In addition to purchasing trash liners that contain recycled content, facility cleaning managers can purchase recyclable trash liners in the form of biodegradable and compostable bags.

In recent years, the Federal Trade Commission has cracked down on plastics companies that make unsubstantiated biodegradability claims. According to Federal Trade Commission Green Guides, plastics destined for landfills can only be labeled biodegradable if they are supported by scientific evidence and state the conditions necessary for biodegradation.

Because biodegradable bags will only degrade under specific conditions, it’s important for facility cleaning managers to understand what happens to the bag and the waste after disposal.

“One of the problems with biodegradable bags is they need sunlight, moisture and air to degrade — all of which are hard to find in a landfill,” says McGarvey. “So oftentimes, the biodegradable liners are much higher priced, and they might not help people with their sustainability goals as much as they think they do.”

Similarly, compostable bags need to be properly used and disposed of at a composting facility in order to reap environmental benefits.

“Sometimes we see facilities getting confused and buying compostable liners for their trash, or recycling that is going to the recycling facility and not the composting facility,” says Petruzzi. “The bags can be expensive, and if they’re not going to be composted, then you’re not really getting the benefits of that attribute. We only recommend compostable bags if you have a food waste recycling program, or you’re sending your paper towels off for composting.”

Like Petruzzi, Moody believes that compostable trash bags make sense when used appropriately. He recently received a customer request for compostable trash bags to use at a large concert venue for Farm Aid.

“Usually, I sell a case of this size bag for $40, and when I called my office to get the latest pricing, they were $165 a case,” he says.

Despite the hefty price tag, the customer purchased the bags.

“They were going to use the bags to compost everything, from food
scraps to plates, so they truly needed that bag, and they were willing to pay the price,” says Moody.

Although orders like this are the exception and not the rule, Moody believes that facilities are moving in the right direction, albeit slowly. A recent Google search showed a few more composting sites in his area; however, the number of composting facilities overall is still “not that many,” he says.

In fact, Moody abandoned plans to launch his own compostable bag, citing the high cost and lack of interest. 

“The idea was premature,” he admits.  But as more customers drive demand for sustainable liners, the day may come when Moody’s launch is timely. 

KASSANDRA KANIA is a freelancer based in Charlotte, North Carolina.