6 Effective Ways To Keep Bears Away From Your Garbage

Portrait of an animal of the brown bear.

If you’ve got bears in your neighborhood, it’s only a matter of time before one will wander a little too close to your home (and to your garbage can.) Once they learn that your trash is an easy meal, it can be hard to get them to stop! That’s why we’re ready to teach you the 6 most effective ways to keep bears away from your garbage, for good.

To keep bears from your garbage, you need to have a properly sealed bear-resistant trash can. You’ll also want to limit food odors through regular disposal of your garbage, secure your garden, compost piles, and livestock. Consider using motion-activated lights and sounds as deterrents also.

Want to learn everything there is to know about discouraging bears from feasting on your trash? Read on below for our favorite tips, as well as some extra tricks to use to keep bears from coming back ever again.

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Why Do Bears Get Into Your Garbage?

Bears will target your garbage for several different reasons, but all these reasons have one thing in common: They have something to do with food! Bears are interested in eating a lot and eating often, and your garbage may represent the easiest meal they can find.

Here are a few reasons why your garbage may look particularly tasty to your neighborhood bear:

It Smells Like Food

A hungry white Kermode or Spirit Bear licks honey from its paw off a honey jar.

In a flyer directed toward their citizens, the city of Asheville reports that bears naturally investigate food odors. These odors might include anything in your trash, outside pet food, compost piles, or even the grease catcher on your grill!

Anything that smells like it might make a good snack is enough to tempt a bear closer to your home. These predators would rather find an easy dinner than work for it, and that may include anything in your garden or around your home that might be even remotely edible.

Human Food Scaps Are an Easy Meal

In times when natural food is less available, bears may attempt to eat from garbage cans. They may also eat garbage when food scarcity is not an issue if the contents are tempting enough and easily accessible.

Bears have one goal before they hibernate, and that’s to bulk up as much as possible, however, they can.

That means that if you have a garbage can that can be easily flipped open, or sources of food just lying around your yard, your property might look tempting to any bear that strolls by.

Once they learn they can get food from you, they might just come back again.

They’re Attracted By Other Smells

Brown Bear Couple Ursus Arctos Beringianus Head Closeup Portrait

Their garbage-eating ways may be merely a crime of convenience. Sometimes, bears will target other sources of food (like your barbeque or apple tree), but also find their way into your garbage can since it’s nearby and available.

Here are a few other food sources you might have that bears could be interested in:

  • Bird feeders
  • Compost piles
  • Grills
  • Chicken coops
  • Outside pet feeding stations

It’s Become A Habit

Once they know they can get an easy meal from your garbage, you might find that the same bears return time and time. Unfortunately, these so-called “problem bears” can become habituated toward humans, losing any healthy fear and choosing trash cans over their natural dietary sources.

It’s up to you to take steps to discourage these bears and prevent them from becoming an issue in the first place. Read on for some tips on keeping your home and your trash safe.

How Can You Keep Bears Away from Your Garbage?

The good news is that there are several ways you can discourage bears from checking out your trash can. By taking a few steps to secure your garbage (and through the use of deterrents), you can mount an effective defense against even the most determined of critters. Read on to learn the very best methods to use:

Regularly Dispose of Garbage

woman hand holding garbage bag for recycle cleaning

Avoid a buildup of garbage to reduce food smells that may attract bears into your yard.

Lots of garbage not only smells delicious to wildlife, but it can make it difficult for lids to fit securely on garbage cans, increasing the likelyhood that a bear will be able to access the contents.

Also avoid stacking extra bags around the outside of the can, even if your collection service is coming that day. Instead, consider purchasing an additional can to store inside your garage, basement, or shed, to safely store any garbage overflow.

Store Garbage In A Safe Location

The best option to store your garbage cans inside is safe in a secure structure such as a garage or even in the basement. Any garbage can outside looks like too tempting of an opportunity for a bear wandering by, even if it’s a bear-resistant model.

If a garage, shed or basement is not available, you can also create your sturdy structure by using chain link fencing to create a protected area. Be sure to include a roof as bears are excellent climbers, and may not be discouraged even by the tallest sections of fencing.

So what’s the downfall to storing your garbage inside? At some point, it will probably need to be moved to the curb so your local garbage collection service can pick it up.

That’s why, to have a truly effective system for keeping bears away, you’ll want to also use some of the other methods on our list, to make sure your garbage is as secured as possible.

Use a Bear Resistant Can (Or Build Your Own!)

In some areas with high concentrations of bears in populated areas, it’s sometimes possible to buy (or even rent) a trash can meant to keep Yogi out. These often feature a lid with a special latch that must be manipulated in a certain way to open, something clawed predators cannot do.

You can also easily purchase a bear-resistant can like the Toter 64-Gallon Bear-Tight Two-Wheeled Cart. With a double-walled and steel-reinforced design, the lid on this can securely lock tight, opening only when you choose, or when it is collected by a curbside collection service.

You also may be able to purchase a lock for the trash can you already have, saving you money and allowing you to have a bear-resistant can sooner.

Some, like the Strong Strap Stretch Latch feature a plastic strap that is secured over the top of the lid. Others, like the Trash, Can Lid Lock, have a set of metal cables that lock into the lid for a secure fit.

If you’d like to make sure that your trash can is truly safe, check out the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources document on creating your bear-resistant trash can.

They also recommend securing your trash can to a tree or post using a ratchet strap to make sure that bears cannot tip it over, making it easier for the animals to gain access inside.

Clean Up Other Tasty Smells

Make sure that you’re not tempting bears into investigating your garbage can in the first place by reducing other sources of food around your home and yard.

