With plastic bag bans increasing, and the awareness around the issue of plastic pollution growing, it seems that plastic bags are on the decline. Which is great news, except it begs the question… what is a good alternative to use to line the rubbish bin?
How to line a rubbish bin without a plastic bag is one of the questions I’m most frequently asked.
As with many of these plastic-free dilemmas, there is more than one solution.
How To Line a Rubbish Bin Without a Plastic Bag
1. Use No Liner At All
This might not work for everybody, and it usually isn’t the first step, but have you considered not using a liner at all, and simply rinsing out the bin between uses?
The first question to ask is: what is actually going into my bin? Is there food scraps and stinky stuff? Or is it just dry, clean non-recyclables like plastic packaging and mixed-material products?
Typically the average household bin is made up of 40% food waste. That’s the wet, gross bit that makes our bin icky. If you can separate your food scraps and dispose of them separately, there might be no need for a bin liner.
If you’re not ready to set up a compost bin, find out if there’s anyone in your area who already has, and who is willing to accept their neighbours (i.e. your) food scraps. There’s a free directory at sharewaste.com.
If you’d like to set up a worm farm (these are great for small spaces and can be kept on balconies or indoors) you can DIY your own with old polystyrene boxes or invest in a purpose-built version like the Hungry Bin.
If you already compost or worm farm, but still produce meat and fish products that you don’t want to compost, you can actually bokashi them (here’s some info about how bokashi bins work). The resulting fermented bokashi contents can go in the compost.
Whilst you’re getting a food waste recycling system set up – or if you just don’t have the energy for this at the moment – and you have space, consider using a large yoghurt tub with a lid / lidded bucket to collect food scraps and keep in the fridge or freezer until bin day, and empty these directly into the external bin.
2. Line Your Bin with Newspaper
When I first went plastic-free in 2012, I switched from using plastic bags to line my bin to using newspaper. I received a free community newspaper in the letterbox every week. If you don’t get the newspaper yourself, ask friends and family, neighbours, workplaces or cafes.
This is how I did it:
Using old newspaper means repurposing something already in existence, and no new plastic is consumed.
(This is how I started; next I focused on how to recycle my food waste to reduce the wet stuff, and then I went liner free.)
3. Line Your Bin with Other Repurposed Materials
If you have large paper bags, old cardboard boxes or other packaging, consider using these to line your bin (or to replace your bin). You might find it possible to empty the contents into an external bin and reuse the vessel again.
With all paper and cardboard, it is better to recycle than to compost, and to compost rather than to landfill. However, repurposing something that has already been used is better than buying something new.
4. Line Your Bin with Certified Compostable Bio-Based Bags
Something I often wonder about purchasing brand new bin liners: why would I buy something brand new with the sole purpose of putting it in the bin?
But I did it myself in the past, and we all start our journey somewhere. If you’re not ready to compost your food scraps, don’t think the newspaper method will work for you, and really want to use a purpose-designed liner, then certified compostable bio-based bags are worth considering as a transition step.
The labels “certified compostable” and “bio-based” are important. Plenty of products exist that say “eco friendly” and “green” but don’t (or can’t) back up their claims. If you want a better option than fossil-fuel based plastic, look for these two terms:
Bio-based means made from plants, not fossil fuels. Sometimes they are called plant-based, cornstarch or PLA. They are still plastic, but not made from fossil fuels.
Certified compostable means that the product has been tested and is proven to break down in hot composting conditions. Certified home compostable means the product will break down in a home compost bin.
To ensure the bags you pick are certified compostable, look for these logos:
However, certified compostable does not mean they will break down in the environment, or in landfills, and no compostable plastic has been shown to break down in the marine environment. They are just as capable of creating litter and harming wildlife as regular bags. As with all single-use items, they use a lot of resources to manufacture versus their useful life. Their main advantage is that they reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.
Avoid oxo-degradable and oxo-biodegradable bags, as these are plastic bags made with fossil fuels that have an additive which means they break down more quickly than regular plastic bags – into microplastic. These are considered by many to be worse for the environment than regular plastic bags.
5. Line Your Bin with Recycled Plastic Bin Liners
If you really need to use plastic, then consider using recycled plastic. The higher the recycled content, the better.
There is so much plastic already in the world, and only 10% of it has ever been recycled. The more we can do to re-use what exists, and stop producing new plastic, the lower the environmental burden will be.
Plastic bags were only actually invented in the 1960s. We managed before, and we can manage again.
Now I’d love to hear from you! What do you use to line your bin, and how has that changed along the years? Do you have any other tips to add? Or another challenge you’d like some tips dealing with? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!