How to do a Trash Audit

One of the first steps to becoming zero waste is figuring out what sort of trash you are responsible for, and what to do about it. The problem is, while you may have a few specific items you know you want to change out, you may not know the full extent of your waste.

Knowledge is power, and the simplest method to check where the bulk of your waste comes from is through a trash audit. It may sound complicated, but doing so is pretty easy.

Go through your day as normal

As tempting it is to suddenly be perfect, it’s important to behave normally during the day. If you ordinarily would throw out that popcorn bag, but suddenly wonder if it is compostable or you could reuse it somehow, just put it in the garbage. You’ll have plenty of time to sort it out later.

At the end of the day, it’s time to look at your waste and see where you need to improve.

Spread your trash on a tarp

This is best done outside, since if you discard food waste it will probably be messy, and small plastic bits are a pain to pick up. Spread out all your trash and sort them into categories. This could be glass, paper, metal, food waste, wrappers, and a miscellaneous section for items that don’t really fit.

Take note of what’s there, and then look for ways to do things about what’s there. Can you take these items to a recycler? Can you compost your food scraps? If it’s not recyclable, can you avoid it or upcycle it? Can you write the company and ask them to change to more sustainable packaging?

Repeat weekly or monthly

As you progress towards sustainability, recheck regularly to see where you can improve, and if anything new is cropping up. It’s also a little bit satisfying to see your daily trash shrinking month by month.

It’s also important to remember not to stress if your trash doesn’t shrink, or if there’s nothing you can do about what you have. The simple truth is, manufacturers have a responsibility for the waste as well. Waste isn’t your fault if there is no other choice available, or if the price for a waste-free option is too much for you.

Trash audits are meant to guide you on reducing your waste where possible, not make you feel guilty about what you can’t change. This is also why speaking out is so important. The squeaky wheel gets the grease! In the end, if you can convince a company to change how they package, you’ll do far more for the planet than any single change in your own life.

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