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Q. Dear Umbra,

How necessary are plastic garbage bags? Since I moved to an apartment building where we put all of our waste in a dumpster, I’m beginning to wonder why I need to use a garbage bag at all.  Any bag I throw into the dumpster will likely be ripped open anyway by the other contents of the dumpster, so is there any point to wrapping my kitty litter in plastic first? I live by myself on a tiny budget and that the biodegradable or recycled trash bags I’ve encountered are too large and well out of my price range, so I’ve been wrapping my trash in whichever plastic bags happen to make their way into my possession.

Molly
Cincinnati, Ohio

Trash bags. We’re talking trash.Photo: Dan DeLucaA. Dearest Molly,

Trying to get rid of excess baggage, eh? Cheap, non-plastic trash bags are a quandary indeed. Whether you can empty your loose trash into the dumpster (legally, at least) will depend on your trash company or city’s whims. A friend in Portland, Ore., tells me people in the City of Roses may dump loose trash into the sidewalk bin, but kitty litter specifically must be bagged or waste disposal employees will refuse to accept it. A good tidbit if you’re visiting Oregon, but what about Cincinnati, you say? The city’s garbage guidelines say a liner “may” be used for combustible waste, but it doesn’t sound mandated. You might want to call them (513-591-6000) just to be sure.

There are actually legitimate reasons for garbage bags. Your unfettered trash may fly out of the garbage truck on its way to the landfill, and then you’ve unwittingly littered. No good, right? And what if you want to dress up like a California raisin and shimmy to “Heard It Through the Grapevine”? (You sound like a creative sort, so you’ll probably be fine.)

Here are some more tips for your lovely liner-free life: Get more acquainted with your trash. You don’t have to roll around in it, but make sure you know what is and isn’t recyclable (and compostable), and rinse those babies first. Eating less meat can make your scraps less smelly, and there’s always that old trick for cutting down on trash … (Are you going to make me say it? OK. Buying less!) Believe it or not, “Your rubbish can be cleaner and more manageable without plastic bags,” in the words of Re-Nest.com blogger Sarah Starkey. In other news, we should all try to use the word “rubbish” more. It’s simply charming.

I share your frustration with expensive trash can liners, be they biodegradable or “odor-blocking” ones scented with Febreze. The Wall Street Journal reports that trash bags have actually gotten more expensive this year by about 10 percent, thanks to the rising cost of resin. Good on ya for reusing the plastic bags that float your way. Just make sure you wrap that kitty litter in ’em.

Municipally,
Umbra