The Green Leaf

Lining trash cans

August 19th, 2015

So what do you line your trash can with when there's a plastic bag ban? This is the conversation we've been having since Honolulu's plastic bag ban went into effect July 1, 2015. It seems to be the No. 1 question, with some folks going into panic mode and hopping online to order the exact, same plastic carryout bags. The kind that say "thank you" on them (alright, so you can order a case of 500 for $22.50 plus free shipping which comes out to a little less than 5-cents per bag).

Except that in Honolulu, it's still pretty easy to get a plastic bag.

1. Just get takeout lunch (Honolulu's law does not apply to prepared foods).

2. Go to Wal-Mart or Times Supermarket and check out with a thicker, plastic bag that is still acceptable due to a loophole in Honolulu's law.

The idea is to reduce, then reuse and recycle — to reduce the energy that goes into manufacturing these plastic bags that we take too much for granted, and toss too carelessly. That point seems to get lost in the conversation.

"Our main goal is not to get rid of every single plastic bag, but just to stop the tidal wave of plastic bags flowing out of grocery stores and into our waterways, trees and oceans," said Stuart Coleman of the Surfrider Foundation. "And to persuade big stores like Wal-Mart and Times that they shouldn't try skirting the law by producing thicker, plastic bags that defeat the whole purpose of why we worked so hard for over five years to pass these laws."

It falls on the educated consumer to make the decision. No one's perfect. It may just mean the days of bringing home 15-20 thin, filmy plastic bags with the groceries, including two for the gallon of milk you could have just carried in the cart, are over.

The Green Leaf sought out some suggestions on alternatives. We asked, "What do you line your trash can with, if not with plastic carryout bags from the grocery store?"


1. Consolidate and reuse (Stuart Coleman, Surfrider Foundation).

Personally, I either reuse old, plastic bags as trash liners and just dump the trash into the one big kitchen bag. Or I just don't use them in bathroom and office bins.

Stuart Coleman, manager, Surfrider Foundation, at the fashion show protesting the loophole in Honolulu's law allowing for thicker plastic bags in front of Wal-Mart Keeaumoku in July. Photo by Cindy Ellen Russell.

Stuart Coleman, Surfrider Foundation, at the fashion show protesting the loophole in Honolulu's law allowing for thicker plastic bags in front of Wal-Mart Keeaumoku in July. Photo by Cindy Ellen Russell.

2. Feed bags, reused bags. (Kahi Pacarro, Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii)

What we use are feed bags from stables, reused bags from the veggie scraps we pick up from our local sandwich shop, and new bags that we buy from the store. By composting and recycling, we have only 2-3 bags of debris per week. For our bathroom cans (the size single use plastic bags are used for) we either don't line them or we use other bags that end up in our household from ordering things online from places like


3. Newspapers

OK, so I've never tried this one, but maybe I will, with the Sunday edition of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Lindsay, a blogger from Australia, posted this photo of newspaper layered into a wastebasket in April 2013 when the city of Fremantle banned plastic bags. She gives step by step instructions in this blog post and says she rolls the top over for disposal.

Newspaper lined wastebasket from

Newspaper lined wastebasket from

4. Woven basket, no liner

Jen Metz Kane, our trash-free year blogger, says her family only uses liners for her kitchen trash container. For all other household trash: "We just use woven baskets." As for the kitchen bags, she purchases Green Legacy bags online, which are made from green energy and oxo-biodegradable. Let me add that Jen is using reusable, cloth diapers for her baby girl. To carry wet diapers or clothes, there are several "dry/wet bags" on the market. They probably work pretty well for wet swimming suits and towels, too.

This Bumpkins wet bag on Amazon is made of "easy wipe waterproof fabric, stain and odor resistant."

This Bumpkins wet bag on Amazon is made of "easy wipe waterproof fabric, stain and odor resistant."

5. Potato chip bags, milk cartons.

This hilarious video will make you laugh out loud. It suggests using half-gallon milk cartons, potato chip bags and bread bags.

I found the link  from (No More plastic bags in the trash). There really isn't an easy answer.

