Paper or plastic?
February 26, 2009 5:35 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a better garbage bag.

I've completely stopped using store bags-- always carry canvas bags with me, for everything from books to groceries to clothing the auto parts store. However, this means that I can longer use the store plastic bags for garbage, forcing me to buy garbage bags.

Or does it? Not using a bag is too nasty, but should I be using large paper bags, on the theory that paper will decompose? Or would I just be killing trees? Plus, where do I find them (the stores only have those mega lawn bags in paper) Do I just go back to using paper bags at the grocery store?
posted by nax to Society & Culture (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I use Biobags and have been very happy with them. I even buried one in the backyard a year or so ago, and it did decompose.
posted by bolognius maximus at 5:41 AM on February 26, 2009

Response by poster: um, I don't clothe the auto parts store. s/b: from clothing TO the auto parts store. been up since 4. thank you
posted by nax at 6:06 AM on February 26, 2009

Best answer: You could forgo the bags altogether, although it's a little bit of work. We have 2 kitchen garbage bins. When we empty one into the big can that goes to the curb, it gets rinsed with a mild bleach & water solution, and is left to dry. The second can goes into use while the other one is airing out. The process is then repeated. We started doing this because the bins we like are really wide at the top, and we couldn't find bags to fit them. Stretching the bags eneded up in rips and garbage water between the bag and bin. It's actually less stinky now that we don't use bags- there's no warm space between the bag and bin for things to ferment.
posted by dogmom at 6:21 AM on February 26, 2009

I get "store plastic bags" from my mom and co-workers..
posted by and hosted from Uranus at 6:22 AM on February 26, 2009

Biobags are cool. But there's a catch...

If you live in the United States, note that landfills are not really big compost heaps (anymore). They're hermetically sealed huge plastic sacks of garbage. Even if your hypothetical paper bag of garbage were to decompose, it would be inside of a huge plastic bag, so it really won't help trees to grow, or anything else good like that. It will provide food for microbes I guess. But you're not going to have much of an impact on the ecosystem outside of the landfill for hundreds of years (or a thousand years). And if you think about extraction of raw materials of paper versus plastic, it's not like there's a clear winner there. True, plastic bags are made from petrochemical toxic shit. But growing up a tree and turning into a paper bag is very energy and water intensive, too.

I'd get whatever handmedown bags you can, and "reuse" instead of spending money buying something special (like a crate of paper bags, or biobags).
posted by zpousman at 7:29 AM on February 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Your neighbors, co-workers, and friends may have gobs of plastic or paper bags that you could have. My grocery offer plastic bag recycling, and when I ran out of dog-walking poop bags, I raided the recycle bin. You could post on Craigslist or freecycle that you need clean plastic bags to recycle for trash. you might get inundated.
posted by theora55 at 8:20 AM on February 26, 2009

Best answer: Recycle paper, plastic, cardboard, glass, etc
Compost food waste
You will be surprised how little real garbage you'll have
posted by jckll at 9:09 AM on February 26, 2009

Yeah, nthing rescuing plastic or paper bags that would otherwise be thrown out or not recycled.

This suggests that plastic wins out over paper both in terms of energy to create and energy to recycle, so I guess your preference might be:

1. Reuse paper/plastic that would otherwise be thrown out
2. New plastic
3. New paper

I couldn't find any information on the embodied energy for biodegradeable bags, but the benefits are pretty minimal, as zpousman pointed out.
posted by electroboy at 9:44 AM on February 26, 2009

There's another catch with Biobags -- they're not watertight and start to decompose too quickly with wet trash. If you throw food waste into them, they tend to degrade into a sticky mess right there in the can. We've tried to use them in our kitchen composter to keep it clean and easily transfer compost to the big city-provided composter, and that just hasn't worked well.

I agree that you should have little trouble recycling plastic bags from other folks. Your neighbors may be happy to get rid of them.
posted by eschatfische at 9:47 AM on February 26, 2009

Ditto what cklennon says - I did this where I used to live (everything was recyclable) and used just a paper grocery bag as a trash receptacle. It took three months to fill it up! Never put any food in it - if you don't compost, throw food waste in a sealable, disposable container (ziplock or used butter etc tub) of some sort in the freezer, and dump it in the trash each time you empty your bin.

And if you're going to get bags from friends and strangers, and can be picky, I've found Target bags to be very heavy duty, as well as a little larger than standard. Not as good for the environment perhaps, but nice for trash bags, and since you're giving them an extra use anyway...

Other major retailers' bags (Wal-Mart, Kroger etc, Safeway) tend to be thin and often have holes in the bottom by the time they get home.
posted by attercoppe at 11:20 AM on February 26, 2009

I don't easily find sources that advise you on what to put your actual trash in. Of course if you live as environmentally friendly as feasible, you would produce less waste to begin with- that's the majority of advice out there. I suppose you could dump your trash directly into your trash can (maybe use one plastic liner) and then dump that in the community Dumpster, keeping your liner, but that is messy and probably unwelcome. I also doubt garbage collectors would pick up unbagged trash.

Currently I just use plastic. I try to remember to use my cloth bags for shopping, but I'll request plastic when I run out of bags for trash. I know plastic still sucks, but at least I'm not buying garbage bags.

This does make me curious about what is done with trash in communities (very rural, for example) where trash collectors don't show up every week.
posted by Piscean at 12:35 PM on February 26, 2009

This does make me curious about what is done with trash in communities (very rural, for example) where trash collectors don't show up every week.

Most rural areas don't have trash pickup at all. You take your stuff to the dump or a transfer station whenever you get a chance.
posted by electroboy at 2:25 PM on February 26, 2009

Response by poster: Just to clarify-- we recycle all recyclables. When we must buy something in a box or carton (like eggs an milk) we reuse the container if at all possible. We compost, garden and really never buy anything (I make all my own clothes, for instance), so we're not bringing a lot of trash into the house in the first place. Because of this, we're generating only about1-2 large kitchen bags worth of garbage a week.

Anyway, I really like the idea of no bag at all. It seemed too icky, but really, why not? dogman, do you at least bag the rottable things? I'm worried about the garbage collectors leaving stuff behind. (I would probably do this, just wondering if you do.) Also, does anyone know if there are ordinances requireing that garbage be bagged? I hunted around the city of Chicago website, but couldn't find anything.
posted by nax at 6:18 AM on February 27, 2009

do you at least bag the rottable things

Sort of. I wrap up the chicken skin in the plastic wrap the chicken came in, but if the can starts to stink before its full, I just take it out. In my neighborhood, the trash collector wouldn't know if my stuff is bagged or not since the robotic arms of the truck dump the garbage into the truck.

The no bag thing is icky at first- you have to be willing to touch the stuff that sticks to the side of the can to get it all out (or at least smack it really hard), but most of my garbage is "chunky" and more or less comes out easily. It also helops that I have a yard with a hose to periodically clean the outside can. Really, my main concern is that the outside can has a big old rock on the lid, just to keep the smells in and the racoons out.
posted by dogmom at 12:41 PM on March 22, 2009

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