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It's in the Bag: How Trash Liners Can Reduce Waste


If you're trying to cut down the size of your facility's waste stream, don't just look at what's in the trash bags—look at the trash bags, too. Over time, the bags you choose can make a real difference in the amount of waste your facility produces.

The principle is called source reduction. The basic idea is that you'll create less waste if you try harder to use less stuff in the first place. With trash liners, it just means using products that aren't any larger or thicker than they need to be to get the job done.

To understand how it works, remember that the liner ends up in the waste stream along with the stuff inside it. And as long as the size of your liner is adequate, the capacity of the trash can—not the capacity of the liner—will determine how much stuff is inside the liner when it's hauled away. 

That means that if your liner is larger than it needs to be for the trash can it's in, that extra bit of liner is actually just an extra bit of plastic garbage in your waste stream. Choose a smaller liner that fits the same trash can and you've just reduced your plastic waste.

Now, the weight difference between a single too-big bag and a more minimal alternative might seem like it's hardly anything. But when you multiply "hardly anything" by tens of thousands of bags per year, or in some cases per month, the waste reduction is real.

And it's not just a savings in pounds of plastic waste produced—you'll also be able to save money by using smaller, less expensive bags. If you stick with bags of the same gauge, the cost savings could be around 20 percent or more, depending on the bags you're replacing, according to data provided by an industry leader in trash bag manufacturing. Go with a thinner gauge and you'll save even more.

The chart below shows waste-saving trash bag size recommendations for three popular cans.

Trash Can Size Liner Size Recommendation Instead Of Waste Reduction Per 100 Cases

Office wastebasket (10 gallons)

30 x 36 liners     

360 pounds

Slim rectangular can (23 gallons)

40 x 46 liners


38 x 58 liners

286 pounds


516 pounds

Large utility can (44 gallons)

38 x 58 liners

250 pounds

How can you tell if your bag is too big? As a rule of thumb, a trash bag that has more than four inches of overhang when placed in its receptacle is bigger than it needs to be.

And how can you tell if your bag is thicker than it needs to be? It's worth taking a fresh look at the load recommendations of your liners. Trash bag materials have come a long way, and what might seem like a thin and flexible bag can actually be strong enough to do the job. You may be able to save money and boost the sustainability of your operations with thinner bags that can handle your largest loads.

What About Biodegradable Bags?

If using smaller, thinner trash liners is good because it helps reduce your facility's waste, wouldn't biodegradable bags be better still? Shouldn't this be the most eco-friendly option of all?

The question of what it means for a trash bag to be biodegradable or compostable is trickier than you might think. Most trash bags end up in landfills, which are designed so that nothing inside them can biodegrade according to the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI). Bags that end up here are likely to be around for a very long time, regardless of their composition.

On the other hand, industrial composting facilities are designed for controlled biodegradation. Certified compostable bags are tested to ensure that they'll break down under these conditions. If you're collecting food waste and other compostable refuse to send to a commercial or municipal composting facility, you'll definitely want to use compostable bags that are approved by the facility.

What About Recycled Trash Bags?

Using recycled trash bags won't affect the amount of waste your facility produces. Like conventional bags, most recycled bags will end up in landfills. But the choice can still have an upside.

Trash bags made with postconsumer recycled content use plastics derived from office or curbside recycling programs in place of newly manufactured plastics. By using recycled bags, you're supporting recycling programs that are helping divert plastics from landfills, and you're also diminishing the amount of new plastic that your facility is consuming.  

The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.