The 8 Best Biodegradable Trash Bags of 2021

Send less traditional plastic to the landfill with these degradable alternatives

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The Rundown
Degrades in less than six months while employing the blind and visually-impaired.
Protect the environment from plastics even on a budget with these bags.
Made from corn and vegetable starch, these bags are the perfect fit for the kitchen trash can.
When you need a small bag, reach for these 100 percent compostable ones.
Skip the plastics with this sturdy double-walled paper design.
Many people prefer these bags to the paper options because they perform better in damp weather.
Your pup and the planet will thank you for choosing these plant-based picker-upers.
Made from plant-derived resin, vegetable oils, and compostable polymers, these bags have a thickness of 1.1mil, lending to a durable bag.

The number of biodegradable and compostable trash bags has expanded significantly in recent years. These bags have been proposed as an alternative to conventional plastic bags, so that trash that end up in landfills breaks down more quickly, while we also work to avoid the waste, recycle and reuse. Made from bioplastics, these garbage bags aren't a perfect solution, but for many people, they're a step in the right direction.

The materials, expense, and sturdiness of this type of bag varies widely by manufacturer. Most are thinner and less stretchy than traditional bags, meaning they’ll hold less and you might use more per year. Users also complain that they have more seam failures, punctures, and spills than polyethylene bags. Despite the imperfections, you can support the improvement of the market and evolving technology by putting your consumer vote (your dollars) behind alternatives to petroleum-based plastic products.

When you’re ready to make the switch, here are a few of best biodegradable and compostable trash bags on the market today.

Best Overall: STOUT by Envision EcoSafe-6400 Compostable Bags

STOUT by Envision EcoSafe-6400 Compostable Bags

Stout by Envision’s EcoSafe-6400 Compostable bags earned the overall spot because they are fully compostable, BPI-certified, widely available, made in the United States, and sturdy too. This bag comes in multiple capacities from 2.5 gallons to 64 gallons, and in both 0.85 and 1.1 millimeter thicknesses. You can also buy them in quantity to save money.

The manufacturer claims these bags will degrade in 10 to 45 days depending on conditions and in less than 6 months in commercial composting facilities. The "6400" refers to the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) standard D6400, which ensures that the bags are made from compostable plastics that biodegrade at a rate comparable to compostable materials in municipal and industrial composting facilities. The bags are also certified by the U.S. Composting Council.

Envision is also unique in that it earns government contracts under the AbilityOne program to employ hundreds of blind and visually-impaired individuals across all levels within the organization.

Good to Know

The best way to reduce the number of trash bags you use is to reduce the amount of household waste your family generates. That can include being selective about the packaging of products you buy, purchasing post-consumer recycled materials and taking small steps at home to reduce waste. Many people start with a countertop compost bin that will help keep food scraps out of the landfill.

Best Budget: Reli. Compostable Trash Bags

Reli. Compostable 13 Gallon Trash Bags

Making environmentally-conscious choices isn’t always easy on the pocket book. Reli BioGrade biodegradable trash bags run about seven to ten cents cheaper per bag on average for the 13-gallon kitchen bag.

The company can sell their bags more affordably because in addition to some plant-based ingredients, they employ Environmental Products, Inc. (EPI) chemical additives that speed up the degradation of plastics. These additives make the plastic-based bag degrade more easily in response to heat, oxidation, sunlight, and mechanical stress like crushing. They’re also more easily broken down by organisms capable of degrading bioplastics.

Although it was difficult to find the exact ingredients of these bags, they are ASTM-D6400-certified and marked BPI-Certified like the Stout EcoSafe-6400 brand. So, they’re considered 100 percent compostable in municipal and industrial facilities.

Using these bags is certainly better than traditional plastic trash bags, but if you can afford a few more cents per bag, try some of the other bags marked 100 percent compostable that don’t need EPI additives.

Best for Kitchen: Primode Compostable Trash Bags

Primode 100% Compostable Trash Bags 13 Gallon

A tall kitchen bag is the common 13-gallon size. Primode 100 percent Compostable Trash Bags are stronger than other fully-compostable brands in this size range. They come in a 0.87 millimeter thickness and can be purchased in larger quantities to save money. These bags fit a standard 13-gallon trash can better than other compostable brands.

