You Don’t Need to Spend Money on Trash Bags

Earth globe in a blue plastic bag
Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

I haven’t bought trash bags in more than four years.

How on Earth is that possible? I can’t wait to tell you!

Paying for trash

Garbage bag, Image by cocoparisienne on Pixabay.
Image by cocoparisienne on Pixabay

We are intentionally paying for something we are going to throw away.

We all pay for garbage removal in some form, whether through municipal or property taxes or through a waste management service. On top of that, the traditionally accepted way of containing this trash is single-use plastic trash bags. We pay for new plastic bags, made from fossil fuels, to deposit and remove waste from our homes.

Every time consumers purchase plastic, we are supporting the plastics industry and fueling the effort to harvest more fossil fuels. Then we take those bags we paid for and put them in the ground. We are paying to throw stuff away.

“The first plastic garbage bag was produced in 1950. Globally, these bags collect 7.4 million tons of waste each day.”1

I’ve saved quite a bit of money by not buying trash bags. Trash bags range from $4 per box up to $12 per box depending on size, strength, flexibility, and even scent. Advertisers want you to believe that the most expensive trash bags will keep your home clean and sanitary. This is not a new trend, but one that has been accelerated by companies such as Glad Products (owned by Clorox) who conducted surveys and discovered that many Americans believe any bad smell means their home is dirty (or rather, fear that other people will think they’re house is dirty). Worse, scented trash bags likely contain phthalates (commonly referred to as “fragrances”) which are usually endocrine and hormone disruptors that can cause serious health problems over time. These scents may mask the odor of your garbage, but at what cost to your health?

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Another marketing trend to be aware of is “biodegradable” or bioplastic trash bags. Don’t be fooled. Nothing, including these bags, breaks down in a landfill. They require an industrial composting facility to biodegrade. “There’s also no telling if harmful additives or chemicals were added during the manufacturing process, and not all bags labeled biodegradable or compostable will actually break down in a compost facility.”2 Recycled plastic trash bags are better than new or ‘virgin’ plastic bags, but I still do not buy these for my home. 

“Landfills are not meant to encourage decomposition. They are dry and anaerobic spaces that essentially ‘mummify’ anything contained in them, including plastic.”3 

But now you can stop buying them too.

Necessity

Three years ago, it occurred to me that I was wasting money buying bags just to put in a landfill. Then I read a blog article on myplasticfreelife.com and decided that there really is no need for store-bought plastic garbage bags. “Since we make almost zero trash, and the trash we do make is dry, we don’t have any need for bags to collect it,” the author wrote.[efn_note]Article, “Collecting Garbage Without Plastic Trash Bags?” myplasticfreelife.com, February 15, 2010.[/efn_note] I found that once I eliminated wet garbage, I no longer needed plastic garbage bags.

What is wet garbage?

This mostly refers to food scraps and food waste. If you are able to compost through a municipal service like the ones they have in California, please do so. However, many cities and states do not offer this service as part of their waste management plan, including where we live. My family decided to start our own compost bin, which you can read about here. If you start composting, you will not have wet trash and thus will not need a plastic liner. Best of all, except for the initial cost of implementing a compost bin, composting is free! If you are paying for waste removal directly, you can reduce the amount of trash and frequency of pick-ups (thus cost savings) simply by composting.

About 34% of our waste is food scraps, yard trimmings, and other biological waste.

Waste reduction

We’ve noticed that many neighbors fill their 96-gallon city-issued garbage bin almost every week. We’ve only filled ours once, and that was when we had a major bathroom remodel in our home. But every city household is allotted a 96-gallon garbage bin that is picked up weekly. I haven’t done the exact math, but I believe that that is between 8 and 12 million gallons of garbage per week that our just our city is potentially landfilling.

This must stop. Our globe cannot sustain this level of trash.

Full 96-gallon city issued garbage bin
City-issued 96-gallon garbage bin, full with a week’s worth of trash from a single household. Photo by me

My family reduced our waste by buying food and other items with as little packaging as possible. We eliminated single-use disposable items and recycled what we could. Striving to be plastic-free and live a minimalist lifestyle reduced our overall trash. With these efforts, combined with composting, our garbage volume went down to about one bag of trash per month!

