Environmentally Friendly Trash Bags: Biodegradable Vs. Compostable Trash Bags

Plastic bags. One of the greatest enemies our environment faces.

They are present in our daily lives more than any other item. When we go to the supermarket or a convenience store when we buy a new shirt or any other item it will almost certainly come inside a plastic bag. While we can’t control what the stores and shops use, we can control what type of plastic trash bags we use at home. 

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If I was a gambling woman, I’d say the chances you have a plastic garbage bag in your kitchen trash can right now are very high. But, just by being here and taking an interest, I’d also say you want to make a change, and just by switching out your traditional plastic garbage bag with a compostable or biodegradable bag, you’re making a big difference for our environment.

Now the real question…. What type of trash bags should you be using at home and why does going eco-friendly get so confusing? While I can’t answer the latter for you, I can address your garbage bag woes.

The two main types of environmentally-friendly trash bags are biodegradable and compostable… but what is the difference really? These plastic trash bag alternatives have been divided between two different sides for years, and we’re here to find out which one is the best. Want to know more? Keep scrolling!

Are there eco-friendly garbage bags?

A compostable trash bag from Full Circle. Pin
Image: Full Circle

Yes, there are! Eco-friendly bags are made to break down over time and not pollute the environment. There are many varieties of eco trash bags, but they are mainly divided into two categories - biodegradable bags and compostable bags. 

Many environmentalists and green-living enthusiasts take sides on one type of bag or the other, creating the never-ending battle of biodegradable vs. compostable trash bags. However, here we will give you the full picture as we dive deep into the world of environmentally-friendly trash bags.

Are kitchen garbage bags recyclable?

Usually, kitchen garbage bags aren’t recyclable. That’s because plastic bags are thin and run the risk of getting snagged in the belts of plastic processing machinery, ultimately clogging them. Although a small handful of curbside programs accept plastic bags, they’re not commonly accepted as recyclable items.

So, if you had the bright idea to just dump your trash directly into your outdoor garbage can, saving your trash bags for multiple use or recycling. That option is out!

It’s better to find a bag collection bin in retail stores like Walmart, Lowe’s, and Sprouts or in local grocery stores. Here’s a plastic bag drop-off location finder, just enter your zip code, and soon you’ll find one.

Are black plastic garbage bags biodegradable?

Sadly, black plastic garbage bags aren’t biodegradable. Well, they are… But after decades. 

They are mostly made out of polyethylene (PE), the most common plastic in use today, which makes them very difficult to degrade even if they stay buried 10 feet underground for several years in a landfill.

In fact, a study published in the Journal of Applied Polymer Science showed that a single sheet of polyethylene only showed partial degradation when kept in moist soil for 12 to 32 years.

Why does it matter if you use environmentally-friendly trash bags?

In addition to their inability to degrade and their ability to pollute soil, plastic bags cause major damage to marine wildlife. Most people on the planet may not care whether or not they use different bags to lessen their negative impact on the environment, but once they become aware of the damage they cause, it does matter. 

It is estimated that 500 billion plastic bags are consumed worldwide every year, and since they are not recyclable just imagine the amount of undecomposed bags that end up in landfills, rivers, and seas. Although several countries have passed laws to ban single-use plastics, there is still a long way to go, and by using environmentally friendly trash bags you are helping the cause from your home. One step at a time.

What is the difference between compostable and biodegradable garbage bags?

The terms "compostable" and “biodegradable” are often used interchangeably but even though they are similar, they’re not the same thing. Not all biodegradable bags are compostable. 
The main difference between both terms lies in the degradation time and conditions.

A biodegradable product can be broken down by microorganisms, but this does not mean that it will convert into compost. Instead, as the name implies, compostable bags do convert into compost, good-quality organic fertilizer.

What Does Compostable Mean?

Basically, composting is a type of biodegradation that takes place in a compost pile under the presence of oxygen and elevated temperature, producing, of course, compost.

When we talk about a compostable product it means that the material is degraded by the action of organisms and microorganisms in these conditions, turning it into an organic compound that can be used as a natural fertilizer for agriculture and gardening.

What Does Biodegradable Mean?

On the other hand, a biodegradable product is one that decomposes within nature by the action of the environment and microorganisms. For example, a material that falls under the qualification of "biodegradable" is a bioplastic, made from biological material like plants rather than just fossil fuels. 

However, biodegradable materials are designed to break down within landfills, not in home compost bins. Long story short, you won't get that sweet, nutrient-packed treat for your plants from only biodegradable products.

How do Compostable Trash Bags Help The Environment?

In addition to the fact that compostable bags can keep landfills free of any type of plastic or waste (they don't even have to end up in landfills in the first place), they go one step further by giving back to the soil the nutrients it needs through composting. It’s very rewarding to know that not only are you helping the environment by removing pollution, but you are also giving back that "something" that keeps it alive, and thriving.

Are Compostable Garbage Bags Worth It?

Yes, they are worth it! And if you want to know why, later on, we’ll give you all the details about them, whether they break down in home compost or not, how long they take to decompose, and more. But in summary, just the fact that they do not pollute the environment in landfills and can be one of the components of organic compost for the garden makes compostable bags totally worth it.

Do compostable bags break down in home compost?