Made from corn and vegetable starch, these bags are BPI-, ASTM D6400 and Austria TUV-certified. TUV refers to the German, Technischer Überwachungsverein, which translates in English to Technical Inspection Association. It means that these bags are certified safe for home composting as well as municipal and industrial facilities.

Best Small: UNNI ASTM D6400 100% Compostable Trash Bags

UNNI ASTM D6400 100% Compostable Trash Bags

Many of us reuse thin plastic two-gallon grocery bags for smaller bathroom and bedroom garbage cans in our home. Although grocery bags vary in thickness, most are made from varying densities of polyethylene, so they degrade just as slowly as traditional plastic trash bags. Their ubiquity has caused many communities to ban them or charge fees at the grocery store for their continued use.

Unni 100% Compostable Small Kitchen Trash and Compost bags are an excellent choice when you need a bag smaller than 13 gallons. They’re available in 2.6-, 3-, 4- and 8-gallon sizes, are easy to find and earn top ratings for durability. Like Primode, they’re made from corn and plant starches and are safe to compost at home.

They are BPI-, ASTM D6400-, OK Compost Home- and TUV-certified and appropriate for use in municipal and industrial facilities. Because they break down easily, they are not meant for use with liquids or high temperatures. Change them more often when using these bags to collect damp waste. They may also tear more easily than traditional plastic bags, so beware when disposing of sharp objects. It's recommended to only buy what you can use within nine months.

Best Paper: Lowe's Garbax 5-Pack 30-Gallon Brown Outdoor Paper Leaf Trash Bag

Lowe's Trash Bag

Paper bags have limited use as trash bags because they don’t perform well with wet trash. They’re also made from trees and require energy to produce. But compared to traditional plastic trash bags, they’re still better for the environment because they are biodegradable.

We like the Lowe’s 30 Gallon Heavy Duty Brown Paper Lawn and Refuse Bags because they are double walled for added sturdiness and they have a flat bottom that helps them stand upright for easy loading. If you buy them from anyone other than Lowe’s, watch out for additional markups that can increase their normally low cost.

Best for Yard Waste: BioBag Compostable Lawn & Leaf Yard Waste Bags

BioBag Lawn and Leaf Bags

If you have the space to compost your yard waste, then it can be done easily at home without bags. But when space is limited, many communities offer municipal composting of yard waste. Some provide washable plastic cans that require no bags. Others have banned non-compostable bags. Some facilities require that you bag your waste for industrial pickup and composting so check requirements and recommendations for your area before buying any bag.

BioBag Lawn and Leaf 33-gallon bags are made from vegetable oils, compostable polymers, and plant starches from renewable crops sourced from GMO-Free crops from Italy. They’re manufactured in California. These bags meet ASTM D6400 Standards for composting in municipal settings. Municipal composting uses higher heat than is generally accomplished in a home compost pile.  

Many people prefer these bags to the paper options because they perform better in damp weather. Because the bags are compostable, BioBag recommends you use them within one year of purchase and store in a cool, dry place away from heat. These are biodegradable enough that wet grass clippings will start the decomposition process within three or four days, so keep your pick up day in mind when using them. 

Best for Pet Waste: Unni 100% Compostable Extra Thick Pet Waste Bags

Unni Poop Bags

Part of being a responsible pet owner is dealing with their waste in ways that don’t harm the environment. Picking up after your pet protects water resources, prevents the spread of disease and removes a food source for pests and rodents. For dogs, that means using a compostable bag.

The UNNI 100% Compostable Extra Thick Pet Waste Bags work well and are more affordable compared to other compostable bags. Like the UNNI Small Trash Bags above, they hold multiple certifications and are made from corn and plant starches that degrade to only water, carbon dioxide and humus. They are suitable for municipal facilities, or can be composted at home, but we don't recommend composting pet waste unless it has its own separate pile.

