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Can Liners 101: How to Choose the Right Trash Can Liner & Save Money

Can Liners 101: How to Choose the Right Trash Can Liner & Save Money

Whether it is in the office, bathroom, kitchen, classroom, or elsewhere, selecting the right can liner for your trash receptacles will cut your costs and save resources.

Often little thought is given to the best trash can liner size, material, or seal. But, failure to have the right can liner will result in wasted money, torn bags, and spills.

The wide variety of can liner types and sizes can make finding the right one challenging. Below we will walk you through the best way to select your can liner.

Choosing the right can liner will be based on 4 components:

  1. Material TypeTrash Question
  2. How to Right Size A Can Liner
    • Width
    • Length
    • Gauge
  3. Bottom Seal
  4. Color

1. Material Type 

When selecting a can liner, it is important to know what type of waste the trash bag will be holding. Knowing the kind of waste being discarded will allow you to choose between a high density or linear low density liner.

What is the Difference Between Linear Low Density and High Density Can Liners?

There are two types of plastic materials used for can liners, linear low density polyethylene (LLDPE) and high density polyethylene (HDPE). Each liner is beneficial for use in different waste applications.

Feature High Density Can Liner Linear Low Density Can Liner
Material High density polyethylene (HDPE) Linear low density polyethylene (LLDPE) 
Puncture Resistance Good Best
Stretch Less flexible More Flexible
Measurement Micron Mil
Cost ($/lb) Less Expensive More Expensive
Temperature More Resistant Less Resistant 
Application Paper, Restroom Waste, Linens Sharp Objects, Plastic Cutlery, Cardboard, Wood

Linear Low Density Can Liners

Linear low density bags are best used for sharp or rough objects. They are very strong and will stretch making them more resistant to tearing.

They are ideal for kitchen trash, construction debris, or yard waste. Linear low density liners should be used to collect waste such as:

  • Plastic Utensils
  • Metal
  • Glass
  • Sticks

Pro Tip: If you are looking for a sustainable alternative, look for plastic trash can liners that are made from recycled plastic, or are certified compostable/biodegradable.

Linear low density liners can be made with a percentage of recycled plastic.

Liners made with recycled plastic are called reprocessed. The majority of liners are made with post industrial plastic. Post industrial is scrap collected from product manufacturing processes. These bags need to be thicker because reprocessed plastics are not as strong, pound for pound, as virgin plastic materials.

It is uncommon to get liners made from more than 10% post consumer waste (or scrap that is brought back after its intended use by consumers).

Bags made from reprocessed plastics are cheaper per pound but since it will require more material, they are not the best value.

Hexene is another grade of material that can be used to make very strong, stretch and puncture resistant can liners. It has superior performance. Hexene is the best choice when added strength is important.

Hexene is the most expensive but, because of its superiority, can be down gauged, thus requiring less plastic. Hexene can liners can be down gauged at 40% (they can use 40% less plastic).

High Density Can Liners

High density can liners are best suited to hold waste without sharp edges. They are ideal for bathroom or office waste. High density bags are an excellent choice for:

  • Shredded paper
  • Clothing or Towels
  • Paper Cups, Plates, Bowls

High density can liners are now starting to be manufactured with recycled content. As of the writing of this article, HDPE can liners must be 12 microns or thicker in order for them to contain at least 10% post consumer plastic.

Understanding the difference between each type of can liner material will allow you to choose the best trash bag for the type of waste being discarded, eliminating ripped bags, spills, and accidents.

2. How to Right Size A Can Liner

Right SizeWhat Size Can Liner Do I Need for My Trash Can?

To select the right size trash can liner, you need to select the appropriate size bag based on the length, width, and height of your container.

“Right-sizing” a trash bag means choosing a bag that is not too big or too small for your trash receptacle. If you’re using a bag that has more material than you need, you’re wasting money.

Below we will review how to calculate the appropriate size bag width and length

How to Calculate Trash Can Liner Width

Bag width is calculated by measuring the perimeter (for square or rectangular receptacles) or circumference (for round receptacles) of your container and dividing by 2.


Rectangular Container Round Container
To calculate the bag width for a rectangular trash receptacle, add up all four sides and divide by 2.

rectangle trash bin

Rectangular Container Liner Width= Sum of all 4 sides or perimeter / 2

Perimeter of Can: 8”X16” or 48” total

Step 1. (8”+16”+8”+16’)=48”

Step 2: 48”/2=24”

Bag Width= 24”

For a round container, start by calculating the diameter or the distance from one side of the opening to the other. Then, multiply the diameter (distance across the circle) by 3.14. Divide by 2.

