5 Compostable Trash Bags And When They Don’t Actually Biodegrade

Changes, both big and small, are desperately needed to ensure our planet is healthy and strong for future generations, and compostable trash bags are a great alternative to traditional plastic. Plastic bags can take up to 1,000 years to break down.. and even then, the plastic remains.

But, before adding anything to your shopping cart, understand that many compostable garbage bags have conditions and requirements to make sure they are biodegradable. Not all trash bags that boast the label “biodegradable” will break down in a landfill.

Garbage bags under an apple tree contered in a feild, on the left, green compostable trash bags and healthy meadows, on the right, brown non-biodegradable trash bags with waste areas behind.

Hint: Just because something says it is biodegradable does not mean that it will fully decompose.

Reviewing the Best Compostable Trash Bags

1

Best Compostable Trash Bags: Green Paper Products

These bags will completely decompose within 100 days.

2

Best Low Cost Sustainable Trash Bags that Reduce Waste: Public Goods

The price is comparable to traditional single-use bags.

3

Best Eco-Friendly Garbage Bags for Bathrooms and Bedrooms: Grove Co

Fully compostable, in fact, you should use these within 9 months of purchase.

4

Best Biodegradable Garbage Bags 13 Gallon and Larger for Home Compost: UNNI x

These garbage bags will break down in your home composting bin.

5

The Best Compostable Trash Bags for Outdoors: Bio Bag

Great alternative for yard and outdoor waste.

Biodegradable Garbage Bags: Not All Eco-Friendly Trash Bags Are Equal

The word biodegradable is confusing for some consumers. Biodegradable is defined as organic matter being broken down by bacteria and other organisms.1

The breakdown, or degradation, of any product is affected by multiple factors such as time and environment (exposure to light and moisture mainly). Some biodegradable trash bags only break down into micro plastics, thereby lessening the desired environmental impact.

The truth is, when most people think about what will happen to a biodegradable product, like a garbage bag, what they really imagine is that the product will be composted. But to achieve composting, the bag must be made of organic materials, which becomes tricky when looking for a biodegradable trash bag strong enough to hold household garbage. Plus, most people don’t spend hours researching the difference between types of bio-based plastics and the factors that contribute to true biodegradability.

Don’t worry, we’ve rounded up the top five biodegradable garbage bags, eco-friendly trash bags, and compostable trash bags for you, so you can start making a difference, one bag at a time.

1
Best Compostable Trash Bags: Green Paper Products

Green Paper Products box of compostable trash bags, bulk rolls.
Name: Compostable Heavy Duty Tall Kitchen Garbage Bags
Price: $$$ (About $1 per bag on the 13-gallon)
Compostable Trash Bag Thickness: .85 mil (heavy duty)
Sizes Available: 2.5 to 90 gallon
Eco-Friendly Materials: Corn
Biodegradable Requirement: The bags will only compost if taken to an actual compost facility
Rating: 5 out of 5

What We Love About These Compostable Trash Bags

GreenPaper Products is a US based company striving to create the most eco-friendly, sustainable plastic products on the market. We love that their plastics are made out of corn, which makes these bags fully compostable. A roll of 25 of their 13 gallon, .85 mil heavy duty plastic garbage bags will set you back $24.47, which makes them a little more expensive than some of the competition.

These biodegradable garbage bags will fully compost within 100 days. Even though the bags are made of renewable resources and much more environmentally friendly and sustainable that single use, traditional plastic bags, they won’t meet that expectation of 90 day decomposition if thrown into a landfill, you’ll have to take them to a compost site.

2
Best Sustainable Trash Bags that Reduce Waste: Public Goods

Public Goods roll of compostable trash bags, 13 gallon white.
Name: Recycled Trash Bag 13 Gallon
Price: $4.50 for 45
Compostable Trash Bag Thickness: Not Listed
Sizes Available: 13 Gallon
Eco-Friendly Materials: 100% Recycled raw materials, (oxo-biodegradable) polyethylene plastic
Biodegradable Requirement: 100% oxo-biodegradable in a regular landfill, but takes five years to decompose
Rating: 5 out of 5

Why We Love These Compostable Trash Bags

Public Goods, which offers a variety of household items, boasts the tagline: “You don’t have to be a superhero to save the planet” and we wholeheartedly agree.

Another big plus for Public Goods eco-friendly trash bags, is that the prices are really reasonable. A set of 45 bags costs $4.50, making them comparable to traditional garbage bags but much better for the planet. However, free shipping only kicks in when you buy $45+ in goods.

Plus, Public Goods has updated their website to include the thickness of the bag, the overall measurements are 24″ x 28″ x 0.65 mil thickness.

Overall, these bags are a fantastic option if you’re looking to combine affordability and sustainability.