Yes, if your home composting bin maintains a minimum temperature of 45° C it can break down easily. There are also some plastics that are labeled as home compostable, meaning that they can break down even if the temperature in your bin isn’t that hot. Nevertheless, they will compost eventually. One of the best compostable trash bags out there is the BioBag Compostable Bags (more on these a little later). These are certified in both America and Europe as compostable and also meet OK Compost HOME requirements.

How long do compostable bags take to decompose?

Compostable bags will completely degrade in 90 days or so, but it also depends on the temperature they are exposed to. If the composting system is at 60° C, it can break down within 30 days.

Can worms eat compostable bags?

Short answer: Yes... But be careful. This is a very controversial topic, some people claim that worms eat any material that is organic and some others state that you should never, ever, put compostable bags in your vermicompost. Well, this is not entirely true.

Some compostable bags will say whether they decompose through industrial processing or not or if they are even worm-friendly at all, so the option that compostable bags are the nemesis of our vermicompost is already ruled out.

Some compostable bag materials that worms can eat are paper, wood cellulose, and cornstarch, -although worms only eat thin layers of cornstarch bags, not the entire bag-, and other materials that have a neutral pH. But still, do your research before thinking about putting a compostable bag in your vermicompost.

How Thick/Durable Are Compostable Garbage Bags?

Compostable garbage bags can be as thick or as thin as the manufacturer wants them to be. Some are stronger than others but be aware that the majority suffer from leakages if they store wet food for weeks.

Do compostable items break down in landfills?

If a compostable item ends up in a landfill it needs to be exposed to oxygen, moisture, carbon, and nitrogen in order to break down. Composting is a very specific process, and if it doesn’t get exposed to these conditions, it won’t degrade. If compostable items end up in an open landfill where oxygen is available, microorganisms and bacteria will eventually decompose them. But if they end up in the most common landfill, an anaerobic one, they will continue to exist in it for a very, very long time.

How do you dispose of compostable bags?

If your city allows it, compostable bags can go to your nearest curbside composting bin to be industrially composted. You can also compost them at home, as long as you do it the right way. 

If you have an outdoor composting bin, it is easier to compost them since the temperature inside the bin can increase significantly. But if you have an indoor composting bin, either a traditional compost bin or a vermicomposting bin can work. As mentioned earlier, worms can eat some materials. Just verify that the bag is suitable for home composting and give it a shot! Also, there are some hot water-soluble compostable bags.

Best Compostable Trash Bags

Image: BioBag


BioBag is one of the best you can buy. These are the better solution for paper and polyethylene bags. They are really compostable and can be reused, composted, or incinerated. They are made from GMO-free crops and can be used for pet waste and food storage. They also come in different sizes. These are the ones that I use in my home.

BioBag, Inc. is a subsidiary of BioBag International (Norway) with headquarters and production in Toronto, Canada.

Full Circle Home

Full Circle Home is a plastic neutral company, this means that for every ounce of plastic they use, they partner with Plastic Bank® to recycle or recover the same volume of plastic that would otherwise end up in our oceans.

Their compost bags will fit in any sized standard compost bins and are certified by the Biodegradable Products Institute.

Being plastic neutral means that for every ounce of plastic we use, we work with Plastic Bank® to recover and recycle the same amount of plastic that would otherwise enter our oceans. They are also a B Certified Corp and offer a range of sustainable kitchen items like these handy veggie brushes, and these very cool Suds Up Soap Dispensing Dish Brush.

Other alternatives to compostable and biodegradable trash bags:

Another option is to consider a reusable trash bag. As mentioned bioplastic is one option, but they are not perfect they still have a pretty large carbon footprint. Corn-based does produce fewer emissions than plastic, but it's still not the best option.

So what is? Well, reusable trash bags are your BEST bet! You know me, I love a good zero-waste solution! You can actually put your compostable waste right into your kitchen compost bin, you don't really need a bag. You can also use old newspapers to line your compost bin.

But if you can! Choose a reusable. Marley's Monsters, one of my fav Etsy shops offer a washable garbage liner. This Quebec-based company also offers a wide range of the cutest washable pale liners.

Earth Hero carries the Bagito. It's a really clever design and made from recycled plastic known as rPET Fabric. All of these are machine washable, easy to use, and super easy to store. Aren't you happy you have so many great choices to choose from?

So, Which garbage bag is better biodegradable or compostable?

As we reach the home stretch of the fight between biodegradable vs. compostable garbage bags, we can firmly state that if you want to clean up your surroundings while helping the environment in the most ideal way, we’ve got the winner: compostable garbage bags. They turn into natural fertilizer! What more can you ask for?

In all seriousness, compostable bags degrade way faster than their biodegradable counterparts and don’t leave residues, that’s why we find them much more eco-friendly. However, if you don't have access to compost bins in any way shape, or form or aren’t ready yet to do the full transition, biodegradable bags are a good place to start. Are you team compostable or team biodegradable? Let us know!

We've got a ton of guides (and lots more to come) on The Eco Hub to help you compost the right way including:

If you found this post helpful, please help someone by sharing this article – sharing is caring 🙂 ! Looking for more ideas on how to make your home more eco-friendly, take a quick look at your sustainable brand directory.

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4 thoughts shared

    1. Comment author image

      Candice Batista


      Hi Sarah,
      thanks for reaching out, these look oa=kay to me, but I’d check with your city too, just to make sure. Sometimes they don’t accept these types of bags, so you might be using them but they are contaminating the facility, so it’s best to ask.
      Hope this helps,