Using plastic bags is an ecological disaster; it takes about 1,000 years for one to degrade in a landfill (and even then, it leaves behind microplastics that can add toxins to soil or water). Fortunately, there are biodegradable trash bags. Studies have shown they break down in less than six months — a remarkable improvement and a category of products worth your consideration.
And when you choose the best biodegradable trash bags, there is no need to sacrifice in quality or durability, either. The plant-based trash bags featured here can handle weight, resist punctures, and help collect and transport trash as well as conventional plastic garbage bags. While being biodegradable is naturally the unifying factor here, beyond that we looked for the best biodegradable trash bags for kitchens, for offices or bathrooms, for yard waste, and more.
But before we talk trash bags, let’s talk science for a moment more, because what these bags are made of on a truly compositional level counts. Lyall Mabin, co-founder of sustainable tips site Sustainable Jungle, says it’s important to look for bioplastic bags made of plant-based and renewable materials, like corn, grains, sugarcane, starches, and vegetable oils. “It’s good to know the difference between these biodegradable bags and bags made of petrochemical-based plastic — which are usually found in the supermarket and marketed as ‘ecofriendly,’” Mabin says. “These degrade into microplastics faster, so it’s really just greenwashing.”
Best overall biodegradable trash bags
Mabin of Sustainable Jungle says these UNNI bags are primarily “made of corn and plant starch,” and when he tested how quickly one broke down by placing one in a compost pile at his own home, it decomposed far faster than bags from four other brands over the course of a multi-week test in mild weather conditions. At 13 gallons in capacity, these bags are the perfect size for the average kitchen trash can and can also be used in compost bins or compost piles. And at 50 bags for less than $20, they’re a great price, too.
Best (less-expensive) overall biodegradable trash bags
We’re happy to report that these low-cost biodegradable trash bags (they cost just 37 cents per bag) are produced by a company with genuine devotion to sustainability. Yehudis Gottesfeld, an engineer with sustainable supply-chain company Materia USA, says, “HippoSak reports that their manufacturing process uses renewable energy and reports the reduction of their CO2 emissions.” She adds that this company uses “plant-based materials in the manufacturing of their bags,” so these are legitimately biodegradable, not merely quickly degrading plastic bags. And as for performance, these standard 13-gallon trash bags are rugged and reliable, resisting leaks or tears, and they have built-in handles for easy carrying or tying off.
Best home compostable trash bags
According to Rebecca Gade Sawicki, author and founder of vegan travel site Veggies Abroad, “Many consumers don’t realize that most compostable bags are only compostable in commercial settings, not your backyard compost pile.” That’s because the heat and pressure needed to break down these bags quickly is never present in such settings. That’s where HoldOn is different; its bags are certified for home composting. At first, Sawicki was skeptical of this claim, even with the certification, but she put a bag in her home compost pile and “after about ten days, it was nearly gone,” she says. HoldOn uses sugar and/or corn-derived polymers and corn starch to create its trash bags, which are as durable as any other trash bag, but are also safe for the environment and suitable for home composting.
Best small biodegradable trash bags
Sustainable Jungle’s Mabin says these bags from Primode are “made of plants and vegetables and not much more,” adding that they are certified by the Biodegradable Products Institute, a nonprofit that prides itself on being “North America’s leading authority on compostable products and packaging.” Primode offers many biodegradable trash bags, but these, the company’s small three-gallon bags, are a great size for daily kitchen waste — both for the food scraps sent to the backyard compost pile or for everyday trash — or for lining smaller trash cans such as those in an office or bathroom. The 100-count box you get also means a great value.
Best midsize biodegradable trash bags
These biodegradable trash bags are marketed for composting food scraps and will fit perfectly into many countertop compost bins. Materia USA’s Gottesfeld says they are made with “plant-based materials” and are fully compostable. They’re also a great size for the smaller- to medium-size waste baskets around the house or in the office, and, for more traditional trash, you can count on them to support plenty of weight and resist punctures or leaks.
Best large biodegradable trash bags
These large 48-gallon biodegradable trash bags are big enough for use in outdoor trash cans. Sustainable Jungle’s Mabin says that they are made from plant-based bioplastics, like corn starch, and biodegradable polymers. While pricey, at more than a dollar per bag, these large, durable trash bags can handle up to 20 pounds of garbage. Just remember that, like all biodegradable bags, they will start to break down within days when filled with organic materials, especially in warmer conditions — if filled with nonorganic materials, like plastics and shredded papers and such, they will retain their integrity much longer.
Best biodegradable lawn bags
I’m my own home’s lawn guy, and I try to be green in lawn care. One way I do this is to use biodegradable bags to collect grass trimmings and raked leaves and debris, because these bags allow this organic material to break down and become exposed to air, releasing CO2. Which is better than what happens to yard waste that breaks down in plastic bags that block air: Then it produces methane, a greenhouse gas more than 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere. Sturdy and durable enough to hold many pounds of organic detritus, and able to withstand punctures from thorns and smaller brambles, these have been my go-to lawn bags for the better part of five years, and I’ve yet to have one fail me.
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