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Are these trash bag alternatives really more environmentally conscious and sustainable? Unni Trash Bags
If you're looking for a way to line your compost bins for easy transport to a composting facility or an alternative to your conventional plastic trash bag, opt for biodegradable garbage bags the next time you're running low. In recent years, the number of biodegradable and compostable garbage bag options has exploded as more and more people look for ways to live more sustainably and become more eco-friendly. But within the world of sustainable products, you'll inevitably encounter misinformation and greenwashing along the way.
The Good Housekeeping Institute places great importance on the topic of sustainability, from our long-standing history of evaluating eco-friendly packaging alternatives and products to our Textiles Lab's coverage of sustainable clothing brands and the dangers of fast fashion. The recommendations ahead are the result of hours of extensive research and analysis from our material engineers and sustainability experts. We've chosen a variety of trash bag alternatives best used for composting, as biodegradable options may not be able to fully decompose under the conditions of a traditional landfill.
You can read more about the differences between biodegradable and compostable plastics, our thoughts on whether or not these products are helpful for the environment and extra notes from our experts on what you might encounter when shopping for these items. Interested in learning more about sustainability and composting? Check out our guides on sustainable living and how to compost for more.
Whether you're searching for a smaller bag for a countertop compost bin or a larger bag for your tall kitchen trash can, these options from BioBag are perfect. There are several sizes to choose from and are shipped and stored in a recyclable paper box. They're a favorite of GH Institute Director Laurie Jennings who swears by these bags for composting, even after trying a number of more expensive brands. They're also certified compostable by the Biodegradable Product Institute (BPI), meaning they meet strict industry standards for biodegradability and compostability, and they're OK Compost Home-certified by TUV Austria, making them a great option for backyard composting. Just be sure to use them all within a year of purchasing and swap bags after three to five days of use or they'll begin to lose some strength.
• Sizes: 3 gallons and 13 gallons • Materials: Plant starch, vegetable oils and fully compostable polymers • Compatibility: Suitable for home composting
This compostable option from Unni combines the convenience of a classic kitchen drawstring bag with compostable material for easy transport. Our experts also appreciate that it's both BPI- and OK Compost Home-certified, making it another great, trustworthy choice for backyard composting. Just note that some reviewers found that the drawstring didn't stretch, preventing the bag from fitting wider compost bins.
• Sizes: 1.2, 3.2, 8 and 13 gallons • Materials: Plant starch • Compatibility: Suitable for home composting
If you're looking for a larger bag, this option from Stout by Envision can hold up to 30 gallons. According to reviewers, it's more durable than you'd expect from such a thin bag, holding up to near full capacity without any signs of tearing. Our analysts also love that they're marked with a freshness date so you can be sure how long the entire box of bags will last. Just be mindful that they'll begin to degrade within 10 to 45 days of use depending on exposure to light, heat and moisture and that these bags are only meant for commercial composting.
• Sizes: 13 gallons and 30 gallons • Materials: Not listed • Compatibility: Best suited for commercial composting
These bags from Biook check all the boxes — they're both BPI- and OK Compost Home-certified — with three colors to choose from, instead of just the standard green option. They're also available in four sizes for all your composting needs, from your countertop compost bin to your large backyard composter. Just make sure to swap them out if used directly with wet compost for more than a few days.
• Sizes: 2.6, 5.3, 13 and 30 gallons • Materials: Plant-based polymers including Polylactic Acid (PLA) and Polybutylene Adipate Terephthalate (PBAT) • Compatibility: Suitable for home composting
If you're looking for a durable biodegradable bag to transport your compost to a facility, this pick from EcoSafe comes in 16 different sizes, with choices from 2.5 to 152 gallons for any type of user. Reviewers also rave that the bags are "very sturdy" with one commenting that they "haven't sprung a leak on me yet, even with wet teabags sitting on the bottom." Others reported that these are best when changed within a few days of use to prevent leaking.
• Sizes: 16 different size options ranging from 2.5 gallons to 152 gallons. • Materials: Biopolymers, Polylactic Acid (PLA) and Polybutylene Adipate Terephthalate (PBAT) • Compatibility: Best suited for commercial composting
If you prefer a scented bag to limit any odors coming from your compost, these bags from Full Circle are lemon-scented for added freshness. The convenient 2.5-gallon size is perfect for any countertop compost container and great for transporting your compost to a commercial facility.
