Plastic Trash Bags — Green Alternatives
When 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.
With more Indian municipalities banning single-use plastic bags, those who reuse them to line their trash cans are faced with a dilemma of what to use instead. This presents a good opportunity to search for a green alternative.
Plastic Trash Bags — Green Alternatives
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 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.
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 bag less.
Starch Based Bio-Plastics
Using bags made from corn starch should be a better alternative to plastic and paper, as they are sturdy and easy to use and degrade without any side effects.
Going Bag less and Green
Using reusable garbage bags is an efficient particle on going bag less , It cost effective and with little effort we can save a lot on our carbon footprint.
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.
With a little extra care, kitchen trash bags and liners can be eliminated, which saves money and is a green alternative to bags.
What are the environmental impacts of paper versus plastic bags? Is one better than the other? What is the “greener” choice?
Pollution and Environmental Damage
- Trees act as a carbon sink by removing the carbon from CO2 and storing it as cellulose in the trunk while releasing the oxygen back into the air. Cutting down forests depletes this and other benefits trees provide.
- Accidents and spills from oil and natural gas extraction, refining, transportation, and distribution have already had far reaching and catastrophic environmental impacts. There is no reason to believe this will not continue.
- Some equipment, chemical compounds, and processes used to make paper and plastic bags are harmful and cause pollution.
- Bags made from recycled materials may use fewer resources but recycling is not without environmental impact.
- U.S. EPA statistics show that paper bags are recycled 5 times more than plastic bags.
- Plastic bags made from corn or other biomaterials and Kraft type paper bags are compostable. If compostable plastic bags get mixed in with other plastic recycling, they may contaminate it.
- Paper bags will biodegrade in nature, plastic bags will not. Birds, fish, and other wildlife may become entangled in or ingest plastic bags or parts of plastic bags.
- Some municipalities’ efforts to ban single-use plastic bags are in part to mitigate the amount of time and money they spend dealing with plastic bag litter.
Waste and Recycling
The Bottom Line
Both paper and plastic bags have an environmental impact. Is one “greener” than the other? It depends on whom you talk to or where you get your information, and how you interpret what you learn. Keep in mind comparisons can be tricky and sometimes confusing. For instance, one might need 1-3 plastic grocery bags to hold what fits in 1 paper grocery bag so bag-per-bag comparisons may be misleading.
Instead of debating paper versus plastic, perhaps we should look at other alternatives…a topic for another post.
Buy compostable Garbage Bags