These bags are available in the standard leash-friendly spooling roll with a post-consumer recycled cardboard tube and packaging as well as a wide roll for the pantry. Some people also use them for scooping the cat box.

Good to Know

Buyer beware: Not all pet waste bags are created equally. Many popular brands come in the typical “green” color while being neither compostable nor biodegradable. Others claim to be biodegradable while still containing petroleum-based chemicals, like polybutyrate adipate terephthalate (PBAT). Hold out for those marked 100% compostable.

Best Black: Garden V Pro Portable Toilet Replacement Bags

Garden V Pro Toilet Replacement Bag

It’s not easy to find a black biodegradable trash bag on the market today. Most are green or white without added colorants. But if you live in an area where only black trash bags are accepted, then you might try Garden V Pro Portable Toilet Replacement Bags.

Made from plant-derived resin, vegetable oils, and compostable polymers, these durable bags have a thickness of 1.1 millimeter and hold in the odors. They're certified compostable in home systems by the European certification company TUV Austria.

Final Verdict

If you don’t compost your food waste and can’t keep liquids out of your trash easily, then Stout by Envision EcoSafe-6400 bags (view at Amazon) are a sound alternative to traditional plastic trash bags. You can feel good that they provide jobs for the blind and visually impaired.

But if wet food scraps and liquids don’t end up in your regular trash, consider spending a little more for plant-based and compostable trash bags like Primode (view at Amazon) or UNNI brand 100% Compostable Trash Bags (view at Amazon). Their variety of sizes, wide availability, and relative affordability make them top choices among consumers who are working toward a plastic-free existence. 

FAQs

What’s the Difference Between Biodegradable and Compostable Trash Bags?

Biodegradable plastic can be broken down by microorganisms under the right conditions to water, carbon dioxide and compost over a period of weeks to months. Compostable plastic is meant to break down in a compost site at a rate similar to organic materials in the pile. This work is also done by microorganisms that break it into water, carbon dioxide and inorganic compounds while leaving no toxic residues.

There are two main types of bioplastics. Polylactic acid (PLA) is biodegradable and edible, typically made from the sugars in corn starch, cassava or sugarcane. This versatile bioplastic, also known as Ingeo, has replaced polyethylene, polystyrene and polypropylene and a wide array of products. The other type is polyhydroxyalkanoate or PHA. This product is genetically engineered or made by microorganisms from organic materials. Therefore PHA is biodegradable and used in medical applications and single-use food packaging.

While these bioplastics are considered better alternatives than traditional plastics, they still come at a cost. When you look at their entire lifecycle — from raw materials to final breakdown — their use could cut greenhouse gas emissions while simultaneously increasing the amount of land needed and volume of fertilizers and pesticides used to grow the crops. Chemical processing is also required in their manufacture.  

Will compostable trash bags actually break down?

It’s also important to note that some compostable bags are only compostable under specific conditions. Many compost only under high heat conditions that don’t occur in a typical landfill. We don't recommend adding them to your backyard composter.

So, while biodegradable and compostable bags are considered a step in the right direction compared to traditional polyethylene trash bags, we have not yet found a “perfect” alternative.

How long does it take conventional trash bags to break down?

Estimates for breakdown of a traditional polyethylene plastic trash bag are from 500 to 1,000 years in landfill conditions. But since these bags have only been available for about 55 years, that's just a lot of educated mathematical guessing to say it is a very long time.

What about trash bags made from recycled plastic?

Another trash bag improvement you’ll see on the market are bags made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled (view on Thrive Market). This means that no new plastic was created to make the bag. The upside is that the old plastic was reused. But energy was still used to make them and, in the landfill, they take just as long to break down as traditional bags.

Why Trust Treehugger?

We evaluated top-rated and widely available biodegradable and compostable trash bags. Unless otherwise noted, each is certified by the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI).

Lorraine Wilde tries to learn as much as she can about the cutting edge of environmental technology. She’s proud to help make that information accessible to the general public so that they can make healthy, informed and environmentally-conscious choices to protect their families and our planet. She also holds a Master’s degree in environmental science and uses that education to frame her consumer choices one product at a time.