HOW TO CONDUCT A TRASH AUDIT
Pre-Audit: Learn the Recycling Rules in Your Community (If You Don’t Know Them)
As a very, very first step, make sure you know what can be recycled where you live, and how, and ensure you are doing it correctly. You can call your recycling company or look at their website for guidelines if you are unsure. A trash audit will be less helpful if you’re having to assess things you should be recycling already.
1. Change Nothing for One Week
For one week (or less if things become clear pretty quickly), go about your normal routine and take note of what items are making up the majority of your garbage.
2. Write it Down
I recommend keeping notes somewhere, whether on paper or on your phone, of the main offenders you’ve noticed accumulating in your trash. I used to be good at keeping mental notes of stuff like that, but after kids, it’s way too easy to forget, so I write it down! Plus, if you need the full week, you probably don’t want to go back on Day 7 and sift through the garbage you produced on Day 1 (yuck!).
3. Analyze Your Waste
Do you use a quarter roll of paper towels every day (I promise I’m not judging you if this one applies to you, especially if you have kids!)? Do you eat a lot of pre-packaged foods? Do you accumulate large numbers of plastic and/or paper bags from stores? Assess your trash and pinpoint which areas the majority of it comes from on a weekly basis.
4. Make a Change
Pick a waste category you think you can easily tackle first, and change it. Maybe you could simply swap those paper towels for reusable rags. Or maybe you already have tote bags you could start bringing with you when you shop. Especially if you’re a beginner, pick something EASY. Making the first steps easy will keep you going in the long run. I also recommend ensuring that the first steps cost you nothing, by using things you already own (like cutting up some old tshirts to make your reusable rags).
5. Make Another Change
After you tackle the first zero waste swap, tackle another one (and another and another)! It gets easier as you go and you will likely find more motivation as you adjust and create better habits.
You’ll probably need to do a trash audit more than once as you go along your zero waste journey (they get much easier and faster as you reduce your trash output). Sometimes trash can start creeping back in even when you think you are being vigilant. Or maybe you’re barely producing trash anymore, but you realize a quarter of it is still coming from something you could easily change. Reassessing every so often will help to keep you in check.
Hopefully auditing your trash gives you a great place to start, but if you get stuck, feel free to drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and we would be happy to help you with ideas! You can also follow us on Facebook and Instagram where we share our favorite zero waste tips and tricks.