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, spark conversation, and convince people to take action to keep earth habitable for all. She believes our individual actions do matter—it all adds up.

6 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.

  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.

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