One bag of trash per month is far from our zero-waste goal, but it’s much less compared to most households. And Chattanooga is not zero-waste friendly.

Black garbage bag with the phrase, "Where does the garbage go?"
“Where Does the Garbage Go?” by Colin Dunn on Flickr, Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0)

Is Trash-Bag Free Possible?

It depends on how much trash you create, where you live, and how trash is transported. Some municipalities require garbage to be bagged. I wanted to stop using trash bags completely. But what I discovered with our city waste haulers is that unbagged garbage tends to either not make it into the trucks and falls on the ground in the neighborhood, or it blows out of the truck while they are driving down the road. In fact, I saw it happening so often that I tried to report the incidents to the city. But I could not obtain enough information about specific trucks while driving to provide good reporting, so nothing came of that. Pay attention to the waste hauling trucks in your area, or call your local municipality and find out if they have measures in place to help prevent these problems.

Back of garbage truck
This garbage truck lost several pieces of trash as I went down the same road, mainly lightweight plastic pieces. The Tennessee River flows through Chattanooga and any waste that gets into the river ends up in the ocean. Photo by me (at a stoplight).

Trash Bag Alternatives

I let our house run out of garbage bags three years ago and haven’t bought any since. However, since we have to use some kind of trash bag, just to keep our trash contained after it is picked up by the city, we use anything that resembles a garbage bag and staple them closed when it is full to prevent spillage. You can use anything! The most common of these includes:

      • Brown paper bags from the grocery store
      • Empty dog food bags
      • Large shopping bags that show up (even though we always use our own cloth bags at the store, these still manage to make their way into my home from shipping, other people, etc.)
      • Mulch and gravel bags (this is hard to buy in bulk where we live unless you own a truck)
      • Foil insulation bags (these are from Amazon/Whole Foods – during COVID-19 we had to get grocery store delivery for a while, and this was how they delivered our cold items. We have a couple of dozen of these now and they are not recyclable.)
      • Make your own DIY trash bags out of shipping envelopes

I also loved finding a use for these items. It felt wrong to buy a trash bag to throw away more bags or paying to bag the bags.

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Looking Forward

I would like to further reduce my waste through less and better packaging, improved zero waste capabilities, striving for plastic-free living, and minimalism. Ideally, someday, I won’t have so many shipping envelopes around. It would be better if I could purchase items in person and locally, which will take not only getting past the pandemic but businesses increasing package-free/plastic-free/zero-waste options in our area as well.

So free yourself from this practice of buying new plastic to almost directly put in the ground. You can stop paying for trash bags today, and use whatever bags come into your home. Thank you for reading, and please subscribe!

 

Footnotes:

The Great Christmas Tree Debate

Miniature red car and Christmas tree
Photo by Kristina Paukshtite from Pexels

Real, or artificial? The great Christmas tree debate, each side with pros and cons. I have never been able to pick a side in this annual conundrum. That is until I found a great zero-waste solution.

Artificial Christmas tree
Photo by Lisa Fotios from Pexels

Artificial Trees

I grew up with an artificial tree, and that is what we have now. We bought it after buying our home but before starting our plastic-free journey, and before I knew about the potential toxins in artificial Christmas trees. Also, I personally always believed that a fake tree was better since it is reusable. I thought that cutting down a tree was killing it. And I thought that killing a tree just to have it in my home for one holiday seemed selfish and antinature.

Most artificial Christmas trees are made of metals and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics, which can be a potential source of hazardous lead. “The potential for lead poisoning is great enough that fake trees made in China are required by California Prop 65 to have a warning label,” according to the National Christmas Tree Association.1 Prop 65, or Proposition 65, provides warnings about significant exposures to chemicals that cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm.

PVC also releases gases known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and phthalates that can irritate the eyes, nose, and lungs. I’ve seen recommendations to shop for a PVC-free tree made from polyethylene which is considered safer and not known to leach harmful chemicals. But this is not easy to find. I did discover that IKEA’s Christmas trees are PVC and BPA free. Even if you find one,  it’s still a plastic tree.

