When dealing with rubbish, the least 'gross' way of managing our waste is to put it all in a plastic bag, tie it up and throw it in the bin to be taken away and never seen again. But, as we become more and more aware of how plastic waste is harming our environment, people are looking for alternatives to plastic bin liners. Plastic liners are made from petroleum or natural gas, both non-renewable resources, that can take anywhere from fifteen to a thousand years to degrade. Of course, it is much easier to do something like replace your plastic toothbrush with a bamboo one, than it is to begin dealing with possibly smelly and sticky rubbish. Ditching the plastic bin liner doesn't have to be a disgusting task. It all depends on the effort you are willing to put in! Here are some different ways we can get around using plastic bin liners.
Step 1: Reduce your waste as much as possible!
The less items you are putting in the bin, the easier it is to manage. Steps to reducing waste include recycling, composting, avoiding plastic packaging, minimising food waste and reusing wherever you can, whether this be making a stock out of leftovers or repurposing a jar!
Apart from composting, a bokashi bin could help a lot with reducing food waste as you can put dairy, meat, fish, onion and citrus in!
For soft plastics, many supermarkets in Australia have recycling points to drop off your soft plastics.
The only problem left after separating our waste is the wet, potentially smelly waste. Some scraps could be frozen until bin day, wrapped in newspaper, or kept in a container with air flow to prevent odour and mess. For liquids, most can be rinsed down the drain except oils and cooking fats, which could be stored in an empty milk or juice carton until full and solidified then emptied on bin day.
As you can see here, so much waste can already be dealt with without the need for a plastic bag at all!
Step 2: Find alternatives!
For those items that do not fall into the recyclable/compostable category, alternatives to plastic bags include lining your bin with sheets of newspaper, using certified compostable bags (home compostable is best), repurposing items like parcel satchels, and if you really need to use plastic for whatever reason, go for recycled plastic bags with a high recycled content.
When purchasing degradable, biodegradable or compostable alternatives to bin bags, it is important to look closely at the product you are choosing. Not all 'eco-friendly' plastic bag alternatives are made equal!
- Degradable bags are a big no-no. They are not truly biodegradable plastics. Degradable simply refers to the ability of something to break down. Degradable bags disintegrate more quickly than standard plastic bags, but don't disappear completely. Instead, they degrade into smaller and smaller particles and the plastic remains as microplastics.
- Biodegradable bags can be broken down by living things like bacteria and fungi. But, biodegradable plastic bags can take months to several years to break down depending on conditions like heat, moisture and light.
- Compostable plastic bags are degradable and biodegradable. According to Australian standards, for plastic to be labelled compostable, 90% of it must biodegrade within 180 days of being in compost, it must be made up of at least 50% of organic materials and it cannot leave behind toxic residue once it has broken down. The tricky bit here is that these bags often end up in landfill, meaning they aren't in the right compost conditions.
When considering a compostable bag, it is important to look for certification. Certified compostable is the most reliable certification as it is regulated and internationally agreed upon. These standards ensure that what we are buying is going to fully biodegrade within a specific timeframe. A reliable standard is Australian Standard AS 4736, European Standard EN 13432 and US Standard ASTM D6400.
Going further, home compostable liners are the most environmentally-friendly bag option as they can be broken down in your own compost bin. The certification standard for home compost must be checked, such as AS 5810-2010. These home compostable liners should not be sent to landfills. The most sustainable way to use these liners would be to remove the contents into your larger wheelie bin for collection, and then put your liner in with your home compost!
Compostable plastic bags are your best option for a bin liner if you're using plastic! They are made from plant-based materials like sugarcane, cornstarch and wheat.
Step 3: Aim for a 'naked' bin.
A 'naked' bin is one without any liner at all!
To keep smells away, wash out your bin after emptying it into the big wheelie bin and sprinkle baking soda in the bottom to remove odours and deter insects. Every few weeks, hose out your wheelie bin and rinse with a vinegar solution to keep insects away. For those occasions when you really need a bag, reuse some packaging such as bread bags or cereal boxes!
In most cases, councils will encourage rubbish to be placed in bags but it is not unlawful to have a naked bin if you are responsible and careful about items that may fly away. But of course check with your local council to be sure!
Written by Grace Robinson-Tagg
Grace Robinson-Tagg is a final year university student who is passionate about sustainability, climate action and environmental justice. She also loves music, the beach and watching vegan cooking videos. She is currently interning with 1 Million Women.