Round Trash Bin

Round Container Liner Width = (Top diameter x 3.14) or circumference / 2

Diameter: 23″

Step 1: 23″ X 3.14=72*

Step 2: 72/2=36″

Bag Width= 36″

*answer has been rounded 

How to Calculate Trash Can Liner Length

The recommended length of a can liner is the height of your container, plus the base width or diameter divided by two, plus three inches (for overhang).

Rectangular Container Liner Length = Container height + (base width/ 2) + 3″ (to account for overhang)

Round Container Liner length = Container height + (base diameter / 2) + 3″ (to account for overhang)

Overhang is the amount of bag that will fold over the sides of your trash can. Too much overhang is going to result in wasted plastic. A properly sized can liner will have 3” of overhang at the opening of the receptacle.

Using an oversized bag results in paying more for material that isn’t needed. 

On the other hand, using less than three inches can allow the bag to fall into the container more easily, creating a mess and requiring additional bags.

Below we will go over the steps to calculate can liner length.


Rectangular Container  Round Container
Bag Width: 24”

Perimeter: 48”

Container Height: 25”

Rectangular Container Liner Length = Container height + (base width/ 2) + 3″

Bag Length: 25”+(8/2)”+3”=32”

Recommended Bag: 24”X32”

Bag Width: 36”

Diameter: 24”

Container Height: 31”

Round Container Liner length = Container height + (base diameter / 2) + 3″

Bag Length: 31+(24/2)+3= 46

Recommended Bag: 40”X46”

How to Choose the Right Trash Bag Gauge or Thickness

Linear low density bags are measured in mils. Mils are one-thousandth (.001) of an inch. Unlike low density can liners, high density bags are measured in microns. Microns are one-thousandth (.001) of a millimeter.

Many people believe that the heavier the gauge or thickness of the plastic, the better, or stronger the bag, but this is not necessarily the case. Thickness is no longer a measure of performance or strength.Liner Case Lable

Today plastic materials have evolved, and thinner, lighter gauges can effectively do the job of previously heavier or thicker plastics.

In many cases, the material can be down-gauged to further eliminate unneeded plastic and save money and resources.

3. Liner Seal

Trash can liners are manufactured using 3 primary types of seals: star seals, flat seals, and gusset seals. The liner seal is the seal that holds the bottom of the trash bag together.

Each type of seal has advantages and disadvantages.

What are the Types of Can Liner Seals?

Star Seal

Star SealThe star seal is the most common can liner seal. The star seal is the least likely to leak. Star sealed can liners better conform to the shape of the trash bin and allows for even distribution of waste.

Flat Seal

Flat SealFlat seal can liners are manufactured by sealing the edge of the bag so that no length is sacrificed. Flat seals can hold up to 30% more than star sealed liners of the same dimension. A flat sealed can liner has a strong seal but can leak from the corners of the bag. Flat seal bags do not conform to the shape of a container.

Gusset Seal

Gusset seals are the least popular can liner seal. They are the most prone to leak. Gusseted seals are most commonly used as box liners.

4. Liner Color 

Choosing the right color trash can liner can directly affect your bottom line. Clear or transparent bags should be used for applications where trash needs to be monitored, such as in retail sales, when sorting recycled materials, or in housekeeping when collecting linens. For example, retail operations will want to use transparent or clear bags to make sure the contents of the bag are clearly visible.

Opaque colors like black, gray, and white should be used in facilities where the contents of the trash bag need to be hidden. 

The right color bag can help positively affect customer satisfaction and their perception of your facility. For example, in the food service industry you will want to choose an opaque white bag or black garbage bag to hide unsightly food scraps in your trash. Customers will not want to see what is being discarded in the trash.

Finally, some facilities, like hospitals will have hazardous waste which will require red, yellow, and blue color-coded bags to signify danger and/or the proper method of disposal to employees. Employees will clearly recognize the type of trash and how to dispose of it properly, resulting in fewer mistakes, potential injuries, and contamination risks.

Final Thoughts

Choosing the right can liner for the right application is important.

When you right-size each liner, you effectively utilize the bag, and in turn avoid wasting plastic, space, and money. It is equally as important to choose the right material for the waste type and load capacity.

Selecting a can liner with the right combination of material, size, seal, and color for your facility can be confusing.

Imperial Dade can help you sort through the wide variety of can liners and get you the right liner for your facility’s trash cans.

If you’re located in the United States, Puerto Rico, or the Caribbean, contact an Imperial Dade Specialist for help choosing the right can liner that will lower your plastic waste and save your facility money.