If you're looking for a way to line your compost bins for easy transport to a composting facility or an alternative to your conventional plastic trash bag, opt for biodegradable garbage bags the next time you're running low. In recent years, the number of biodegradable and compostable garbage bag options has exploded as more and more people look for ways to live more sustainably and become more eco-friendly. But within the world of sustainable products, you'll inevitably encounter misinformation and greenwashing along the way.
The Good Housekeeping Institute places great importance on the topic of sustainability, from our long-standing history of evaluating eco-friendly packaging alternatives and products to our Textiles Lab's coverage of sustainable clothing brands and the dangers of fast fashion. The recommendations ahead are the result of hours of extensive research and analysis from our material engineers and sustainability experts. We've chosen a variety of trash bag alternatives best used for composting, as biodegradable options may not be able to fully decompose under the conditions of a traditional landfill.
Our top picks:
1Best Overall Compostable Garbage BagThe Original Compostable Bag BioBag Read More
2Best Drawstring Compostable Garbage Bag100% Compostable Drawstring Bags UNNI Read More
3Best Large Compostable Garbage BagEcoSafe-6400 Compostable Bags Stout by Envision Read More
4Best Compostable Garbage Bags for Home Composting100% Compostable & Biodegradable Trash Bags BIOOK Read More
5Best Compostable Garbage Bag with Size OptionsCompostable Bags Ecosafe Read More
You can read more about the differences between biodegradable and compostable plastics, our thoughts on whether or not these products are helpful for the environment and extra notes from our experts on what you might encounter when shopping for these items. Interested in learning more about sustainability and composting? Check out our guides on sustainable living and how to compost for more.
The Good Housekeeping Institute evaluates all types of sustainable products that help you make more eco-friendly choices. For these recommendations, material scientists and engineers in our Textiles Lab, along with sustainability experts, spent over 50 hours researching biodegradable and compostable options on the market to find products that met rigorous industry standards.
Biodegradable and compostable bags are often lumped together but are typically made using different materials. Here are a few helpful definitions to help explain the differences and other phrases you may come across.
✔️ Degradable refers to any material's ability to break down into tiny pieces. In this sense, all types of plastics are degradable. Oxo-degradable plastic breaks down faster under exposure to heat and light and photodegradable plastic breaks down more easily in sunlight. But these terms do not mean the materials break down completely and return to their natural origins, instead leading to the formation of micro-plastics.
✔️ Biodegradable plastics can decompose into carbon dioxide, water, methane and biomass by the primarily enzymatic action of microorganisms. These can be broken down typically within weeks to months, under the right conditions. Oxo-biodegradable plastics decompose faster under sufficient amounts of heat and light.
✔️ Compostable plastics are a subset of biodegradable plastics that will decompose into carbon dioxide, water, inorganic compounds and biomass in a compost system at a rate comparable to other compostable materials like cellulose without any toxic residue.
✔️ Bio-based plastics refer to a type of plastic with natural origins as opposed to conventional plastics, which are produced with petrochemicals. These are instead produced from polysaccharides, like starch or cellulose, proteins and lipids. Bio-based plastics are not inherently biodegradable despite their origins.
It's hard to say whether biodegradable, compostable or bio-based garbage bags are more sustainable or better for the environment compared to conventional plastic garbage bags. Sustainability is an ongoing issue that requires in-depth Life Cycle Analyses (LCAs) to understand which products will lessen any negative impact we have on our planet.
Biodegradable options may result in less waste going to landfills and fewer greenhouse gases when properly disposed of, according to a study from 2017. But when conducting an LCA on several bio-based plastics and traditional plastics (including biodegradable options) in 2010, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh discovered that these alternatives aren't necessarily as eco-friendly as you'd expect, as their production still requires energy, water, land and chemicals.
If you're looking for a way to be more sustainable with your trash disposal, Good Housekeeping Health, Beauty & Environmental Sciences Lab Executive Director Birnur Aral recommends "separating [your] food waste from any recyclables and composting them at home to decrease the volume that needs to be disposed of in a garbage bag."
✔️ Targeted Use: Some compostable bags are best suited for commercial composting rather than home composting, so make sure to check the product for its best uses. If a product has the TUV Austria emblem, it will be marked for either "Industrial" or "Home" use directly on the emblem.
✔️ Standards: To make sure you're buying bags that are biodegradable or compostable, look for products that mention testing using standards from ASTM International, an organization that provides sets of testing guidelines for all types of materials, especially ASTM D5988 and D6691 for biodegradable materials and ASTM D6400 for compostable options. These standards are the most widely used.
✔️ Certifications: In addition to ASTM, there are other organizations that vet claims of biodegradability and compostability. Here are a few relevant organizations you may encounter during your shopping and what they mean.
- The Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) issues certifications for compostable products in North America. This emblem indicates products meet ASTM standards for biodegradable bags (ASTM D6400) or packaging (ASTM D6868)
- The Seedling emblem is issued by the Australasian Bioplastics Association (ABA) for biodegradable and compostable plastics in Australia and New Zealand that meet Australian Standard 4736-2006.
- The OK Compost Home emblem by TUV Austria guarantees complete biodegradability of the product in the light of specific requirements, even in your garden compost heap. This program is the basis for many standards used today in Australia, France and Europe for home composting.
- The OK Compost Industrial emblem by TUV Austria certifies that all components of the product, including inks and additives, are guaranteed to be biodegradable in an industrial composting plant as in line with the EN 13432:2000 standard from European Bioplastics.
The Good Housekeeping Institute has been testing products for hundreds of years, from which we've built categorical knowledge and expertise on the topic of sustainability, impacting how our experts evaluate and recommend products. From the launch of the Green Good Housekeeping Seal in 2009 to our first Sustainable Innovation Awards in 2019 and annual sustainability summit, we aim to help readers make more sustainable choices.
Grace Wu is a textiles product review analyst at the Good Housekeeping Institute. She holds a Masters of Engineering in Materials Science & Engineering and a Bachelor of Science in Fiber Science from Cornell University, with relevant coursework in biomaterials, polymer science, ecological design and sustainability.
For this story, Grace consulted with Birnur Aral, Ph.D., the Executive Director of the Health, Beauty & Environmental Sciences Lab at the Good Housekeeping Institute. In addition to earning M.Eng. and Ph.D. degrees in chemical engineering, she recently added a professional certificate in sustainability management from Columbia University to her credentials. Birnur has been an active leader in conceptualizing many of our green initiatives, including our annual Raise the Green Bar Summit. She is also very proud of her work on investigative pieces like “Is It Safe to Heat Food in Plastic?” and “Is Your Tap Water Safe?”