My answer: Reuse and compost.

What I've found personally, even though I've brought my own bags to the grocery store for years is that you still have plenty of bags that come from somewhere. I have not run out of a supply yet, so just like everyone else, I reuse them. I get them when visitors, like my mother or mother-in-law, bring them into the house. I inherited a box full of plastic bags after helping a friend at her garage sale. I reuse bread bags and newspaper bags. I know some people are using post-consumer recycled paper bags that stores are giving out, too. I like the suggestion of using half-gallon milk cartons.

Nature mill home composters. No mess, no smells.

Nature mill home composters. No mess, no smells.

We DO continue to purchase tall, kitchen trash bags from Costco, which is no different from before. On average, we use one per week. Our plug-in NatureMill composter takes care of a lot of fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, leftovers, plus egg shells that normally would go into the kitchen trash, which leaves room to consolidate the trash from the bathroom. I call it the lazy person's composter, since you just open the top lid, put in your scraps, add baking soda and sawdust occasionally. Done. (I highly commend worm and bokashi bucket composters, as well). It's doable.

Reduce, buy in bulk

Natalie McKinney, director of program development at the Kokua Hawaii Foundation, said buying in bulk, reducing waste by recycling and not buying so many single-use items can help reduce the need for multiple trash bags per week.

Plus, if you bring your own bag, you get 5 to 10-cents credit per bag from most retail stores.

Got any other ideas or suggestions? Share them with us.

Here are singer Jack Johnson's Top 10 Plastic-Free tips.

Musician Jack Johnson's Top 10 Plastic Free Ideas.

8 Responses to “Lining trash cans”

  1. Annoddah Dave:

    Nina: When I was in elementary school, the teacher made us line the waste baskets with newspaper if you had room monitor duty. Those days, newspapers were larger in size and students had to sweep and mop classrooms after school. We also had to clap the blackboard erasers. We also used the kraft paper sacks to make book covers...sometimes we used newspapers. Thankfully we did not use newspapers for toilet paper!

  2. ALLAN:


  3. Dee:

    Good column and I echo Dave's comments. Using newspaper isn't new. Plus, when the ink switch was made to soy based, you don't get (as much) ink residue on your hands. Our bathroom bags are reused since about the only thing in them are things like cotton balls/rounds and makeup stuff. Never anything wet. Our kitchen trash bag is tossed weekly. Since we compost eggshells, fruit and veggie scraps,coffee grounds, there is barely any trash. BTW, we even use our shredded paper in our compost bin/garden. Inks are soy based so it won't harm the soil. And we recycle relentlessly. Cans, paper, glass.

  4. makahawahine:

    Growing up here meant using the newspaper for lining cans, wrapping up the wet leftovers to throw out, and to wash the picture windows and jalousies. When the plastic bags became popular I knew it would not be good for our aina and moana. Thirty something years later and it is being kicked out by law and not a very good one at that.

  5. zzzzzz:

    Yes, using newspaper isn't new. Younger folks may be shocked, but there was a time when stores did not give out plastic bags (and Costco and Sam's have never given them out), so we found other ways to line our trash cans back in the stone age.

    I do use small, non-corrugated boxes (e.g., cereal boxes) at my desk and in bedrooms, where the trash is mostly paper and does not include food or anything wet, getting a second use from those boxes before throwing away the filled boxes. Milk cartons would be even better, since they will contain wet stuff too, and might be appropriate for bathrooms.

    We're still working through our backlog of plastic bags from before the ban.

  6. Nina Wu:

    Thanks! Never thought of that - cereal boxes by the desk. Great idea!

  7. zzzzzz:

    Yeah, the cereal boxes aren't recyclable (at least not in our blue bins), because they're not corrugated.

    We still want to use something to hold the trash, whether bags or boxes. Otherwise, small pieces will get caught in the wind when the opala truck dumps the contents of the big trash bin into the truck.

  8. zzzzzz:

    Back in the stone age, one reason newspaper worked as a liner was that we didn't throw food waste into the trash cans. Those went into the garbage can, for collection by the butakaukau man to feed his pigs.

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