Last year here in Victoria, Australia, the government announced that they’ll be banning single-use plastic shopping bags. Around the time that happened, I read some comments online and many people were really unhappy. They claimed these plastic bags were perfect for the rubbish bin and now they have to buy them.
I think it is hard to make sense of these changes when people don’t have sufficient knowledge of all the issues that plastic bags are causing to the environment but more than that, this type of changes brings disruption to their regular routines and behaviours and that’s annoying – also the unfamiliar is usually kind of scary. If on top of that they have to spend money in things they already had for free in the shops, searching in my internal empathy tool-box, I understood them – a bit.
Since then, I’ve heard this type of comments over and over again and given that Plastic Free July is coming I thought it was perfect opportunity to explore some alternatives .
Keep it dry
The reason why we line the bin with a bag is because the rubbish releases its “juices” and the plastic bag prevents the liquid to accumulate at the bottom, keeping the bin dry and relatively clean.
Majority of this liquid comes from the decomposition of food like veggie scraps and leftovers. When you leave these elements out of the equation your rubbish remains completely dry, no mess. So the easiest way to avoid the plastic bag is separating these items from the rest of the rubbish.
These are some options depending on what you’re planning to do with the food scraps:
Process it at home
We keep our food scraps in a kitchen caddy and when full it goes to the compost bin/worm farm. We find ourselves emptying this bin several times per week as we consume a lot of fruits and veggies. We give it a rinse often. We also have a bokashi bin which we use less often, I’ll write about it in another post.
Collecting scraps to donate
There are several ways you could keep your scraps before donating them but this a simple method to consider:
- Designate a container (medium size is preferable as you’d need to lift it often, but it depends on your family size and produce consumption) with a lid that seals well. This is the container you’ll use to drop your food scraps. You can keep it in a balcony, backyard or garage.
- In your kitchen, you can use a caddy or a small container (that you can wash easily and often) to put your scraps. When full empty it into the bigger container.
- Drop the big container (community garden, neighbours etc). Many people tend to do this once a week but it depends on the arrangement you have organised and your needs. After you drop your food scraps you can give it a quick rinse.
For more information about food scraps donation, check this post.
I would say majority of the people send food scraps to landfill, but this is no a good option. Food scraps in landfill (an oxygen-free environment) often produce methane which is greenhouse gas more powerful than carbon dioxide and contributes to global warming.
However, if you are not ready to do something with your food scraps right now and your main goal is to stop using plastic in your rubbish bin, that’s absolutely fine, one step at a time. Later in the future you could explore some alternatives.
Again there are many ways to separate your food scraps and it depends on the amount of food waste you generate, but here few ideas to consider:
- Similar to the process when you have a compost bin at home, keep a kitchen caddy or small container with a lid in the kitchen and when full wrap its content in old newspaper and put it in the council bin.
- If you eat fish/meats/poultry, collect all the bits and pieces that you remove (e.g. skin, fat, fish scale) and freeze them in a container and on collection day throw its content in the council bin. Some people freeze all their food waste, including veggies scraps . This would help to reduce smells in the bin.
- You could follow the steps outlined in “Collecting scraps to donate” and on collection day empty the container in the council bin and give it a rinse.
Regardless of the option, you may need to give the council bin a rinse here and there to ensure it remains relatively clean (and no too smelly).
Lining your bin (or not)
Ok, now that the content of your rubbish bin is dry, you can decide if you want to line your bin at all.
I personally don’t line my rubbish bin (I already wrote a bit about this in part IV of The Plastic Bag Series). When it is full I just dump its content straight into the council bin. I must say it remains clean for long periods of time which is a great thing. From time to time I give it a quick rinse, I let it dry and it is good to go.
If you don’t like this idea and you still want to line your bin with something, that’s ok. In that case the first thing I would suggest is to use a small rubbish bin. This is why:
- It will be simple to line.
- You’ll be more aware of what you are sending to landfill because it is easier to see its content
- If you are starting your green journey, most likely it will fill up quickly and you’ll have to empty it in the council bin often which is of course annoying but it will be a great motivation to reduce your waste. Isn’t that great?
- Easier to rinse
To line your bin, Paper is your friend. I am not talking about unused paper but re-purposed paper like old newspaper. To line it just use a couple of sheets overlapping each other until the bin is covered. If you want a nicer bag made with newspaper check this video.
If you (or something you know) buy newspaper regularly this is the easiest source of paper for your bin. If this is not the case, these are some alternatives:
- If you buy recycled toilet paper that comes individually wrapped (like who gives a crap) you can use those to line your bin. The bin in the photo below has three pieces and looks quite nice (added bonus):
- You can use sheets of paper that have been already printed (double-sided).
- If you have old “The Yellow Pages” books, they can work too (ask your family and friends often people have many of these old books at home). The bin in the photo has 5 sheets of paper in total, one at the bottom and 4 on the sides (note: If you keep receiving them and don’t use them at all please opt-out, learn how following this link)
- If you buy some products packaged in paper (e.g. flour) collect them, cut them open and use them to line your bin.
A note on eco-friendly commercial bags
These days you find a lot of bags that claim are eco-friendly (degradable, biodegradable, compostable) and it is so confusing and often misleading. Some of them are not necessarily the best option for the environment.
- Degradable: also know as oxy-degradable/oxo-degradable are the same as plastic bag (created from fossil fuels) but companies add a substance that make them break-down quicker into smaller pieces of plastic. Some say they are even worse for the environment.
- Biodegradable/compostable: these are usually made from plant-based materials but they need the right conditions (like oxygen and sunlight) to biodegrade and buried in landfill that’s unlikely. When we do road trips we use certified compostable bags to collect our food scraps and put it into a compost bin and they really decompose completely (they are great for that purpose), however not all compostable bags biodeagrade in a regular backyard compost, some brands require higher temperatures that can only exist in commercial compost facilities.
So it seems none of these options is actually that good to send to landfill. The other day I heard the term “Landfill Biodegradable” which sounds quite good because it actually degrades under landfill conditions, however that particular product I was reading about was made from fossil fuels.
“Who protects wild animals trying to cope with an increasingly polluted environment that they didn’t choose? It is up to us as individuals and communities to refuse single use plastic bags” – Beth Terry
That’s it. Hope you have found some useful information and inspiration to split the popular couple: rubbish bin and plastic bag, they are not inseparable after all. Please leave a comment below and tell me: Do you use plastic bags to line your bin? Are you ready to try these options?
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Thanks for reading,