Green Substitute for Plastic Garbage Bags

Paper grocery bags on a white background
Trying to find a workable substitute for plastic garbage bags seems to be quite difficult. One potential option would be to try using paper bags or no bag at all, if this is allowed by your trash service. This is a page about finding a green substitute for plastic garbage bags.

2 Questions

Ask a QuestionHere are the questions asked by community members. Read on to see the answers provided by the ThriftyFun community or ask a new question.

August 16, 2008

I have on and off used plastic or paper bags at the grocery store. I am trying to go "green" little by little. What I used to do and trying to stop is I would take the plastic bag and insert the paper bag for our garbage pails. Is there an alternative to not using these plastic bags at all for garbage?

I am also purchasing those "green bags" little by little - they are inexpensive but I would reuse them but not for garbage of course. I actually saw a video that was very eye opening about plastic bags, it really changed my views. What would any of you say is a good alternative? (In this video it says something to the fact that recycling plastic actually cost more than making it?

I also bought a plastic sippy cup at a Natural Health food store - it actually had directions to only wash with vinegar and baking soda - so that's how I wash most of my plastic containers now - why not?

Ann from MA


Bronze Post Medal for All Time! 213 Posts
August 16, 20080 found this helpful
Best Answer

All of the larger grocery stores in our area have recycle cans for these used plastic bags (so they won't end up in the landfill)... I just LOVE this idea! This way I can still use plastic bags, then recycle them into something else... (Like a crotched rug or a crotched bag) OR put them into the recycle bin to be made into something else entirely.


---> This may sound a little "unprofessional" but in my business I mostly use used plastic bags for my customers. I simply ask "DO you mind a recycled bag?" or "Would you like a recycled, used plastic bag?" & so far every customer I've asked has said with enthusiasm "Why YES, I WOULD LOVE a recycled bag!"... This saves me a few pennies, but more importantly, it also helps the environment!

SO all you business owners out there, why not offer your customers a recycled bag? (Be sure to double-check the used bags for cleanliness first!)

* You can also have a bin for them to return the bags back to you & this might even help bring more customers in!

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By Alia (Guest Post)
August 17, 20083 found this helpful
Best Answer

While I think it is a positive step that all of you are trying to limit your use of plastic bags a few of the comments I think are a bit misleading. First off, you should always use canvas or cloth bags to hold your groceries, there is NO environmentally ethical way around this, I don't care if you re-use the heck out of a plastic bag, it still stays in our environment wreaking havoc for centuries!


Secondly, this notion that 'and then I recycle the bag' so it's ok, needs to be obliterated from our collective consciousness. Rarely, IF EVER, are plastic bags recycled, the same can be said for most plastic products. Instead they are 'down-cycled'. This means that once melted down to their constituent parts there is very little usable material available.

So, much of it is trashed and a very small percentage is reused for lesser plastic products. Only 20% of the average pop bottle is actually recycled, and nearly 100% of their caps end up in landfills, oceans, and incinerated into the atmosphere. Recycling also has a VERY large carbon footprint.

The idea that you recycled something should give you little comfort. The real answer is lowering consumption. Do you need that grocery bag? absolutely not. Do you need that bottle of soda? Of course you don't. So while I'm glad that you are all thinking about this topic, I think it's time you all thought a little harder about it.

Reply Was this helpful? 3
December 30, 20080 found this helpful
Best Answer

1. Reduce!
Use and re-use a cloth bag for groceries. You can purchase these, or use an old (or new) backpack, laundry bag, purse, even a wheeled suitcase if you walk to and from the store and don't want to carry it in your arms!


2. Re-use!
If you must accept a disposable back from the store, try for a paper bag. They're biodegradable. Get a garbage can that fits the majority of the paper bags you'll use, and just wash it out in between uses if it leaks.

3. Recycle!
If you must use a plastic bag for whatever reason, re-use it, rinse or wash, re-use, keep going until it's got too many holes to even contemplate using it for anything at all. Use it to hold garbage, to hold shoes in your suitcase and keep them from dirtying your clothes, to store this and that.

4. Save money.
Some areas (like mine) insist that ALL garbage be disposed of in plastic bags, not paper, and not loose in the dumpster. This means I'm obliged to use a plastic bag for all my trash and another (a blue one) for all my recycling. But I can still save money. Use a paper or cloth bag for your groceries, and they'll take ten cents off your grocery bill for each one.


Buying inexpensive garbage bags actually works out to costing something like three to four cents per bag, AND they're stronger and don't have those incidental holes that you'll find in plastic grocery bags. So I'll buy garbage bags (cheap but still better than the grocery bags for garbage), and wind up spending 3-5 cents per bag, then saving 10 cents per grocery bag I don't get in plastic, thus making a savings of about 7 cents per grocery/garbage bag.

5. Reduce again!
Reduce your packaging by buying refills for refillable things, instead of a brand new package. Recycle anything that's recyclable. All plant-based foods can be composted -- coffee grounds, onion and carrot tips, mushroom and parsley stems. Even egg shells can be composted. It's only the animal-based products that turn good compost to crud. Compost whatever you can, then throw out (or cook and serve to an animal companion) the scraps from your meat and dairy products. I once read an article about a family in Alaska that produced only eleven pounds of garbage over a two-year period of time, just by composting and recycling and buying bulk refills.

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Answer this Question


ThriftyFun is one of the longest running frugal living communities on the Internet. These are archives of older discussions.

August 15, 2008

Now that I have sewn several canvas bags in which to bring home my groceries, tell me just what do I use as garbage bags, .all the ones in the stores are made from plastic.



Substitute For Plastic Garbage Bags

I understand how you feel. For myself I have pets, so I put my garbage in my dog food bags. Because of the wax they use it's the only way I can recycle them. (04/30/2008)

By melissa

Substitute For Plastic Garbage Bags

I use the plastic bags from the store for trash and garbage. After they are no longer usable I recycle them. (04/30/2008)

By Harry

Substitute For Plastic Garbage Bags

The dog food bag idea is a good one. Also, if you buy other types of feed for livestock, etc, those bags work well for garbage bags. You can use plastic produce bags, and in some cases, empty coffee containers (the big ones with snap lids) for garbage, scraps, etc. Otherwise, you could look for plastic bags made from recycled plastic products. (04/30/2008)

By Cora

Substitute For Plastic Garbage Bags

Home Depot and Lowe's sell large heavy duty paper bags for grass clippings. Possibly you could use those? (05/01/2008)

By Holly

Substitute For Plastic Garbage Bags

I have used the plastic garbage bags several ways. One way is as a small trash can liner in the bathrooms, another is to put shoes in when packing for a trip, so you can pack shoes in your suitcase. I also use them much the same as Rachel Ray uses her garbage bowl. When cooking I double the bag and put my scraps and garbage in them, so clean up goes fast! (05/02/2008)

By Patti

Substitute For Plastic Garbage Bags

Way back in the dark ages before plastic, we used to line our garbage pails with newspaper. Use several layers and make sure the garbage is not sopping wet. (05/02/2008)

By Edith

Substitute For Plastic Garbage Bags

I recycle laundry bags by using them as garbage bags. Tie a knot in the end where the hanger poked through. (05/06/2008)

By Carol

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