In 2018, there was a lot of news about plastics and the environment. In short, we’re all better off using less wherever we can. Many have taken to switching to biodegradable and compostable trash bags, including several city- and state-wide regulations on organic trash. But with all this hype, there’s also naturally a ton of misleading information and marketing out there.
In this guide, we’ll cut through the rubbish and break down exactly what you should look for when choosing a biodegradable or compostable trash bag. At the end, if you’re still stuck, we’ve also got a list of our 10 favorites for you to start your search.
How to Choose a Biodegradable or Compostable Trash Bag – Buying Guide
Picking a biodegradable/compostable trash bag has a lot of things in common with finding a normal trash bag–you need to consider things like size, features, and price. However, there are a few extra things that you need to look for when picking out something more eco-friendly.
Get Your Priorities Straight: Biodegradable versus Compostable Trash Bags
Biodegradable and compostable might sound the same, but the difference lies in official certifications, which may matter to you or your community.
Merely Biodegradable Bags Are Sometimes Cheaper but Don’t Decompose Easily
Bags that are labeled “biodegradable” are often made from special plastics that decompose—under the right circumstances. However, those circumstances require light and oxygen, two things they won’t have under a pile of trash in a landfill. It’s also a lot harder to recycle a bag made out of biodegradable plastic as it needs to be sorted in a certain way.
That being said, biodegradable bags hold together really well and are often cheaper than compostable bags (see below for more on those), which can make them more wallet-friendly if you’re willing to sacrifice some eco-friendliness. Some biodegradable bags may even be fully compostable and just don’t carry the certification due to manufacturing differences.
Just note that if your city or municipality requires compostable bags, they cannot be merely biodegradable.
Compostable Bags Break Down Quickly and Are Best if Potato-Based
If you’re looking for something that will actually break down over (less) time, look for bags that are “compostable.” Unlike biodegradable bags, these bags are regulated and will decompose under basically any conditions. Keep an eye out specifically for those that are BPI and ASTM D6400 certified. Not only are these bags proven to break down, but your city composter will also be sure to accept them.
Don’t forget, though, that because these bags are compostable, they’re going to start breaking down pretty quickly if you have any wet, organic matter in them. So you’ll need to change your bag fairly often or try to keep food scraps in a separate container.
Most biodegradable, compostable trash bags are made from either potato starch or corn starch. While both will break down equally well, potato starch bags are just a bit more environmentally friendly. Potatoes require less water and take up 40% less land to produce the same amounts. Looking at the bigger picture, potatoes are the way to go.
For Extra-Large, Extra-Heavy Loads, Look for 1-mil Thickness
You might think that an eco-friendly trash bag made from potato starch couldn’t be as strong as a normal plastic bag, but you’d be surprised.
While smaller loads may be okay in any ol’ bag, for your super heavy, kinda bulky loads, look for bags that have a 1 mil (one one-thousandth of an inch) or more thickness. At this thickness, you can almost guarantee that they’ll hold in basically anything the average household might be throwing away.
Drawstrings and Handles are Normally Not Included
Most biodegradable and compostable trash bags don’t have ties and handles in the way that many traditional trash bags do. Handles and drawstrings are normally made with heftier, more reinforced plastic than the bag itself, so it’s harder for manufacturers to produce these in line with the rest of the bag.
So be aware that unless the box explicitly states that the bags do have drawstrings, you’ll likely be left to tie the corners together. But considering the fact that these bags generally need to be changed more frequently than normal plastic bags, that might not be much of an issue.
Top 10 Best Biodegradable and Compostable Trash Bags to Buy Online
Now that you know what to look for in an eco-friendly trash bag, here’s a list of our ten favorites to help you get started.
10. Eco-Smartbags 13-Gallon Biodegradable Trash Bags (6 x 24 Bags)
Sturdy Biodegradable Plastic Bags
Thanks to an additive, these biodegradable bags actually do decompose within a couple years under any circumstances. As they are made with plastic, they’re stronger than most compostable bags and are able to last longer even with wet things inside.
However, they do not have any compostable certifications, so if your bags need to have them, skip this one. If you just want something that will break down, though, these can even be tossed in your home compost pile.
|Main Materials||Recycled plastic, biodegradable additive|
9. UNNI 2.6-Gallon 100% Compostable Bags (100 Count)
Internationally Certified & Quickly Biodegradable
These little 2.6-gallon bags are the perfect size for counter-top kitchen waste collection or food waste. They are certified biodegradable by both US and European standards and are meant to be used for compost collection services.