From what I’ve read, it seems that most off-gassing may occur when the tree is new, so unpack it and leave it outside to off-gas for a while before bringing it into your home. According to the American Christmas Tree Association (ACTA), if you purchase an artificial tree, use it for at least six to nine years before replacing it.2 

That Smell

Among the arguments I’ve heard for real trees, one of the most common is the smell. Those of us with an artificial tree are relegated to scented pine candles, air fresheners, or scented ornament sticks. However, all of those items that are artificially scented likely contain phthalates and other chemicals that are not safe to breathe. Don’t feel bad for not knowing that, I used to use them too! But please safely dispose of them now. Look for a soy or beeswax candle as they are usually much safer. If you have an artificial tree and really want to have that smell in your home, perhaps you can find a few sprigs of pine to put in a vase.

Pine tree
Photo by Loren Cutler on Unsplash

Real Trees

According to the National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA), approximately 25-30 million trees sold in the U.S. every year. There are close to 350 million trees growing on Christmas Tree farms just in the U.S.3 Tree farms emit oxygen, absorb carbon dioxide, and filter toxins from our air. The NCTA indicates that for every real Christmas tree harvested, 1 to 3 seedlings are planted the following spring. “Christmas tree farms stabilize the soil, protect water supplies and support complex eco-systems.”4

Many Christmas tree farms across the world may be monoculture farms, meaning they only grow a single crop which does not encourage biodiversity and sometimes requires extra pesticides to protect the plants. However, “very few Christmas trees are removed from federal forests, and those that are, are strictly regulated by the U.S. Forest Service.”5

The Great Debate

According to a significant study conducted in 2010, the environmental friendliness of a real or artificial Christmas tree depends upon how a family uses it. “The study found that the environmental impacts of one artificial tree used for more than eight Christmases is environmentally friendlier than purchasing eight or more real cut trees over eight years.”6 ACTA encourages consumers to consider buying a locally grown tree if possible to reduce emissions from traveling to buy it.

Pine tree
Photo by Loren Cutler on Unsplash

Disposal of Either Type

Real Christmas trees biodegrade or can be recycled. “Real trees are more sustainable because they are biodegradable, unlike plastic trees which fill landfills and cause more harm than good to the environment.”7 The Arbor Day Foundation also offered multiple ways to recycle a real Christmas tree. “There are more than 4,000 local Christmas Tree recycling programs throughout the United States,” according to the NCTA.8

If you plan to replace an artificial tree, donate it before you dispose of it in a landfill. You can donate it to a thrift store, a neighbor, a church, maybe a homeless shelter. Check with local non-profits as even your local zoo or school may want one. You could also put it online for free through Freecycle, Nextdoor, or Facebook.

4 foot potted Christmas tree
Image from www.rent-a-christmas.com/

The Best Solution: Zero Waste

This year I discovered Christmas Tree rental! This may be the best of both worlds and is a zero-waste option. Tree rental companies deliver the tree to your home or office in a pot and you can decorate it. When the holiday season is over, the rental company will pick it up. This means you can have a real tree annually without cutting one down, and there’s no storage of a plastic tree year-to-year. While this is not a new solution, it is one that is growing.

One Christmas Tree nursery in California notes that their renting program “focuses on zero waste and employs a minimal footprint operation through efficiency and conservation.”9 You’ll also get that smell of fresh pine, the tree will be replanted, the trees provide habitats for wildlife in between the holiday seasons, and they remove carbon dioxide and toxins both from your home and the atmosphere.

This option isn’t available everywhere yet, but be sure to check your state or region. The pricing that I found with various companies ranged from $35-$75, and I saw some as high as $155. But the cost of cutting down a tree is about the same – so why kill a tree?

Let me know if you’ve tried Christmas tree rental and how your experience went. Thanks for reading, and please subscribe. I wish you and your family a very Happy Holidays!

French bulldog with Christmas lights and letter to Santa
Photo by Karsten Winegeart on Unsplash

 

Additional Resources:

Article, “Tiny House Family’s Christmas Tree Solution,” Tiny House Talk, December 23, 2018.

