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.

22 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. Why would you line recycling with a plastic bag? Why would you have to throw out the plastic bag after? Can’t it just be reused?

    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.

    2. We use the plastic bags that are from other things like online orders, frozen items, pretty much anything and then supplement that with small paper bags (kids used to take their lunch to school in them so had a handy supply).

  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.

  5. Our town outsources waste pick-up to a company that provides each household with 2 curbside trash bins. The waste management company requires that households bag all trash before it goes in the curbside bins. Apparently to keep the curbside bins clean, because obviously trash bins shouldn’t get dirty!

    We could easily use no liners for our household trash bins (I only line the kitchen trash bin anyways), and dump the trash directly into the curbside bin. I compost all of my food waste, so very little that goes in the household bins is particularly messy, and I wouldn’t mind washing out the bin when needed; I occasionally rinse out the unlined small bins in the bathroom and living room.

    Apart from trying to continue to reduce the amount of trash we produce, and using a large kitchen bin so that I’m throwing out as few bags AROUND my trash as possible, I’m still not sure what the best bag options are. I feel like there’s so many different options and I don’t know which are just marketing tricks: 100% recycled plastic; compostable plastic; plastic made from potato starch vs corn starch. Ultimately, land fill is land fill and my goal should be to send nothing to landfill.

    1. Reducing trash, composting, and using fewer bags are all good actions. I agree sending nothing to a landfill is the ultimate goal.

  6. Where I live we have to transport trash into large communal dumpsters. Putting loose trash into them attracts pests and loose dogs and we somehow have to get out into the car for the journey. We recycle as much as we can but don’t have a garden so composting is not an option.
    Maybe in time someone will come up with a strong but biodegradable alternative to the plastic bin bag. Hemp?

  7. An alternative to lining the kitchen bin is cloth bin liners. The kitchen trash can can be carried out to the larger garbage collection bin. These cloth reusable bags are available on Amazon, or you could make your own. ( has a tutorial on how to. I know: I put it there)
    The issue would be the “messy garbage”; egg shells, coffee filters, tea bags, food tins {especially fish tins}. If the you composte, the messy garbage mostly gets taken care of. If you’re not a composter, you might have some messy trash to take to the garbage collection. For Stratas and apartment rule places, you might have to find a different way. Perhaps purchasing the larger garbage bags to put the garbage into to take to the garbage collection.
    Good luck with trying to cut down on plastic bags.

  8. Great to see the mid-2019 activity on this topic. We generate just a small amt. of garbage as most is recycled, and my wife uses wax paper cereal bags for kitchen waste can liner ( inside re-used Wally World bag for waterproofing, that bag is re-used) We’d love to find larger wax paper liner to eliminate the plastic altogether. Still looking for that solution.

  9. I live in Minneapolis, and it seems that it is not okay to put trash directly into the garbage bin even though they use lifts to empty the trash. I bought diaper pail liners for my trash cans and they work pretty well. Just a rinse after emptying and hang to dry. I bought two so I can switch them out. I also bought ripstop nylon bags for produce as the mesh bags don’t work for storage. Just bought a sink vegetable/fruit drainer and ordered a composter from the city. So my missing link is how to get the garbage in the city bin without using plastic or buying more paper just to get the garbage out. I have my own nylon grocery bags so I have fewer paper bags around.

    1. Carol, you are making a lot of good choices. Our garbage company does not require trash bags so I just repurpose the packaging that still comes into our household for yucky stuff like chicken bones.

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