Whether collecting trash or recycling, it is important to consider the right can liner when purchasing, says Garry McCain, sales manager of Five Star Janitorial Supply in Leesville, La.

There are many liners available on the market, but high-density options provide moisture and vapor barriers and work well for heavy garbage, such as food waste, that does not have sharp edges. Linear low-density liners provide maximum puncture and tear resistance, which is suitable for trash with sharp or jagged edges.

It is also important to calculate the right size liner. KB Commercial Products, a distributor in Billings, Mont., recommends using this formula from its website: "Select a bag with a width that is half the outer circumference of the container, and a length that is the height of the container, plus half of the diameter and add three inches for overhang." Other distributors have different formulas to figure out the appropriate bag size, but the point is to select a liner that properly fits the waste receptacle.

Liners shouldn't be too large because they may hold more trash than workers can safely remove.

"The weight of full bags should not be more than 50 pounds," says Mitch Birchfield, environmental services director and hazardous materials manager at Seattle Children's Hospital. "If they weigh more than 50 pounds, there's an issue when workers try to remove them from the container."

Pay attention to the liner's gauge (or thickness) as well, says McCain. The type of waste will determine the necessary gauge.

"For instance, if the bag is holding plastics, you don't need a real heavy mil liner, you need one that you can tie and pick up. I wouldn't go less than 1.5 mil for plastics," he says. "For collection of food waste or glass, a thickness of 3 mil is recommended."

Birchfield recommends liners be at least 3 mil, particularly in a hospital setting where medical waste is disposed. This will prevent waste from leaking into the receptacle.

Special Facility Needs

Healthcare facilities and food service operations have special requirements when it comes to waste receptacles and corresponding liners.

Hospitals must consider whether the receptacle meets fire codes and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards with regard to bloodborne pathogens. Choose a receptacle with a lid that doesn't require workers to touch it, such as a step-on container, says Birchfield.

Medical waste also must be contained in a red bag of proper mil strength. Bags should also feature a biohazard placard on it, symbolizing hazardous waste.

In food service, durability and capacity issues are key concerns. Open-topped receptacles in a school setting allow students to drop in trash without opening a lid. In restaurants, however, Food and Drug Administration regulations require receptacles with hinged lids or openings that completely cover the waste.

"That reduces the chance for germs to spread," McCain explains. "They also need to have liners that are heavy enough to prevent leaking or tearing as the bag is removed. Food disposables are heavy so the liners must be durable and not so large that they are difficult to lift."

Ronnie Garrett is a freelance writer based in Fort Atkinson, Wis.