Kitchen Trash Bags — Green Alternatives

Kitchen Trash Can with Lid Lined with Plastic BagWhen did we start feeling the need to line our kitchen trash cans with paper or plastic bags? Was it the 1930s when the first American supermarket opened and customers carried their goods home in paper bags? Maybe it began when Union Carbide starting selling Glad garbage bags in the 1960s. How about the 1970s when plastic grocery bags were introduced as an alternative to paper bags?

What do people do with plastic grocery bags after the groceries are unloaded and put away? Google “ways to reuse plastic grocery bags,” one of the top responses will be as a trash can liner, especially for kitchen trash cans.

As more municipalities ban single-use plastic bags, those who reuse them to line their kitchen trash cans are faced with a dilemma of what to use instead. This presents a good opportunity to search for a green alternative.

Kitchen Trash Bags — Green Alternatives

Plastic Bags

Plastic bags are made from fossil fuels and use energy throughout their life cycle. After one’s stash of single-use plastic bags is used up, then what? A greener alternative to buying standard kitchen trash bags would be to purchase 100% recycled plastic bags. Beware of biodegradable plastic bags. Landfills are designed so that trash does not rot. A biodegradable plastic bag in a landfill is just another plastic bag.

Paper Bags

Paper bags are made from trees and manufacturing them generates greenhouse gases and pollution. For a greener alternative, look for 100% recycled paper bags. Waxed paper seems to be making a comeback as a moisture barrier for paper trash bags. Paper bags will break down in nature especially when wet, but they do not biodegrade in a landfill.

No Bag

Why purchase a bag just to fill it up with trash and throw it away? Go with the free option and skip the trash can bag—go bagless.

Going Bagless and Green

We were in the paper bag camp and reused paper grocery bags for kitchen trash. When we switched to reusable bags for grocery shopping, we were faced with the question of what to use for our kitchen trash.

After a brief flirtation with buying paper bags, we decided to take a leap and just go without bags.

Prevailing comments online about unlined kitchen trash cans tended to mention the yuckiness factor, either the garbage itself was too yucky to put in a naked trash can or Open Kitchen Trash Can from Rubbermaidwashing out the trash can was too icky of a chore. I am rather squeamish so the yuckiness factor was a concern but we decided to go forward anyway.

Our house is equipped with a trash compactor. We never compacted trash but used to place a paper bag for trash inside it. Once we decided to go bagless, we purchased a plastic 21-gallon trash can for less than $10 and placed it in the trash compactor.


Yucky things one might put in the kitchen trash include fruit and vegetable scraps, meat packaging and bones, and greasy paper towels.

We compost our fruit and vegetable scraps so that isn’t an issue. I wasn’t a natural for composting either, but now it’s a normal part of my routine.

That left meat packaging and bones, greasy paper towels, and the like. We turned to our packaging collection of used bread bags, cereal box liners, frozen pea bags, toilet paper wrapping, etc. Messy or wet garbage gets wrapped in previously used packaging before going in the trash can. This method will work for those who don’t compost fruit and vegetable scraps or use a garbage disposal. Excess plastic bags and packaging are periodically dropped off at the grocery market recycling bin.


The trash can does need to be cleaned but not as often as we thought. The trash can is small and easily fits in the kitchen sink. A laundry room sink or even bathtub would work too. With a little water and green cleaner, the trash can cleaning task is accomplished quickly and painlessly. It’s just not that icky.

We empty the kitchen trash can into the garbage collection trash can. The standard waste receptacles used in our neighborhood are mechanically emptied into the truck. There haven’t been any problems with our bagless trash.

With a little extra care, kitchen trash bags and liners can be eliminated, which saves money and is a green alternative to bags.

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Author: Linda Poppenheimer

Linda researches and writes about environmental topics to share information and to spark conversation. Her mission is to live more lightly on Earth and to persuade everyone else to do the same.

28 thoughts on “Kitchen Trash Bags — Green Alternatives”

  1. I live in a condo. I made arrangements with my friend to use her composter. I like the ideas of reusing food packaging and freezing non compostable scraps until disposed of. I think we need to watch the packaging we purchase When I was a kid, my parents (mother), would use newspaper to wrap messy stuff. I recycle my plastic bags and try to remember to use my cloth bags. I think a strict ban on single use plastic is due. thank you for the info. .

    1. Using your friend’s composter is a creative idea. Instead of just giving up because apparently composting is not allowed at your condo, you found a solution.

  2. “We turned to our packaging collection of used bread bags, cereal box liners, frozen pea bags, toilet paper wrapping, etc. “

    Box liners, bread bags and tp wrapping is all recyclable

    1. Where I live, liners, bread bags, and tp wrapping all end up at the landfill so we reuse it at least once and sometimes many times.

  3. Per : Tammy : Reusing existing bags, liners, etc may use recyclable if you put them in recycle bins, , but how can you put refuse IN them, and then in the garbage bin for pick up? Plastic bread bags for example go into a landfill and do not breakdown. Not sure what your suggesting. It is hard to find an eco friendly choice I want to go with. Paper bag is the closest, but it wouldn’t hold wet items well. Thanks.

    1. I am suggesting first reducing the amount of plastic bags coming into your home, recycling bags if that is available where you live (it isn’t where I live), and/or reusing them several times before putting them in the garbage. Nothing breaks down in a landfill including biodegradable bags. I am not a fan of turning trees into paper bags that you throw away, but I admit that is what I used to put in my garbage can before I decided to stop using any kind of garbage bag liners (paper or plastic).

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