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.

18 thoughts on “Kitchen Trash Bags — Green Alternatives”

  1. I insist on being bagless when it comes to household garbage. Unfortunately we don’t have compost as an option here, thus the icky part HAS to be dealt with and get a lot of advice about ‘how easy and cheap it is to use a lining bag’!!!
    But it’s my trash and I absolutely hate using polythene bags, so just turn the deaf ear to all that.
    Thank you so much for this article, this confirms that I’m not an eccentric aka weirdo!!!

    1. Think of yourself as being on the leading edge of a trend that hasn’t gained momentum…yet.

  2. Not using a bag will not work for everyone only people living in house. Those of us who live in condos with trash pick-up cannot leave our trash outside unless it’s in a bag.

    We need some sort of recycle bag that breaks down in landfills.

    1. That is a good point for people who live buildings where a landlord or an association dictates how you can dispose of your trash. Biodegradable and compostable bags do exist but unfortunately, nothing is allowed to break down in a landfill including the trash.

    2. I have the same issue. Here’s what I’ve decided to do. Buy kitchen trash bags made from post consumer recycled plastic. Reduce the frequency that I put out a trash bag to every other week. Freeze the rotting food that can’t be composted in a container until we put out the trash. I figure this will at least reduce the number of bags by half and using recycled plastic will also reduce overall plastic by a bit. Far from perfect but we are required to put our non-recycled trash in plastic bags. I had planned to get biodegradable bags but these seem to have issues in landfills.

      1. It sounds like you have thought things through and come up with a plan that works for you. Imagine what we could accomplish if each person would take a few minutes to assess their own situation and implement changes that fit in their daily lives. I agree that since biodegradable bags do not degrade in landfills, recycled plastic bags are a good choice.

  3. I can’t understand why paper manufacturers don’t offer a 13 gallon paper bag that fits in normal trash containers lining for collecting recyclable materials. We have 2 such containers in our house specifically used for recycling and we end up lining those containers with plastic bags where we must discard the plastic bag self in normal trash after emptying its contents into the large recycle trash bin. How stupid is it by some manufacturers, especially Glad, to offer environmentally friendly recycling trash bags made of plastic. They obviously don’t get the point that it isn’t the biodegradability of the bag as much as that plastic bags gum up the shredding equipment used by the trash haulers. I would dearly love to purchase a large supply of 13 gallon paper (preferably recycled paper) to line these 2 recycle containers. There is a market there I’m certain.

    1. I do not see any reason to line a trash can or a recycle bin with a plastic or paper bag but I respect people making their own choices.

    2. I have been carefully recycling for years but always put my recycling in a kitchen garbage bag. Ok just now realizing this might be a problem for the recycling… I hope all or my carefully seperated and cleaned recycling weren’t all landfilled! The reason I keep them in a bag is because when they pick up the bins and dump them in the truck, a lot of the loose stuff floats back into my yard. :/ And, it will be a hassle to take my large kitchen recycling container out. Now I’m thinking maybe I’ll start dumping the contents of the recycling from the bag to the bin outside then reusing the same bag, and hoping not too much ends up back in my yard. I’m not sure if I can forgo the trash bag though. I’ll have to think about that one.

      1. Recycling center capabilities differ so probably the best thing to do would be to contact them and ask if you can put your recyclables in a plastic bag. Using the same plastic bag for collecting recycling and dumping it in the bin for pick up seems like a good idea. I do not use liners for my kitchen trash or recycle bin and rarely do I end up with trash in my driveway. I put yucky things like greasy paper towels or chicken bones in things like tortilla bags or cereal boxes, which helps keep our kitchen trash can clean so it rarely needs to be washed.

    1. You might be surprised by how many plastic bags come into your home from the grocery market, stores, and online shipping. Perhaps you could try saving these bags and reusing them to dispose of kitty litter.

      1. That’s what I do! Bread bags are so great for kitty litter dumping. I also use the little tie/lock thing it comes with to tie it so I can fill it up and it won’t smell!

  4. Hi. It’s 2019. Don’t know if this blog is alive. Many offices, like mine, have a lot of people working in it and reach workstation has a small trash can. Don’t think that it can be without a liner as mostly the waste would be dry. It’s not necessary. There are also a lot of kitchens and pantry that need a trash can with a liner. In this case what is the alternative since biodegradable plastic is of no use according to you and a lot of other people. It makes me mad when each evening the office help take away loads of plastic bags filled with trash. Really need an alternative. Please help.

    1. Offices do present challenges. I personally do not see why everyone needs a trash can at their workstation (getting up and walking to a centralized trash can would cut down on bags and be good exercise). I understand this is probably unrealistic without a lot of behavioral change. Encouraging the janitorial service to use of bags made 100% recycled plastic may be a starting point.

    2. At my office they took away our individual cans a few years ago and gave us cup sized cans for our desks. It was annoying at first but now everyone is used to just taking their trash to kitchen on their floor. I leave it on my desk til I get up then toss it. And, this is a big office with 10 floors.

  5. funny but when I was little, the grocery store only packed groceries using paper bags and boxes that their deliveries came in. There was a big ball of twine hanging from the ceiling and they used that to reinforce the boxes when the flaps were stood up for more packing space. We had a small compost bin, used newspaper to wrap scraps and peelings in (which helped to soak up moisture and keep smells low), and thick paper bags were used for garbage. Garbage was a long line of metal garbage bins at the curb. Now that we recycle so much in today’s world, there is a lot less garbage that needs to go out. There are compost dehydrator machines available on the market that are small enough to have on your countertop.

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