3
Best Eco-Friendly Garbage Bags for Bathrooms and Bedrooms: Grove Co

Grove Company compostable trash bags roll, kitchen size.
Name: Kitchen Compost Bags
Price: $
Compostable Trash Bag Thickness: Unknown
Sizes Available: 2.6 gallon and up
Eco-Friendly Materials: Polylactic acid
Biodegradable Requirement: Must be composted at a facility, not in home bins
Rating: 4 out of 5

Why We Love These Compostable Trash Bags

These compostable trash bags from fan favorite Grove Co are a fantastic choice for bathrooms and bedrooms. At $6.95 for a roll of 25, they are also cost effective.

These eco-friendly garbage bags are Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) certified and break down so well, Grove Co suggests using them all within 9 months of purchase. We love that you can easily add this fantastic choice to your shopping cart when ordering other sustainable household products to your monthly shipment. That means you can order products you use often, and set them to auto-ship, which makes it even easier to opt for trash bags that are better for the environment.

Pro Tip: When changing out bedroom trash, consider reusing liners if they still appear clean after the first use. Every tiny step matters!

4
Best Biodegradable Garbage Bags 13 Gallon and Larger for Home Compost: UNNI

Unni compostable trash bag box.
Name: 100% Compostable Bags
Price: $$
Compostable Trash Bag Thickness: .71mil to 1.5 mil
Sizes Available: 2.5 to 65 gallon
Eco-friendly Materials: Corn and Plant Starch-based
Biodegradable Requirement: These will break down in your home compost pile or bin
Rating: 5 out of 5

Why We Love These Compostable Trash Bags

UNNI brand products are a fantastic, lower cost option for anyone looking for a fully compostable, eco-friendly trash bag that will biodegrade at home. What we love about these compostable bags is that they are certified by the BPI and meet full compliance to be considered 100% compostable. We also love that UNNI carries other products like pet waste bags, food storage bags, and toilet replacement bags.

We also love that these bags are a bit more budget friendly than some alternatives: a 50 pack of the 13 gallon, tall kitchen bags will set you back $18.95, plus shipping, when ordered directly from the company website. The only drawback? These bags are a little bit too good at their job. They begin degrading quickly, so make sure to take the garbage out frequently to avoid spills.

5
The Best Compostable Trash Bags for Outdoors: Bio Bag

Bio Bag large compostable trash bags for outdoor use.
Name: Houston 33 Gallon Lawn & Leaf Bags
Price: $$
Compostable Trash Bag Thickness: 1.2 mil
Sizes Available: 33 gallon
Eco-Friendly Materials: Eco-Friendly resin
Biodegradable Requirement: Must be composted at a facility, not in home bins
Rating: 5 out of 5

Why We Love These Compostable Trash Bags

Don’t let the name fool you, these bags are usable anywhere with a municipal facility, not just in Houston. A great alternative to traditional paper lawn waste bags these compostable lawn and leaf bags can be tied closed and are 1.2 mil thick.

The 33 gallon size is perfect for just about any yard related job, and these bags can be dropped off at your local compost facility, just like the paper bags, but without the hassle of spills. The bags can’t be purchased directly from the retailer, unfortunately, but there is a search tool on the BioBag USA website to find a local store for pick up. They can also be ordered from Amazon and Lowes.

We also love that the bags begin to break down so quickly that BioBag suggests dropping at your local compost site within 12 days of collection. Don’t forget when working with outdoor materials that moisture speeds up the decomposition process of compostable bags.

Are Plastic Bags Biodegradable? Finding Compostable Trash Bags that Actually Compost

The most important thing to remember when switching out your single-use plastic bags for biodegradable or compostable trash bags is that not all bags degrade at the same rate or using the same process.

Make sure to consider what your process will be for disposal of your eco-friendly garbage bags after trash collection. If you plan to put your new eco-friendly garbage bags in your trash bin for collection, and that trash goes to a landfill, a compostable bag will most likely be your best bet. Even though decomposition will not be guaranteed since the conditions likely won’t be as ideal as a compost site, the bag will still make less of an environmental impact because of the way compostable garbage bags are produced.

If you plan to send your garbage bags to a compost center, then rest assured as long as you confirm that the bag is in fact compostable, and even better if it is certified by the BPI, your bag will degrade in the facility. Biodegradable bags are still an excellent choice and typically are thicker, meaning they will hold up against the heavier, messier bits of garbage. But, keep in mind that because of the environmental conditions of most landfills, biodegradable bags will likely not degrade fully in the way you might expect.

Look for certifications from BPI and estimated time frames for decomposition.

What About Biodegradable Plastic? Is It for Real?

Keep in mind that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) makes it clear to consumers that the words compostable plastic and biodegradable plastic are not interchangeable. The difference is in the ways these two types of plastic are created and degrade.