Article, “8 Sustainable Ways to Recycle your Christmas Tree,” Arbor Day Foundation, December 26, 2019.

Guide, “How to recycle: Real Christmas Trees have a second life,” National Christmas Tree Association, accessed December 21, 2020.

Footnotes:

Beeswax Wraps Replace Plastic Wrap

Last updated on February 27, 2021.

Beeswax wrap over a bowl
Image by RikaC from Pixabay

If you’re reading about beeswax wraps, chances are that you already know that plastic wrap and plastic Ziploc bags are single-use disposable items and they are unsafe for human health and the environment. Annually in the U.S., we purchase millions of rolls of plastic wrap and boxes of Ziploc bags. They are not recyclable, and in landfills and incinerators, the plastic can release highly toxic chemicals called dioxins. Worse, when plastic gets hot, it can leach chemicals into your food! The best thing to do is to find an alternative: aluminum foil (which is still disposable), reusable glass or metal containers, or beeswax wraps.

Beeswax wraps are simply reusable coated cloth wraps for keeping food items fresh. I discovered them about 3 years ago, and I was immediately excited by the prospect of eliminating disposable plastic wrap! I bought some Abeego brand wraps and have been a convert ever since. They are completely zero waste, they preserve food, and are free from toxic ingredients. Here’s a short video from that company about how to use them:

I believe Abeego was one of the earliest online stores to sell beeswax wraps, and this is exhibited in their quality. There are many other companies and many Etsy shops that make these now, so you have lots of choices. They are a little expensive on the front end, but they last at least a year or longer, and you save money by not buying disposable plastic wrap. And they are compostable at the end of their life, unlike plastic wrap.

Are beeswax wraps DIY-worthy?

Many people ask if they can save money by making their own. I’ve found that it depends on your results. I have invested a lot of my own time and money on DIY wraps and found that they lack the same pliability and texture that I liked from the ones I purchased. That said, there are thousands of DIY recipes and methods for making beeswax wraps on your own. I’ve tried several of them and here’s how I did it.

Fabric

This was the most fun part for me! I love choosing fabric. For this project, I chose to use medium and large scraps that I already had on hand instead of buying new fabric. Make sure you wash the fabric first so that you are starting with clean fabric. Then I measured and cut squares in various sizes with pinking shears.

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Ingredients

It is difficult to get the right concoction of ingredients. Abeego’s wraps are made with a formulation of beeswax, tree resin, and jojoba oil. Their wraps are smooth, adhere well, and smell good. I first made these using beeswax only, and they came out ok. I thought I could improve them by mixing beeswax with pine tree resin and jojoba oil, according to the online instructions I was following. The resin did not spread evenly despite my best efforts and clumped in certain spots. This made the wraps crusty and difficult to use. The ones I made with beeswax only came out better, so on my third trial, I went back to beeswax only. Again, they’re ok and functional, but not the same quality as the purchased versions.

I recently discovered that some companies, such as SuperBee by BeeConscious Company, sell DIY kits with their proprietary formula premixed into a bar for you to make wraps with your own fabric at home. This would save the struggle of trying to calculate the measurements just right. What a cool idea!

Beeswax bar and knife on cutting board
You can buy beeswax pellets or grate your own from beeswax bars. I have done both and found grating the bars to be less expensive. But it ruined my grater. Instead, you can chop up the beeswax bar into little pieces and it seems to work just as well.
Chopped beeswax pieces on a beeswax wrap
Chopped beeswax pieces on a beeswax wrap.

Method

I read quite a few online posts about how to make these and found three general methods, of which I’ve tried two. They are:

      • Oven
      • Flat iron
      • Hand dip

The easiest and my favorite method is to place the fabric on a flat cookie sheet and sprinkle the ingredients on the fabric, then put it into the oven at 200-225 degrees (F) for 3-6 minutes. Be prepared to use an old or second-hand cookie sheet, as it is difficult to get all of the beeswax off after.

For the ironing method, lay wax paper* under the fabric on an ironing board, sprinkle the ingredients on the fabric, then lay wax paper on top. Next, iron on a low setting. This method is effective too but more time-consuming than using the oven. The last way involves melting the ingredients in a double boiler and dipping the fabric into it. This is the one I didn’t try because I anticipated the mess I would make.

