel by 2 liters!" 

The sugarcane-based plastic alternative is stronger than most other biodegradable and compostable trash bags, so you'll never have to worry about leaks and messes. In addition, their sturdy handles make it easy to tie the bag closed and carry it to the trash. The 13-gallon capacity trash bags are available on Amazon in a pack of 45 or 90 bags.

Moonygreen 100% Compostable Tall Kitchen Bags

While most compostable trash bags are too flimsy to use as a kitchen bag, these 100% compostable tall kitchen bags from Moonygreen are designed to withstand heavy loads and moist contents. Each roll contains 50 bags made from vegetable-based materials that decompose without leaving behind micro-plastics or harmful remnants like a recycled plastic trash bag or other "biobag." In addition to the 13-gallon capacity bin liner, shoppers can also pick up Moonygreen's 2.6-gallon and 3-gallon sizes to use in the living room, bedroom, and other rooms of the house where it makes better sense to use a small bag.

Give a Shit Compostable Dog Poop Bags

Best for Pet Waste

There's more to love about these Compostable Dog Poop Bags from Give a Shit Pet Products than just the witty name and cute design on the bag. The 100% biodegradable and compostable bags are made from ethically sourced plant-based materials like cornstarch, BPAT (biodegradable and compostable polymer), and edible glycerin. Even the packaging is made from reused cardboard! Plus, the brand donates 10% of profits to the Soi Dog Foundation, an animal protection charity based in Asia.

Unlike other flimsy plastic bags, these compostable bags offer an 18-micron thickness that locks away pet waste odors and prevents messes. The case comes with 8 rolls (120 bags total) that fit right into most poop bag dispensers.

Second Nature Compostable Trash Bags

Best for Small Bins

While Second Nature's Compostable Trash Bags are perfect for kitchen composting, their small 3-gallon size is equally as great for the small trash can in your bathroom, bedroom, office, diaper pail, or car. Instead of plastic, the compostable bags use sugarcane, plant starch, and vegetable oils. They're certified compostable through the Vinçotte/TUV Austria's "Ok Compost Home" certification.

Second Nature's Compostable Trash Bags are strong and durable enough to hold wet food scraps and heavy waste that causes other bags to leak and tear. Each package comes with 100 unscented bags that are also available in 7-gallon and 13-gallon sizes to use in your kitchen.

EcoSafe Compostable Bag

Best for Home Composting

The small certified compostable bags from EcoSafe are the perfect size for your countertop composting bin. They're made using renewable resources and a compostable polymer-based proprietary resin. In a properly maintained composting facility, they'll dissolve in approximately 50 to 100 days. Despite being made with non-toxic ingredients, they offer superior durability, quality, and strength. Their increased thickness prevents leaky loads and tears from food scraps.

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