Changing household bin liner behaviours is an exciting green-leap forward resulting from recent laws to ban single use plastic bags. Fifty years ago we did not use plastic bags for our bins, but since they became readily available we grew attached to using tie-up bags to cocoon away unpleasant scraps. Environmentally, plastic rubbish bin bags were never a good solution because they do not break down well in landfill, plus once in landfill the bags and their contents produce greenhouse gases and worsen global warming. So, by changing our bin liner behaviour and “going naked” without any liner at all, we will not only save the waste and cost of plastic liners, but we will also create a more healthy environment. Double win! Speaking with customers in the Biome stores, many people say that their wheelie bin is already much emptier these days than it used to be with only a couple of plastic bags of rubbish each week. That is because they are reducing the waste coming into their home to start with, and then separating any waste into compost and recycling, leaving only a small amount to be bagged. We've written a lot in other posts about how to avoid creating waste to begin with, so here we focus on the practical steps to manage any rubbish without using plastic liners.
How to handle your rubbish without needing bin linersNecessity is the mother of invention, so we suggest starting by stopping using a bin liner, even just for a few days to see what happens! It will force you to come up with solutions. Many people have commented on our social media posts that they already go naked and "it's so easy"!
1. Take a look at what rubbish you currently bagMost people find that the majority of waste that requires bagging is wet food, cooking fat, sanitary items, and soiled packaging. The rest of your rubbish is generally plastic or paper packaging. As you'll learn in the next steps, almost all this waste can be dealt with in other ways.
2. Minimise food waste and re-useThere are many resources on the web to give you ideas on how to shop, cook, and store food in order to reduce food waste. For example, a great way to stop throwing away the ends and peelings of vegetables is to keep them in the freezer then use to make a vegetable stock. Any packaging or plastic that you do use, find ways to use it again and again.
3. Set up a home compost or other system for compostable scraps
Because food scraps are the biggest contributor to rubbish, composting your food waste is the most important step you can take. This could be one, or a combination of: worm farm, compost heap, or Bokashi bin in the kitchen. Each has merits, but Bokashi in particular solves many problems. If you live in an apartment, or do not have a garden, you could give your compostables to a friend who does, or a community garden or local composting service. A Bokashi bin is a great option to collect your scraps. Many councils across Australia now have green waste bins that take household food scraps for industrial scale composting. These schemes should be in place much more widely in Australia by now, so if your council does not offer this yet please send them an email asking that they do! Green bins are widespread in countries such as Canada, USA and Germany. In San Francisco, it is in fact mandatory to put food waste in a compost bin!
Worm Habitat Bin makes composting food scraps easy
4. Separate your "waste” straight away, right in the kitchenSetting up specific, easy to access places to put each type of waste will greatly increase the amount you allocate. You will need various receptacles for:
- Compost. Food scraps and compostable items such as paper and tea bags. If you have a Bokashi system it will take your meat and dairy scraps also.
- Kerbside recyclables. Depends upon what your local council allows e.g. paper, metal, glass food packaging, and hard plastic containers.
- Special recyclables. Skin and hair care packaging, toothbrushes, batteries, light bulbs, e waste, etc. You will need to find venues that will accept these for recycling. For example, Biome stores accept skin care and toothpaste packaging and sends to TerraCycle as a service for our customers. See what we can recycle for you at Biome. Contact your local council to find out what they will accept at 'refuse stations' (no longer called 'rubbish dumps'!).
- Soft plastics. If you live within reach of a major supermarket, most now accept soft plastics. Alternatively you can send them yourself to RedCycle. I shove my soft plastics into one plastic bag under the sink and then take it to the supermarket periodically.
- Landfill scraps. This is the remnants of food that can not be composted, unrecyclable packaging and other tricky items. Read on to step 5!
Here's a great example of bin system by @realitybites.zerowastefood on Instagram L-R: Recycling, compost, and landfill rubbish lined with paper. No plastic bin liner to be seen. Another good idea from @realitybites.zerowastefood for gathering small bits that are too small to recycle on their own. Always check first with your council on their rules. To place in recycling: put all plastic bits in a plastic bottle with lid on; scrunch all the foil into one ball; put all paper in one paper bag; take batteries to the council refuse station.
5. How to store anything remaining without plastic bagsAfter separating all the above waste, the only issue you have left is what to do with the potentially smelly, wet waste and some special items until bin collection day (note that if you are using a Bokashi bin you will have very little!). Here are some great solutions:
- Firstly, drain off any excess liquid down the sink (but not oil or fat*), as bacteria that causes smells breeds in a wet environment.
- Freeze scraps in a container and only tip them in to your wheelie bin the night before rubbish collection.
- Or, place scraps in a bench top container that “breathes” and then tip into your wheelie bin every few days. Wet food scraps left in an air-tight container start to putrefy quickly. For example, the Oggi Stainless Steel counter top composting pail has a charcoal odour filter and allows air to flow through, meaning less odour, flies and mess.
Wash out container after emptying it into your wheelie bin. Sprinkle baking soda in the bottom to remove odours and deter insects, and use a vinegar trap for fruit flies.
- If needed, you could wrap scraps in newspaper, re-used food packaging bags, or Biobags (see below), but ideally one of the above methods would be less impactful.
- Oil and fat: pour into empty milk, juice or any 'liquid paperboard' carton. When full and solidified, place in your bin the night before collection. In our house it takes months to fill.
- Menstrual and incontinence items, and tissues used with contagious illnesses: place into any used plastic packaging bag or compostable bag (see below) and place in wheelie bin. Also, read more here on how to have a zero waste period to reduce disposable items. Tissues only used for tears or allergy sniffles can be composted.
- Cat litter and dog poo: ideally use natural litter that can be placed in compost, green bin, or Ensopet waste composter. If you do not have access to compost, check if you can place litter directly into your wheelie bin, or use compostable Biobags.
What to use if you do still need to bag some waste or use a bin liner?
- Save and re-use some plastic bags you received as packaging, such as the bags from sliced bread, breakfast cereal, potato chips, toilet paper and frozen vegetables; or cardboard boxes such as the cereal boxes or milk containers.
- Use certified compostable and biodegradable bags (not 'degradable' and be wary of any claims). We have explained the best biodegradable bags here >