Avoid feeding pets outside, and if you must, make sure that you don’t leave pet food out overnight. If you like to grill, thoroughly clean your barbecue to ensure you don’t leave grease or food particles in, on, or around it.

If you have sources of food like compost piles, gardens, or fruit trees, you may also want to consider installing some electric fencing, to keep bears from getting too close and snacking on your hard work.

Electric fencing does not need to be as tall as other types of fencing, as bears will be unable to climb it without getting a healthy shock.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Wildlife also says that bears are commonly attracted to birdfeeders. They recommend you avoid feeding birds during the times of the year when bears are most active, as bears will commonly eat birdseed and suet.

Bears may also be attracted to any livestock or domestic animals you have, so keep all your furry buddies safe inside or behind a secure fence (preferably electric).

Use Scents To Deter Bears

Later in the article, we address exactly what scents and smells you can use to keep bears away, but whatever smell you use, you can use a combination of sprays and well-placed containers to make the area around your garbage can as unappetizing as possible.

Consider using scents in combination with these other methods to create as many protective layers around your garbage can as possible.

You can learn more about the scents that attract bears here!

Use Lights, Sounds, And Motion to Scare Them Off

European brown bear in the autumn forest. Big brown bear in fores

Most bears are scared of humans and don’t want to risk confrontation, even for the best garbage. They are also likely to be somewhat wary around your home and in your yard, due to being in a new environment with unfamiliar sights and sounds.

But, if they’ve become a little too comfortable in your surroundings, it may be time to take things up a notch.

You can make your yard a little less welcoming by setting up motion-activated lights or sound systems. Sudden noises or a floodlight turning on may be enough to make any bear think twice about investigating your garbage.

Or, if you’d like to make a statement, consider using a motion-activated sprinkler system like the Orbit 62100 Yard Enforcer which sprays any sort of motion that crosses its path!

However, keep in mind that just using a loud noise to repel bears probably won’t be a good long term strategy.he more you pair these stimuli, the better your results may be.

What Smells Will Deter Bears?

There are several natural and manufactured scents that can help stop bears from investigating your property. The two most effective smells are:

  • Pine-based cleaner 
  • Bleach

Using any of these around your garbage (or other areas bears might wander into), will help make them think twice before they proceed further.

And, if you’re interested in learning more about what essential oil scents repel bears, check out our article: Will Essential Oils Deter Bears? 3 Things You Should Know.

You can also checkout the Colorado Parks & Wildlife page here to see their recommendations on using the above strong scents to repel bears.

Be Sure to Avoid Any Food Smells

Just like some scents will deter bears, some may attract them! Avoid using any of these smells around your garbage, unless you want your trash to smell even tastier:

  • Lemon
  • Citrus Products
  • Coffee grounds
  • Fruit smells
  • Grilled meats

What Will Keep Bears Away From My House?

Making sure that your home and yard are not appealing to bears is the first (and most important) step. This can be done through the removal of food sources, as well as using physical means to prevent bears from wandering onto your property such as fences or blocking hedges.

Next, try using tactics to actively discourage bears (such as smells they hate, or electronic deterrents) to ward off any bears that might not get the message and are interested in checking out your yard, house, or garbage can.

If you run into a bear while you’re outside your home, it’s key to know how to handle whatever type of bear is most common in your area. If you live in an area with frequent bear and human interactions, you may also want the option to deter a bear through chemical means, such as the use of the bear spray.

What Can I Spray On My Garbage To Keep Bears Away?

Young european brown bear in the authumn forest

Any of the scents discussed earlier (namely bleach and pine scent) can be sprayed on cans and bags to help keep bears away from your garbage. 

Please note that on the following list, none of the products are specifically formulated to repel bears. Rather, they contain specific scents that bears dislike.

Here are a few of our favorite pre-mixed sprays you may want to consider:

  • King Pine Concentrated Pine Oil: This powerful, concentrated oil can be diluted to make it last longer, or it can be used as-is to pack more of a punch in helping you deter any pesky bears.
  • CloroxPro Commercial Solutions: This pack of nine spray bottles is meant for commercial use, meaning it contains all the bleach scent and cleaning power you need to tackle any curious critters.

There are a few issues that may come with using a spray alone, however. First, these smells may not last very long if they are simply sprayed on, meaning you’ll need to frequently reapply (especially if you live in a rainy or humid climate).

They may also not be able to overpower the smell of the garbage, depending on how tempting your garbage can is to nearby bears.

However, you could actually just CLEAN your garbage cans weekly after pickup day considering all of the above are cleaning agents. So, you could have a clean trash can AND no bears!

Remember, seal your trash and spray it.

Wrapping Up!

The best way of keeping bears away from your garbage is to make sure they can’t reach or smell your garbage in the first place! Keep garbage in a basement, garage, or secure shed if possible. If that’s not an option, consider a specialty bear-resistant trash can.

You also may consider using various physical means, or electronic or smell deterrents that can help deter bears from investigating any interesting smells, especially if you have a garden or fruit trees they may be interested in.

If all else fails, getting your trash picked up more often (or taking it to an appropriate waste facility) may help cut down on any enticing scents!

And if you find you need the help of a professional wildlife control expert, check out our pest pro search tool. It can help you find local professionals that will quickly take care of any wildlife or pest problems.

References

Haroldson, Mark A., Charles C. Schwartz, and Kerry A. Gunther. “From garbage, controversy, and decline to recovery.” Yellowstone Science 16.2 (2008): 13.

Lewis, D. L., et al. “Foraging ecology of black bears in urban environments: guidance for human‐bear conflict mitigation.” Ecosphere 6.8 (2015): 1-18.

Merkle, Jerod A., et al. “Food availability and foraging near human developments by black bears.” Journal of Mammalogy 94.2 (2013): 378-385.

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