Bin bag in truck

014: Switch to non-plastic bin liners

Cost of taking action: £/$/€ LOW

This is another one of those so-easy-to-do things; there really is no excuse.

Single use plastic bags are a major problem. In our kitchens and around our homes and gardens, we are always accumulating rubbish and waste. With the best will in the world we are not going to see that stop completely, and it has to go somewhere.

The first place is into our kitchen bin (lined with plastic) then perhaps out into a wheelie bin or skip (that’s a dumpster to our American friends!), probably in another plastic bag – maybe one of those traditional black bin bags. Shop single-use carrier bags get used for this too, and in fact sometimes people think they are doing the right thing by doing that, as they are being “re-used”.

Whatever the exact route, plastic bags and bin liners as a way of transporting our household waste needs to stop, so learn about the alternatives and switch to a plastic-fee, truly biodegradable option.

Why is this important?

It’s important because of the time it takes a bag to decompose properly. This varies depending on not just what it’s made from, but the amount of heat, light, air and bacteria it is exposed to. No one knows exactly how long a plastic bin bag or carrier bag is likely to take to degrade, but estimates range from 10 years to centuries. During this time, they are adding to a horrendous landfill legacy or contaminating our wider environment, causing death and injury to wildlife, poisoning, littering, and generally lowering our living standards.

A truly biodegradable one, on the other hand, should degrade in under two years in most cases. Whilst this is not perfect, it is manageable and at least we know that the problem that remains is (relatively) short term. Some biodegradable bags are made from plant-based materials, while others are made from normal plastic that’s had extra elements added to make it degrade much faster than normal.

“Compostable” bags are made from 100% plant-based materials, which isn’t always the case with other biodegradable bags. These compostable bags break down quickly as long as the temperature is high enough.

Understanding the terminology is important; not all “biodegradable” plastic is “compostable”. This is why you should make sure you use a compostable bag, not a biodegradable bag, to line a food caddy. Caddy bags need to be fully compostable so that they break down at a similar rate to the food waste they contain.

Take action

Firstly, stop using single use carrier bags anyway, not just for the bins, but for your shopping too. There really is absolutely no reason to do so, you can use canvas and cloth re-useable bags when shopping. If you really think you HAVE to use them (really?) then make sure they are recycled properly at a supermarket collection point or kerbside, don’t be tempted to use them as bin bags or rubbish bags.

Secondly, when thinking about your kitchen and household waste, use an alternative to traditional liners and black bin bags, they are the worst kind of plastic pollution. Below are some of the alternatives you can use.

What are the alternatives?

  1. Fully compostable liners made from plant-based materials
  2. Biodegradeable treated plastic – not perfect, but an improvement on carrier bags!
  3. Even better, try lining your bin with newspaper instead
  4. Reduce kitchen bin waste anyway by placing it (where appropriate) directly into a garden composter
  5. Place rubbish that doesn’t need to be wrapped directly into your wheelie bin
  6. Use the wheelie bin “naked” anyway, and just wash it out each time it is emptied!
  7. Take other measures to reduce waste, especially food waste

In summary, if you are wedded to the habit of using bin bags, then stop using shop carrier bags and switch to properly compostable ones. Take other measures to reduce waste and the number of bags you use.

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