However, some reviewers note that they may be a bit too biodegradable as food waste left for too long can cause the bottom of the bag to lose integrity within a few days.
|Main Materials||Plant starch|
8. Green Earth Compostable 13-Gallon Biodegradable Trash Bags (50 Count)
GMO-Free, Thicker-Than-Average Bags
These compostable trash bags are made from GMO-free plant starches and are certified to both US and European compostable standards. They are thick enough to hold up to average trash use though they should still be changed every week or so.
They are able to be broken down in either industrial composting facilities or in home composting systems. However, some reviewers have noted that they’re a bit shorter than traditional 13-gallon bags.
|Main Materials||Plant starches|
7. Biobag 3-Gallon Kitchen Food Scraps Bags (100 Count)
Small Bag for Food Waste and Super Fast Breakdown
Biobag is the original biodegradable trash bag manufacturer, and their products are meant to be composted in home compost systems (but can also work with industrial collection services).
As they are meant to be used in a lower temperature home compost system, they do break down fairly quickly, so they need to be changed every 2-3 days or you risk your trash getting all over your container and countertops.
|Main Materials||Plant starches, plant oils, compostable polymers|
6. Primode 13-Gallon 100% Compostable Bags (50 Count)
Strong, Tall Compostable Bag for Your 13-Gallon Trash Can
These compostable bags are certified compostable by both US and European standards. Unlike many compostable bags, they’re the right height for any 13-gallon trash can.
While they still aren’t as strong as your average conventional trash bag, they do hold up well, particularly without any decomposing food matter in them.
|Main Materials||Corn and vegetable starch|
5. Second Nature Bags 3-Gallon Kitchen Trash Bags (100 Count)
Thick and Long-Lived, Even with Food Waste Inside
While they don’t have a stated thickness, these bags claim to be “extra thick” and seem to live up to it, too. Some reviewers have noted that they can last for up to 2 weeks of use, even with moist food waste.
However, if you’re not completely happy with these trash bags, they come with a 100% satisfaction guarantee for a full refund or replacement.
|Main Materials||Sugar cane, plant starches|
4. Stout by Envision 30-Gallon Compostable Bags (48 Count)
Extra Large Bags Help Employ the Blind
For those looking for something a little larger than your standard kitchen trash bag, these 30-gallon bags might just do the trick. They are certified compostable and will completely biodegrade within 6 months in a composting facility.
On top of being great for the environment, these bags are also made by people who are blind or visually impaired, supporting those who might otherwise have a hard time finding work.
3. ProGreen 2.6-Gallon 100% Compostable Bags (100 Count)
Super Convenient Lifespan and Dispenser
These little bags are the perfect size for kitchen scraps or cat litter. They’re certified biodegradable in the US and Europe and can be composted in a facility or in a home composting system.
They are strong enough not to break down within a few days and the box it comes in allows for easy pull-out, making these no less convenient than traditional bags.
|Main Materials||Corn starch|
2. JTSC Products 13-Gallon Compostable Trash Bags (100 Count)
Thick and Hefty, with Instructions on Maintaining the Integrity of the Bag
These trash bags are hefty and are considered one of the strongest among compostable bags. They feel thick and well-made in your hands and don’t rip very easily.
However, as they are compostable, there are some precautions you need to take to ensure that the integrity of the bag is not compromised. Luckily, each box comes with a set of instructions to help you remember.
|Main Materials||Plant starch|
1. Bag to Nature 13-Gallon Compostable Tall Kitchen Bags (50 Count)
Strong Bags Built for Industrial Composting
These compostable trash bags are perfect for those with city compost programs–they’re hefty, strong, and don’t break down with normal use. They are certified in the US and are produced in Canada.
However, their strength means they likely cannot be used in home compost systems, but given the 13-gallon size, you probably wouldn’t want to use these in your backyard compost pile anyway.
|Main Materials||Plant starches|
How to Keep Your Garbage Bag from Smelling like Garbage
If you’re getting a biodegradable or compostable bag, you might have to give up some fancy features, like odor elimination. However, you can add it back in using the following tips and tracks.
Add an odor absorber like baking soda, cat litter, or even dryer sheets to your trash can before putting the bag in. Mask scents with citrus peels or a few drops of essential oil. Be sure to drain off any excess moisture before tossing anything. Remember to regularly wash your trash can as part of your cleaning routine.
So there you have it–a quick and dirty guide to kicking plastic trash bags to the curb and finding a better bag that’ll make your garbage feel a little less nasty. Hopefully you’ve managed to find the right biodegradable/compostable trash bag for you and your home and are well on your way to helping the Earth, a little bit at a time.
By Jacqueline Oshiro
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