• Sizes: 2.5 gallons • Materials: Plant-based plastic • Compatibility: Best suited for commercial composting
The Good Housekeeping Institute evaluates all types of sustainable products that help you make more eco-friendly choices. For these recommendations, material scientists and engineers in our Textiles Lab, along with sustainability experts, spent over 50 hours researching biodegradable and compostable options on the market to find products that met rigorous industry standards.
Biodegradable and compostable bags are often lumped together but are typically made using different materials. Here are a few helpful definitions to help explain the differences and other phrases you may come across.
✔️ Degradable refers to any material's ability to break down into tiny pieces. In this sense, all types of plastics are degradable. Oxo-degradable plastic breaks down faster under exposure to heat and light and photodegradable plastic breaks down more easily in sunlight. But these terms do not mean the materials break down completely and return to their natural origins, instead leading to the formation of micro-plastics.
✔️ Biodegradable plastics can decompose into carbon dioxide, water, methane and biomass by the primarily enzymatic action of microorganisms. These can be broken down typically within weeks to months, under the right conditions. Oxo-biodegradable plastics decompose faster under sufficient amounts of heat and light.
✔️ Compostable plastics are a subset of biodegradable plastics that will decompose into carbon dioxide, water, inorganic compounds and biomass in a compost system at a rate comparable to other compostable materials like cellulose without any toxic residue.
✔️ Bio-based plastics refer to a type of plastic with natural origins as opposed to conventional plastics, which are produced with petrochemicals. These are instead produced from polysaccharides, like starch or cellulose, proteins and lipids. Bio-based plastics are not inherently biodegradable despite their origins.
It's hard to say whether biodegradable, compostable or bio-based garbage bags are more sustainable or better for the environment compared to conventional plastic garbage bags. Sustainability is an ongoing issue that requires in-depth Life Cycle Analyses (LCAs) to understand which products will lessen any negative impact we have on our planet.
Biodegradable options may result in less waste going to landfills and fewer greenhouse gases when properly disposed of, according to a study from 2017. But when conducting an LCA on several bio-based plastics and traditional plastics (including biodegradable options) in 2010, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh discovered that these alternatives aren't necessarily as eco-friendly as you'd expect, as their production still requires energy, water, land and chemicals.
If you're looking for a way to be more sustainable with your trash disposal, Good Housekeeping Health, Beauty & Environmental Sciences Lab Executive Director Birnur Aral recommends "separating [your] food waste from any recyclables and composting them at home to decrease the volume that needs to be disposed of in a garbage bag."
✔️ Targeted Use: Some compostable bags are best suited for commercial composting rather than home composting, so make sure to check the product for its best uses. If a product has the TUV Austria emblem, it will be marked for either "Industrial" or "Home" use directly on the emblem.
✔️ Standards: To make sure you're buying bags that are biodegradable or compostable, look for products that mention testing using standards from ASTM International, an organization that provides sets of testing guidelines for all types of materials, especially ASTM D5988 and D6691 for biodegradable materials and ASTM D6400 for compostable options. These standards are the most widely used.
✔️ Certifications: In addition to ASTM, there are other organizations that vet claims of biodegradability and compostability. Here are a few relevant organizations you may encounter during your shopping and what they mean.
The Good Housekeeping Institute has been testing products for hundreds of years, from which we've built categorical knowledge and expertise on the topic of sustainability, impacting how our experts evaluate and recommend products. From the launch of the Green Good Housekeeping Seal in 2009 to our first Sustainable Innovation Awards in 2019 and annual sustainability summit, we aim to help readers make more sustainable choices.
Grace Wu is a textiles product review analyst at the Good Housekeeping Institute. She holds a Masters of Engineering in Materials Science & Engineering and a Bachelor of Science in Fiber Science from Cornell University, with relevant coursework in biomaterials, polymer science, ecological design and sustainability.
Compostable Shipping Mailers For this story, Grace consulted with Birnur Aral, Ph.D., the Executive Director of the Health, Beauty & Environmental Sciences Lab at the Good Housekeeping Institute. In addition to earning M.Eng. and Ph.D. degrees in chemical engineering, she recently added a professional certificate in sustainability management from Columbia University to her credentials. Birnur has been an active leader in conceptualizing many of our green initiatives, including our annual Raise the Green Bar Summit. She is also very proud of her work on investigative pieces like “Is It Safe to Heat Food in Plastic?” and “Is Your Tap Water Safe?”