Mar 20, 2017

How To Do A Trash Audit

The average person creates 4.3 pounds of trash per day. That translates to 30 pounds a week and over a 1500 pounds of trash per year. The unfortunate part is that two-thirds of what is put in the trash can, like food, could be composted.

Are you doing better or worse than average? The best way to find out is by doing a trash audit.

What is a trash audit?

A trash audit is where you examine the trash you have created over a given period of time. It can be done daily, weekly or monthly. The contents are recorded, analyzed and weighed. The weighing is optional, but it can help you keep track objectively and see how you compare to the average of 4 pounds. 

Once you know what you are throwing away you analyze it to see if there are improvements that can be made. Are you throwing away recyclables or food that should be going to the compost pile?

Remember to include all trash cans, from the kitchen, bathroom, offices and other rooms of the house. Also if you want to be really thorough be sure to include trash from outside the home like while shopping, dining out, or working. Including trash outside of the kitchen can sometimes be more enlightening. For example I realized that I would recycle quite a bit in the kitchen, but was not recycling plastic bottles I used in the bathroom.

What to ask while analyzing the trash:

  • Can you recycle it? Check with your local recycling agency to see what they recycle. The contents vary by location. 
  • Can you compost it? If it is a food or paper product it can probably be composted. Some lucky areas have commercial composting facilities, but most of the time this means starting your own compost pile.
  • Can you get it with less packaging? Shopping at other locations may provide you with alternatives that have less waste.
  • Can you get it with recyclable packaging? Glass and metal are always best. Then comes paper, then plastic, then non-recyclable items. It's a little counter intuitive, but getting milk in a plastic container rather than those paper tetrapak containers might be a better option as recycling facilities for the tetrapak are less common. And remember plastic can pretty much just be downcycled
  • Can you make your own? Are you finding lots of packaging from processed food? Start making your own. Sometimes you'll find it is so easy to just make your own you'll wonder why you ever bought it in the first place. Or maybe your trash is filled with health and beauty products. You can find homemade alternatives to just about every makeup or beauty product. 
  • Can you get a reusable version? Are you finding that you dispose of a lot of a specific kind of product like straws or napkins? Purchase reusable ones that can be washed and used over and over.
  • Do you need that product at all? This probably should be the first question, but most people's gut reaction is "yes." So after analyzing the packaging you may be more willing to say "no." 

After analyzing the trash start to make some changes and implement those alternatives you found. Then repeat the audit after a few months to see how much things have changed and if there are any other changes you can make.

If you want to take things a step further than you can do a recycle audit. It works very similarly to the trash audit, but this time you analyze what you send to the recycle bin and see if you can find any package free alternatives there.

Have you done a trash audit? What did you find?

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  1. Really good post. I'm going to try this!

  2. Thanks you for highlighting this important issue and providing a clear explanation and how-to. In answer to your question, yes, I did a trash audit several years ago, and the subsequent results were astonishing.

    Thanks to the audit and some basic changes we made, we replaced our quite large kitchen trash bin with a small one that holds only 2-1/2 gallons. We also went from dumping the contents of that large trash bin at least once a week, to dumping the contents of the small trash bin every two months, on average.

    Sadly, despite years of effort, we have been unable to reduce our landfill trash further, either in the kitchen or in the bathroom, where we make another 1 gallon of trash a week.

    1. Sounds like you made a huge change! Although it sounds like you aren't where you'd like to be, but I think you are doing great. I could probably learn a thing or two from you!

      So I would keep researching alternatives or maybe realize that in the phase of life you are in, it's ok to create a little more waste. For example I hear kids make life difficult in all sorts of ways ;) and I know my working creates more trash (makeup alone), but I've come to terms with that (and am researching better options). Your changes really are motivating though!

  3. Our trash bin has been overflowing everyday lately! I knew I needed to do something, but wasn't sure what...Not sure why I never thought of a trash audit! This is great! Thanks for the info & thanks for sharing on the Homestead Blog Hop!

    1. I'd love to hear what you find in doing your audit! Thanks for stopping by.

  4. HI Katy,
    I try to do these steps but the one I am probably worse at is Do I need this item at all - I need to work on that because I tend to find myself keeping things that I never end up using. Thank for your advice. Sharing on twitter & pinning> Happy Spring!

  5. Kitty litter. If I could find a way to reduce that, I'd be good to go. With four cats, it seems like it's never ending.

    1. Yes, kitty litter is a tough one. We haven't quite taken to potty training ours yet. (Could you imagine?!)