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Overall, my wraps are functional and I use them all the time in combination with my Abeego wraps. I’ve spent many hours trying to perfect these, and have not achieved the perfect wrap. I am also unable to make any larger than my cookie sheet, so I would have to purchase them if I want extra-large sizes. After lots of trial and error, I think purchasing works best for me. But you may have better results, so don’t let me dissuade you!

Set of homemade beeswax wraps
Set of my own beeswax wraps

Caring for beeswax wraps

They are very simple to care for whether homemade or purchased! You wash them with mild dish soap and rinse in cool water. I bought a small, square, metal drying rack that hangs above my kitchen sink. I wash, rinse, and hang them on a clip to air dry! Of course, if you buy them, check the recommended care on the package first.

Drying rack for hang drying beeswax wraps

You will know when it is time to cycle out your old wraps, as they will appear dingy or stained. But if you have a few that haven’t been used as frequently, but seem less pliable or sticky than before, you can restore the wraps. I simply spread a small amount of beeswax over the existing wraps and place it in the oven for 2-3 minutes at 200-225 degrees (F).

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SuperBee features a video to restore wraps as well, only without using additional beeswax. They simply put the wrap in a toaster oven to remelt the wax so it spreads back out:

Goodbye, Plastic Wrap 

Beeswax wraps are a superior food storage solution. They are a great replacement for plastic wraps, plastic Ziploc bags, and plastic food containers. Whether you purchase beeswax wraps or make them, the fact that you are open to getting rid of plastic in your life is awesome and potentially life-changing. If you decide to make them, I encourage you to find quality instructions online to make your own. And if you perfect your method, be sure to comment below and tell me about it!

Thanks for reading, and please subscribe!

 

*Note: Most wax paper sold today is not actually coated in wax, they are coated with a thin layer of paraffin, which is petroleum-based (plastic-related). In this post, the wax paper I used was a brand called If You Care and sells healthier and environmentally friendly kitchen products. Their wax paper is coated with soybean wax and I put it in the compost when I’m done with it. I bought it at Whole Foods but you can find it online as well.

If You Care Waxed paper
Photo by If You Care

 

Additional Resource:

Article: “The sticky problem of plastic wrap,” National Geographic, July 12, 2019.

This post does not contain affiliate links nor did I get paid to promote the products in this post. All photos by me unless otherwise noted.

The Packaging Industry and How We Can Consume Differently, Part 12

Last updated on February 20, 2021.

Brown glass dropper jar surrounded by pink petals
Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

In my last article, I wrote about several companies offering cleaning products with refill options. Today, we will look at refill options for personal care products.

The Refill Shoppe

This company sells refillable hair, body, and home products made with non-toxic, vegan, and biodegradable ingredients.1 They have a storefront in California but offer online ordering as well. They are a Certified B Corporation, meaning they use the power of business to solve social and environmental problems. Their products can be purchased and refilled in pouches that you return to the company with a prepaid envelope, and they sanitize and reuse the pouches rather than just recycling them. They even offer many customizable products with the same refill options. Next time I run out of conditioner or bubble bath, I plan to try them!

Plaine Products

Plaine Products aluminum shampoo bottle

This company was founded by two sisters who want to stop plastic pollution.2 Plaine Products sells shampoo, conditioner, lotion, hand wash, and body wash in aluminum containers. The first time you purchase, you receive a reusable pump. This is great, as you’re not getting a disposable new pump with every purchase. When you order a refill, you switch the pump to the new container. Rinse the empty bottle out and ship it back to Plaine Products at their cost. They will sanitize and reuse the bottles, creating a closed-loop system with minimal waste. Their products are vegan and cruelty-free, and they are also a Certified B Corporation. I plan to try their products in the near future! There’s an additional review under Additional Resources below.

Fillaree

I wrote about Fillaree in my article about refillable cleaners, but they also carry personal use products, so I’m mentioning them again here. They sell refillable liquid hand soap, shampoo, conditioner, and body wash. You can refill any of these at stores that carry their products, and the hand soap and body wash are available as mail subscriptions.3They plan to offer refills by mail on their other products soon as well. This is a growing company with an ideal business model. The customer buys the refill product, which provides 2-4 refills in the original container, and then ships the empty containers back to the company for refilling at the company’s cost. They sanitize and refill the containers and ship them again.

