Trashbags

Trash Bags

Hey! Now that we’ve gotten your attention with our greenwash-y, SEO-friendly title (thanks, Google), you should know that while there’s no such thing as “eco-friendly” trash bags, here’s what to be wise on when you’re shopping so you can pick the best option for you, the planet, and the people making your stuff.

It is estimated that Americans tossed our trash into nearly 45 billion trash bags in 2020. We spend a lot of time talking about what’s in the trash, but it’s time to focus on what that trash actually goes into.

WHAT TO BE WISE ON:

The footprint of a trash bag can vary significantly depending on how it’s manufactured, what it’s made of, and ultimately how it’s disposed of. Plastic trash bags are mostly made of a low-density polyethylene (LDPE), which is made of fossil fuels and takes hundreds of years to decompose. These bags mostly break down into microplastics, which are increasingly contaminating our oceans, harming marine animals and entering our food supply (Seaspiracy, anyone?).

TLDR: JUST TELL ME WHAT TO CHOOSE. 

Here are some of our favorite trash bag options based on the materials used.

What we love:

These are made in the USA and contain recycled plastic (with at least 20% being post-consumer recycled), as certified by SCS. 79% of customers love these trash bags for their strength and durability. 

What could be better:

Reli doesn’t state the total amount of recycled material in these trash bags. They also claim that these bags are recyclable, though that depends on where you live. Some claim that these are smaller than 33 gallon bags because they don’t fold out fully at the bottom.

What we love:

These are made in the USA and contain 55% recycled plastic (with at least 16% being post-consumer recycled). 78% of customers love these trash bags, saying they are high-quality and easy to use.

What could be better:

We’d love to see Seventh Generation using a higher percentage of post-consumer recycled plastic in their trash bags. These also have an incredibly strong fragrance that...isn’t for everyone.

What we love:

These are made in the USA and contain 50% recycled plastic. 81% of customers love them for their sturdiness.

What could be better:

We’re not sure if Hefty uses any post-consumer recycled plastic in these trash bags, and some customers say that “unscented” is a misnomer since these have a fairly strong chemical scent.

What we love:

These are made in the USA and contain 20% “OceanBound” recycled plastic. 91% of customers love these bags for thickness and strength.

What could be better:

Hippo Sak claims that their “OceanBound” plastic is made from material at-risk of becoming ocean pollution. But isn’t that the case with all post-consumer plastic? This claim gives us greenwashing vibes, but we appreciate the recycled plastic start. Some customers are disappointed that these bags are transparent rather than opaque.

What we love:

These 100% corn and plant starch-based bags are certified compostable in the US by the Biodegradable Products Institute. While they’ll probably still end up in a landfill environment (where it will take a long, long time for them to break down), when they decompose, they won’t shed any microplastics. 75% of customers love these bags, saying that they’re stronger than other non-plastic options.

What could be better:

These bags are pretty expensive and though they are stronger than other non-plastic bags, some say they begin to break down after a few days of holding trash.

THE FACTORS TO CONSIDER:

Materials

The average American ditches five pounds of trash each day, mostly filled with food, plastics, paper, and metals. Even if you prioritize composting and recycling, we all toss something on a regular basis, and chances are, we toss it into a plastic trash bag. All plastic trash bags will break down into microplastics, there’s no avoiding this dirty reality. That said, a recycled plastic trash bag is better than a virgin plastic trash bag. We aim to use products made out of post-consumer recycled materials as much as possible, and this is a great opportunity to do so. As a rule of thumb, the higher the percentage of recycled plastic content the bag contains, the better. 

Trash bags made of bio-based plastic (aka not made of fossil fuels) are a great option if you are willing to pay a little extra, as they’re typically more expensive. We love them because they don’t break down into microplastics, but be warned that any bio-based plastic will emit methane when it gets to landfill because of the organic material. 

Paper bags are a non-traditional option, but if they work for you, they’re good with us.

A FEW TAKEAWAYS:

Avoiding the bag altogether is an option if you’re willing to compost and recycle diligently. Take out the slimy food waste and you might be able to use just a reusable, washable bin instead. 

The best way to minimize the impact of a trash bag is to - you guessed it - create less trash! Compost kitchen scraps, buy in bulk instead of pre-packaged, and recycle everything you possibly can. 

If you need to buy trash bags, as most of us do, look for 100% recycled or compostable options.

COMMON QUESTIONS WE GET

“What can I use instead of plastic bags for trash?”

Avoiding the bag altogether is an option if you’re willing to compost and recycle diligently. Take out the slimy food waste and you might be able to use just a reusable, washable bin instead.

“Is it bad to use compostable bags for trash?”

All plastic trash bags will break down into microplastics, there’s no avoiding this dirty reality. That said, trash bags made of organic material instead of fossil fuels won’t break down into microplastics (yay!), but be warned that any bio-based plastic will emit methane when it gets to landfill because of the organic material (not so yay!).

“Can black trash bags be recycled?”

Standard trash bags made of low-density polyethylene (LDPE) are technically recyclable, but that doesn’t mean they will be recycled (check how your local municipality handles plastic #4). Some supermarkets accept LDPE plastic bags for recycling, so that might be a good place to start. Remember though, that for something to be recycled, it has to be clean...so also ask yourself if you really want to be cleaning your trash bags in order to recycle them. Maybe reuse them instead?

“What kind of trash bag is best for the environment?”

While there’s really no such thing as a “sustainable” trash bag because most trash bags are made from low-density polyethylene (LDPE), which is made of fossil fuels and takes hundreds of years to decompose, we choose these more sustainable trash bags to minimize our environmental impact: