If you have been using plastic bags from your supermarket shop to line your garbage bin or wrap up scraps to put into your bin, you might be wondering what to do now that more retailers are phasing out plastic bags. Here are some eco-friendly alternatives.
What is the difference between degradable, biodegradable and compostable bags?
If you’d like to switch to an eco-friendly option, plant-based plastic bags are the answer. The key here is understanding the difference between degradable, biodegradable and compostable bags.
“Degradable is basically as bad as normal plastic,” explains Tracey Bailey, founder of leading Australian eco-retailer, Biome. “It has an extra substance in its make-up that allows it to break down more quickly into tiny pieces of plastic, and so they just become microplastics in the environment. And just like a big piece of plastic, they don’t disappear for hundreds of years – but you just can’t see them, and so fish consume them, birds, [and] they get into the soil. It’s no better than your standard bag made of petrochemicals. If anything, it’s possibly worse.”
“I would definitely encourage people to look for plastic bags that are made of plant starch, not petrochemicals,” Bailey says. That’s what 100% or fully biodegradable and compostable bags are made from, so they’ll break down completely and return to the earth.
Whether compostable bags are a good option for you depends on where it will end up. Your home compost heap is very different to commercial-scale composting. At industrial-scale composting centres, Bailey explains, “it gets very hot, and the bags will then compost. But that’s quite different to your home compost heap. So if you put something that’s not home-compostable in your home compost heap, it could take a very long time to return to organic matter.”
Whatever you choose, Bailey suggests looking for third-party certification and see what standard a manufacturer has to meet to get that tick of approval. “Certain types of biodegradable plastic might take weeks to return to organic matter, others might take years.”
This article by Choice explains the difference between compostable and degradable bags in detail.
Fancy ditching plastic altogether? One option is “organic origami” – using folded paper to line your bins. The video below shows you how to make a square-bottomed paper bin liner, while in this one, a six-year-old shows that anyone can master the bin fold.
You can put your newspapers to good use or, if you read your news on-screen, zero-waste advocate Erin Rhoads, who blogs at The Rogue Ginger, suggests asking local cafes or newsagencies. Rhoads includes instructions for folding a paper bin liner in her new book Waste Not.
Cut down on your kitchen waste with tips like these
The easiest way to reduce your need for bin liners is to reduce how much you throw out. You might even find you don’t need a liner at all.
“If you’re doing a good job of separating all your waste and in particular composting all your food scraps, you’d end up with very little that actually needs bagging,” says Bailey.
Re-usable beeswax wraps are a sustainable alternative to storing food in plastic bags and cling film. You can buy them in multiple sizes – like the pretty hand-printed wraps sold by Sydney designer Genevieve Wang of Kiko & Wild.
We’ve seen notices for wrap-making classes put on by local councils and health food shops, too.
Minimising food waste is a great way to reduce what goes in the bin – and save money, too. Turn carrot tops into pesto; make rainbow crackers from veggie scraps or juice pulp; turn veg that’s a bit sad into roasted veg pickles; use quick pickling to transform cauliflower, broccoli and kale stems into kitchen-scrap pickles.
For the scraps you can’t use, there are a wide range of kitchen compost system available these days (and did you know you can even get a compost system for pet waste?). If you don’t have a backyard, you might find there’s a community composting scheme nearby that will put your scraps to use.
“When food scraps are composted, they are no longer waste. Instead, they become food for the soil,” Rhoads writes in her book. Now isn’t that a nice thought for any food lover.