Fillaree hair products in aluminum bottles

by Humankind

Mouthwash tablets in glass cups

This company’s tagline is, “high-performing personal care products
that are kinder to your body and our planet.” They’ve created refills that use little or no plastic and they do not ship water, reducing emissions. They sell shampoo and conditioner bars, mouthwash tabs, deodorants in refillable containers, and cotton swabs without a plastic container. This company uses vegan ingredients, its products are cruelty-free, it is a carbon-neutral company, and most refill packaging is home compostable. I’ve tried their conditioner bar and cotton swabs, and while a bit expensive, the products so far are high quality.4

“Great personal care products don’t have to come at Earth’s expense.” -by Humankind

Bite

Bite Toothpaste Bits jar

“One billion toothpaste tubes are thrown out each year.”

Think about that for a second, one billion plastic tubes, tossed out annually! Most toothpaste tubes are not recyclable, either. The founder of Bite set out to solve this problem but was also concerned about the questionable ingredients found in common toothpaste and the fact that oral care products are tested on animals. She wanted to create a toothpaste that was healthy for our bodies, not tested on animals, and plastic-free. Bite toothpaste bits sell in refillable glass jars and have safer ingredients. The company offers a refill subscription plan, lists their ingredients on their website, and ships only in recyclable corrugated boxes and paper mailing envelopes. The refills come in 100% home compostable pouches.5 I’m very excited about this company, and I recently purchased Bite products which I’ll be reviewing in a future post. You can also read Beth Terry’s review of Bite, which I’ve linked under Additional Resources below.

The very week I wrote this, Bite released a plant-based dental floss in a refillable glass container, much like Dental Lace (see below). Refills ship in compostable pouches. Two weeks after that, Bite released a line of mouthwash tabs in reusable tins.

“Whether it’s mindlessly tossing out an empty toothpaste tube or glossing over the ingredients list, small daily actions can shape the future of our planet. By uncovering how we can be better to ourselves and to the earth, we are one step closer to a healthier and plastic-free world.”- Bite Toothpaste Bits

Dental Lace

Dental Lace glass container

Did you know that most dental floss is made of plastic, some of which contain dangerous PFCs (perfluorochemicals)? And sold in plastic containers? Well, there’s a better option that’s natural and compostable, and in refillable glass containers. Dental Lace was begun by a librarian, and we all know how awesome librarians are. The floss is made from silk and can be composted instead of put in the trash. The glass containers are decorative, refillable, and recyclable. The packaging is all home compostable.6 I have personally used this product for about 3 years now, and I love that I can floss and not create a ton of non-recyclable waste while doing so. Below is a video review from zero-waste platform Trash is For Tossers:

Solutions

“If you want to eliminate waste in your life – and in the world – the answers will always come down to one simple thing: consume differently.” -Tom Szaky

I’ve included this quote in many of my packaging series articles, as it succinctly summarizes what we need to do going forward. Consume differently. We must look for more sustainable, longer-lasting products. We must look for less packaging in our consumables and seek refillable options. If we demand better from companies and vote with our spending, we can make great changes.

This is not a comprehensive list of all the companies that offer refillable products but rather a list of resources. I have listed companies that I have either personally tried or researched.

We have one more topic to explore in this series: food packaging. So look for my next and final article in my Packaging series soon! By subscribing, you will receive it directly in your inbox! Thank you for reading!

 

This post does not contain any affiliate links nor did I get paid to promote any of the products in this post.

Additional Resources:

Article, “Shampoo Bars Eliminate the Need for Plastic Packaging,” Because Turtles Eat Plastic Bags website, October 2, 2019.

Review, “Why I Love Plastic-Free Bite Toothpaste Bits,” My Plastic Free Life website, March 21, 2019.

Article, “My Top 5 Zero Waste Shower Essentials,” Going Zero Waste website, May 19, 2017.

Footnotes: