The bag problem

In my post about the failure of a ban on plastic shopping bags in Maine, my amazing mother-in-law, Jean, posed a good question.

What I want to know is if I stop getting plastic bags what do I use for my garbage or pet messes? I use several in a day. Some one told me you could buy biodegradeable bags but I haven’t found any in the stores I go to. Suggestions , please.

What do we do about plastic garbage bags? A widespread ban on non-biodegradeable plastic bags might spur development on truly biodegradeable plastic bags (I know there is research in Maine on plastic produced from potato starch) but what do we do in the meantime?

I do like Mom’s method of re-using her plastic shopping bags for a garbage can liner, and as a dog-owner, I can’t imagine life without plastic produce bags for poop pickup. Those bags, filled with unpleasant contents, go to the landfill or the incinerator. In the landfill, the bag prevents the contents from breaking down, and themselves never break down, merely break into smaller and smaller pieces over a long, long time. Burning plastic in an incinerator raises all kinds of other air quality issues, oh and then where do you dispose of that nasty toxic ash?

Reducing trash through composting and recycling helps reduce the volume of trash in need of disposal, but the reality is there is just so much one can do to reduce, especially in the face of ever increasing packaging from manufacturers and merchants (something I hate, but I am not ready to give up toothpaste just yet). I make every effort to buy items with the least packaging (powder laundry detergent in a cardboard box, etc.), but eliminating packaging is nigh on impossible.

So, what to do? How do you collect and dispose of trash in as environmentally friendly manner as possible?

7 Responses to “The bag problem”

  1. Robin Says:

    I try to keep everything as simple as possible. Think like nature. Mother Nature doesn’t run around behind the animals scooping poop. It stays there and serves its purpose. We don’t really want nature serving its purpose on the bottom of our shoes though so let’s move it – say…to a hole in the corner of the yard? Dig a hole, cover it when not in use or put it behind a simple screen. You could put it behind a group of potted plants to keep it out of sight. Fill it with poop. A dog or two won’t poop that much unless they’re eating kibble with a lot of fillers that pass through undigested. Pick up the poop with a sheet of newspaper and drop it in the hole and add a little soil back into the hole to cover it. When the hole is full you can cover it with the soil you dug out, tamp it down and forget about it. The poop and paper will break down quickly. Microbes in the soil will take care of that.

    We have three dogs. Thankfully we have a lot of land to go with the dogs. They’re supposed to poop in the woods unless the snow is too deep and can’t be walked on. They’re never allowed to poop in the garden. Training a dog to poop in one place is helpful. I don’t think I’ve ever said the word poop so many times in one day.

    I keep bags of bags in the kitchen. When I have a choice I get paper. Paper bags get folded up and put into one bag for storage. I have another paper bag for dry compostables like cereal boxes and paper products. Wet stuff goes into a bucket. When I have to have plastic I stuff the plastic bags inside a bag. If I don’t need them for the farmstand I take them to the mom ‘n pop to reuse.

    My garbage mission is to have only one bag to put out for pick up on Friday mornings. It doesn’t always happen but we try. There are biodegradable trash bags. I think the brand name is BioBag. I haven’t tried them yet. I’m a real fuss budget about trash bags. I don’t want to pull it out of the can after seven days and have it rip. I hate that. Our rule – if it was ever alive it’s probably going to be composted. I don’t have to worry about HOA or neighbors thankfully because right now my biggest compost bin looks like a trash bag exploded. Paper bags, cereal boxes, egg shells and junk mail aren’t pretty!

  2. Margaret Says:

    Robin left a very thorough reply there, and that’s great feedback on the bags. I was just thinking that for those of us that live in a more urban environment (i.e., have little or no yard), naturally the transition to biodegradable bags is an important one. I use BioBags and there’s another brand at my store – Greencycle? But as for the dogs, I am not a dog owner, but I remember that when I was in Prague, everywhere in the city there were these little (free) dispensers of wax-paper bags specifically for that purpose. And I have to say, the city was clean, so clearly people were using them. I hope this is helpful info…

  3. Ali Says:

    Robin — what is HOA? Love the compost bin description!

    Margaret, I love the wax paper bag suggestion. Dan will “patrol” the yard with a shovel regularly and scoop and dispose, but when taking the dog on a walk, you need a secure containment vessel.

  4. Vin Says:

    …”let’s move it – say…to a hole in the corner of the yard?” If you do that be carefully about ground water contamination. That aside it would be better than dumping it the landfill.

    I as recently introduced to a group called ReUseIt and through them FreeCycle. They are both about keeping usable items out of the land fill. The local chapters use Yahoo! Groups. The links are:


  5. Giddy Says:

    We have several canvas bags that we take with us to the store, so we really don’t have many plastic bags. Of those we do get, I recycle them at the grocery store.

    I have neighbors who let their dogs run and invariably, they poop on my property. I wish the neighbors would come pick up their poop, as well.

    I’m envious of your composted horse manure. Wish I had a source for it.

  6. Robin Says:

    HOA is home owners association.

    Feces from a dog or two shouldn’t be a ground water problem. If it is there probably shouldn’t be a dwelling in that location. We managed 16 goats, four cows, three horses, two pigs, 50 turkeys and too many chickens while living in a “high value water shed.” My husband is head of a soil & water conservation office. He suggests asking your county’s office about this if you think there might be a problem.

  7. SugarCampNY Says:

    Thanks for all the suggestions. I’m going on a hunt for BioBags or an equivalent.

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