Science project

How Long Will Your Trash Bag Live?

Difficulty of Project


Cost (Approximate Cost of completing the project)

Less than $20

Safety Issues


Material Availability

Common paper and plastic bags, biodegradable bags can be secured in most areas from a local store or by requesting a sample online.

Approximate Time Required to Complete the Project

Several months


To understand the definition of ‘biodegradable’ and explore this in a real-life setting.

To compare an item specifically labeled biodegradable to two commonly used items. 


  • Paper bag
  • Plastic grocery or trash bag
  • Bag marked biodegradable
  • Shovel
  • 3 paint stirrers
  • Marker(s) 


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the average American generates 4.6 pounds of trash per day. With nearly 300 million people living in our country that is a significant amount of waste in need of a home. Biodegradable products are designed to decompose, or break down, faster than normal products, thus reducing the total waste our country needs to store in a landfill. This experiment examines the initial decomposition of biodegradable bags and compares that to common paper and plastic grocery bags exposed to the same conditions. 

Research Questions
  1. What type of bags do you use to bring your groceries home? What type of bags do you get at other stores? What happens to these bags once you get home? How many bags to you accumulate every week? Multiply this number by 52 for the yearly total.
  2. What does biodegradable mean to you? What items do you think would biodegrade easily? What conditions would help an item biodegrade?
  3. Given the results of your experiment, what type of bags do you think we should use more of? Less of?
  4. What do the results mean for your household?
Terms, Concepts and Questions to Start Background Research
Landfill leaching

Experimental Procedure

  1. Collect your three test bags. Examine the texture, color, and strength of each bag and record notes. Take a photograph of each.
  2. Identify three locations to bury your bags at school or at home.
  3. Dig one-foot deep holes at each location. Place one bag at the bottom and replace soil on top. Mark each site with a paint stirrer. Remember to label each stirrer with the bag type or a code so you know what is buried at each location. (Fertile soil is the best choice for this experiment as it will catalyze and biodegrading. If you have a compost pile, this is an ideal place to bury the test bags.) Mark this date on your calendar.
  4. At one-month intervals dig up each bag and re-examine the texture, color, and strength. Record any observations and take a photograph.
  5. Repeat step 4 for three to six months. (It can take years for objects to biodegrade so a longer time period will produce more obvious results.)
  6. At the end of your experiment, remove the bags (or their remains), make one last observation, and dispose of properly. (Remember to refill the holes in your yard!)
  7. Examine your results and prepare your presentation. 


Thinkquest Interactive Biodegradable Lesson

The Green Genius (also offers free samples of biodegradable bags) 

Idaho Public Television

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Warning is hereby given that not all Project Ideas are appropriate for all individuals or in all circumstances. Implementation of any Science Project Idea should be undertaken only in appropriate settings and with appropriate parental or other supervision. Reading and following the safety precautions of all materials used in a project is the sole responsibility of each individual. For further information, consult your state's handbook of Science Safety.

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