By this point, you’re probably aware of the environmental impact of the single-use plastic bags that you get at the grocery store or with takeout from restaurants. But we don’t often include plastic trash bags in that conversation, even though plastic trash bags are single-use and have the same sort of environmental impact. (In fact, researchers have found that the sale of garbage bags actually increased in California after the state banned those plastic takeaway bags.) And though replacing your plastic trash bags might seem daunting, switching to biodegradable or compostable trash bags is a relatively simple swap that can minimize waste and demand for plastic products, overall.
These biodegradable bags — made of plant-based or recyclable materials — are often used as liners for compost bins, but they work just as well for regular, non-compostable trash, too. One tip from our experts is to make sure that your trash bags have been certified by the Biodegradable Products Institute. That means they’ve gone through a rigorous testing process to ensure that they can actually biodegrade, and they are easily identifiable by the BPI logo on the packaging. (One thing to note here is that biodegradable does not always mean compostable. “Something can biodegrade, into tiny pieces of plastic, over the course of a thousand years. This is not the same as something that is intentionally developed from plant-based materials to be compostable,” says Meredith Danberg-Ficarelli, director of Common Ground Compost.)
But the BPI certification doesn’t guarantee that your trash bag won’t rip open when you try to take it out or leak all over your garbage can, so we asked six composters and eco-conscious consumers to share the trash bags that they use in their kitchens, compost bins, and even to pick up after their dogs — all of which are BPI-certified.
Best compostable trash bags
These BioBags have been recommended to us before, specifically for composting. Sandy Nurse, founder and co-director of BK Rot, told us that these compostable bags — made of starches from renewable crops that can be broken down by microorganisms in the soil — are a nice option for transporting food scraps from your kitchen to a drop-off spot or lining your compost bin. But they also come in a larger 13-gallon size for a kitchen trash can that, according to Strategist writer and composter Liza Corsillo, never “tear or break open — even when I toss sharp things in like broken eggshells or dried flower stems.”
If you’re really worried about leaks or rips, but you want a fully compostable bag, former Strategist writer (and avid composter) Kayla Levy recommends these 13-gallon bags. Kayla used the smaller version while composting with six other people — and they “never fell apart.”
When we went on a hunt for the best trash bags, Beth McCallum, a writer for the cleaning website Oh So Spotless, told us that these Aircover bags are “sturdy and durable,” so they don’t rip or leak — but they still “decompose into carbon dioxide and water via microorganisms in the soil.” And unlike other options on this list, they come with drawstrings for easy tying.
Alex Azoury, founder and CEO of the coffee-brewing guide site Home Grounds, switched to these compostable bags for both his compost and kitchen garbage. “Apparently they take only 50 to 100 days to break down in compost,” Azoury told us, and since they aren’t petroleum-based, “I feel good about one less piece of plastic in the landfill.”
They aren’t as water-resistant as the ones above, but unwaxed paper bags are compostable, too. And even though they’re paper, they aren’t made from overproduced cash crops, like corn or soy, says Lauren Singer, the founder of zero-waste blog Trash Is for Tossers and CEO of the Package Free Shop. (Cash-crop farming can lead to soil erosion, local water quality depletion, and ecosystem disruption.) The biggest downside of paper is that it is not water-resistant — but since they’re also recyclable, they’re a great option for lining your recycling can.
For picking up dog waste, Singer likes these package-free compostable bags made from maize flour and vegetable oil from Boba & Vespa. “They do their job,” she says, especially if you’re planning on using them for composting. “New York City actually has dog poop composting drop-offs, and if you live in a house and you have industrial composting as a pick-up option, some of them will accept dog poop, so having a compostable bag is great.”
I use these vegetable-based biodegradable poop bags when cleaning my cat’s litter box. The handles are a must for keeping my hands clean while scooping poop, and they’re easy to tie up once finished.