Dirt and moisture are needed to decompose biodegradable plastic, but compostable plastic must be placed in compost material to fully degrade.2

Biodegradable plastic is definitely real, but it’s all about your understanding of what biodegradable means vs. what compostable means. To put it simply, biodegradable plastic is not going to break down as fully as compostable plastic.

The sad truth is that the planet is being devastated by plastic. Any step towards change is a step in the right direction, and biodegradable plastics are more readily available and affordable than ever before.

How Can I Be Sure My Biodegradable Trash Bags Will Degrade?

Fortunately, there are regulations in place thanks to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Guides concerning marketing, commonly called the ‘green guide’.3

The FTC requirements are set in place to help consumers distinguish whether or not a product will degrade and in order to meet their guidelines, and because there are no universal tests.3 Simply put, in order for a manufacturer to claim biodegradability, if they are going to be in compliance with the rules set forth by the Federal Trade Commission, they must let the consumer know, clearly, how long it will take for their product to degrade and the conditions required for decomposition.

Read your labels and buy from trusted sources. Reputable brands are transparent when making claims about how their products break down, how they’re made, and what you, as the consumer, can expect.

What to Look for in Compostable Trash Bags:

If you’ve decided that biodegradable bags are not for you and that you’d rather go the compostable route, there are a few key things to look for when shopping.

Certification from the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI)

Just like with biodegradable bags, you should look for certifications from the BPI because BPI certification means a product has been tested and that it checks all boxes for being a truly biodegradable or compostable products.

Estimated Decomposition Times:

It is important to understand just how long your new eco-friendly trash bags will take to decompose for two reasons.

  1. You’ll want to know that the product is going to actually decompose fully, and remember according to FTC guidelines a truly biodegradable or compostable product has to give a time frame for how long it will take to degrade.
  2. You need to know how long you have to get that bag to the trash facility! You don’t want your bags to start the decomposition process while still in your home. Some bags need to be thrown out often, some will last for a few days to a few weeks or even months before the process begins.

Remember that compostable materials break down when exposed to certain light and moisture conditions. Keep that in mind before pouring liquids into a compostable bag.

What Conditions are Needed for Decomposition?

Pay close attention to what the product requires for composting. Remember when a bag goes to a landfill, some of those requirements may not be met, meaning your eco-friendly trash bag may not fully decompose.

Where Does the Bag Need to Go?

Do you need to take the bag to a municipal composting site or can you compost the bag at home? Typically, compostable plastics need to be taken to a facility. Make sure that you look at the labeling or product description of your new garbage bags to ensure that you have access to the necessary facility.

You can find your closest compost center through a quick google search and most sites have their guidelines posted online, or are happy to explain requirements if you give them a call. Make sure to follow all guidelines, though. It’s important that non-compostable products are never taken to a compost site.

Reducing Waste for a Cleaner Planet with Eco-Friendly Trash Bags

The good news is that saving our planet from the devastation of plastic consumption is now easier than ever because so many products are readily available. A little bit of knowledge can go a long way, and making the switch to a biodegradable or compostable trash bags is an easy act that can have a big impact.

Research is key, so make sure to investigate brands and find out about their production processes, shipping processes, and just how “eco-friendly” and sustainable their products really are. You can also measure your emissions using an ecological footprint calculator, and then use tree planting offsets from one of the top carbon offset providers to erase it completely.

Plastic litters our oceans, highways, and our earth as a whole, but the devastating effects can be limited by simple actions.

Finding small ways to reduce our carbon footprint by switching to products that break down more quickly can have a huge impact on the health and wellness of our planet, the animals who live here, and the people who will be here for generations to come. Compostable trash bags may not be the most obvious place to start, but it sure is a simple way to be a hero to Planet Earth.


References

1Wikimedia Foundation. (2021, August 23). Biodegradation. Wikipedia. Retrieved October 6, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biodegradation.

2Environmental Protection Agency. (n.d.). EPA. Retrieved October 6, 2021, from https://www.epa.gov/trash-free-waters/frequently-asked-questions-about-plastic-recycling-and-composting#diff.

3Wikimedia Foundation. (2021, September 21). Biodegradable bag. Wikipedia. Retrieved October 6, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biodegradable_bag.

4Image Source: GreenPaperProducts.com. October 6, 2021. https://greenpaperproducts.com/biodegradable-trash-bags-g101hd.aspx

5Image Source: Publicgoods.com. October 6, 2021. https://www.publicgoods.com/products/tall-kitchen-recycled-trash-bag-13-gal

6Image Source: grove.co. October 6, 2021. https://www.grove.co/catalog/product/kitchen-compost-bags?v=6429&attrsrc=18&attrpg=catalog

7ImageSource: Unni.world. October 6, 2021. https://www.unni.world/compostable-trash-bags

8ImageSource: biobagusa.com. October 6, 2021. https://www.biobagusa.com/products/retail-products/leaf-lawn-and-garden-waste-bags/