Americans produce an immense amount of waste – estimated at over 250 million tons annually. Most of the waste consists of goods that are used only briefly and tossed in the trash. This takes up landfill space, generates gnarly amounts of greenhouse gases, and wastes energy and non-renewable resources.
More than a quarter of the waste Americans send to the landfill is made up of of food scraps, yard clippings, and other organic matter that can easily be composted. More than half is made up of materials that can be reused or recycled, such as paper, plastics, metals, glass, wood, rubber, textiles, furniture, appliances… you get the drift.
Waste is unavoidable, no matter how hard we try or how well intentioned we are with our environmental efforts. But each one of us can make a difference. If you want to reduce your household carbon footprint, you’ll need to know exactly how much waste you’re producing and how much of it can be reused, recycled, and composted. If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. So listen to what your trash is telling you by conducting a waste audit at least once a year.
What is a waste audit?
Put simply, a waste audit of your home is a very intentional process of determining the amounts and types of waste generated in/by your home. Bottomline, you’ll be digging in the trash. Although that doesn’t sound fun, it’s the best way to know what you throw.
Why you should do it?
Conducting a waste audit of your home is a first step in doing good by Mama Earth. The information you collect will help you determine and track your consumption habits and find ways to reduce the amount of waste you generate within the home. And by revealing costly wasteful problems, it can help you to save money. Plus, it’s the first step on the plastic-free / zero-waste journey.
How to perform a home waste audit:
What you’ll need
A waste audit worksheet (To make things easier we’ve created one for you. Use it digitally if possible. If you must print, use 100% post consumer paper)
Computer or tablet for recording data
Pens or pencils (if you’re going the old fashion way)
A tarp or newspaper to spread on the floor
Scale for weighing trash
Your trash – all of it. We recommend collecting and recording a minimum of a full week to get a realistic idea of your household waste fluctuations. Though a month is ideal.
Steps For conducting the waste audit
- Properly plan your waste audit ahead of time. Allow everyone in the household to know the objectives of the audit so there’ll be minimal problems and everyone will have the opportunity to participate right from the start.
- Collect the waste to be examined over a set timeframe – every day for a week or every week for a month. If you’re already composting or have a collection for food waste, just take note of the quantity at the end of the day or before you dispose of it. Consider conducting a practice or test audit to ensure everyone has an understanding of the objectives. Most importantly, be patient and compassionate with yourself and your family.
- Sort the waste based on the categories listed on the waste audit worksheet we’ve provided or create a custom method of categorizing to suit your objectives. For example, if you only hope to recycle and compost more, then recyclable, compostable and non-recyclable are the only categories you’ll need. It may be helpful to ask members of your household to separate their recyclable and compostable trash before throwing it away. Make it a team effort and have fun with it.
- Record the waste by types and quantities generated. Feel free to be as detailed as you want. Record the date and time, weight, number of items, etc. Ideally, you’ll want your categories to include:
Recyclables: cardboard, paper, glass jars, plastic bottles, aluminum cans, etc. (Check with your municipal recycling center to know exactly what is collected)
Organic waste: food scraps, compostables, yard clippings
Everything else: non-recyclables, straws, etc.
- Analyze Your Data. Now that you have numbers to work with, it’s time to interpret your data. This is the most important step in your waste audit, and it’s also a chance to have fun with the family. Create pie charts or graphs to help identify areas of excess, types of waste produced, frequency, and where the waste is coming from. If you audited over the timeframe of a month you’ll get an even clearer picture of your waste habits and potential areas for improvement.
- Find Alternatives. Once you’ve identified areas of excess it’s time to brainstorm solutions as a family. Invite your loved ones to contribute ideas on how to reduce their personal waste and collectively shrink the family’s carbon footprint. This is a good time to create a system that is easy for everyone to participate in. For example, if you found that plastic waste and packaging is the bulk of your waste, start phasing out individually wrapped products and buy in bulk. If food waste is your biggest contributor, start planning your meals for the week so that you buy only what you need, and encourage your family to eat leftovers. There’s an app for that: read our blog on the three best meal plan apps to reduce food waste and save money.
Make the Switch: Identify items that create unnecessary waste and switch to reusable and recyclable alternatives. Avoid one time use items like disposable plates and utensils. Ditch bottled water and invest in a in home water filter. Go paperless & digital.
Watch your waste: As you tweak your habits and budget, make sure to prioritize waste management in your home. Pay attention to the waste you generate and how you dispose of it. In a few months conduct another waste audit using the same criteria and do a comparison to see how far you’ve come!!! Remember, Mama Earth is the only home we have and she’s running out of landfill space and non-renewable resources. So keep on doing your best.
For more tips on how to reduce your waste, download our FREE e-book – The Ultimate Guide to Sustainability in Everyday Life.