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How to do a Trash Audit at Home

Written by Tara McKenna

When you're first starting out on your path to zero waste living, it's good to know what type of waste you're creating in the first place.

It's also important to really learn your waste management system, so you know that you're sorting your waste properly! It can be surprising how easy it is to 'contaminate' the waste stream by sorting improperly for your local system.

Get to Know Your Waste Management System

It’s important to know how to sort your waste properly. Find an easy way to learn which items can be recycled, what can be composted, and what goes into the garbage.

It takes a lot of time and energy for waste management staff to re-sort waste. Unfortunately, contaminating the waste stream is more common than we realize. Food items can easily ruin otherwise recyclable items, such as paper, meaning that it will have to go to the landfill. To avoid making it harder and more expensive for sorting at the facility, we need to properly sort our waste.

If your municipality doesn't compost, home composting is an option. It’s also important to know what is considered hazardous waste, and to learn if you must drop certain things off in person or if there are special pick-ups available. You may be able to find all of this information online or on a mobile app. If you can’t find waste sorting information using these resources, try calling for this information instead. You may be able to get a hard copy (or print it from the website) of your sorting list to put on the fridge.

Keeping these details visible will make it easier for everyone in your household to sort waste. Knowing your waste management system will also help you with your trash audit!

Waste Management Checklist:

  • Learn your waste management system

  • Start composting if you don't already

  • Put your waste management sorting list somewhere easy for people to see so they can sort properly

Conduct a Trash Audit

It’s really common to kick off your zero waste journey with a trash audit. A trash audit is a task in which you collect all of your trash, recyclable and compostable items for a certain time period to analyze what types of waste you’re creating at home. The purpose of this activity is to help you determine areas where you can improve on and reduce your trash.

Here are the steps:

  • Grab a notebook or use a spreadsheet and add relevant categories: landfill, recycling, organics, hazardous waste

  • Establish a set period of time (e.g. one month) to audit your trash or it can be ongoing

  • You can list each item as your throw it in the trash, or grab gloves and sort through waste that’s already in your bin

  • Review your findings and tally up all of the results

  • Create a chart or graph to help show what your main types of waste are (is it mostly Landfill? Organics? Recycling?)

  • Use this information to find ways that you can reduce your waste

  • Involve all family members or roommates in the discussion, so you can get everyone contributing ideas and buying into the solutions

  • Now that you know your recycling system, are there ways you can reduce your landfill waste and recycle better? Take some notes and set goals

  • Are there ways you can reduce your recycling contributions as well?

Trash audits can be ongoing and even recurring. For example, you could choose to do a home trash audit annually, which would help you to determine if you’re successfully reducing your waste compared to previous years.

Ultimately, this information will help you get started on your zero-waste journey!

For more tips on going zero waste, read the book and head to zero waste 101!


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