Sustainable Living

Waste Audit: What, Why, and How to Complete One

This January I was introduced to the “Waste Audit” concept by my local zero waste group on Facebook. It was an idea that felt a bit daunting, but also was an exciting challenge.

What is a Waste Audit?

In basic terms, the waste audit is looking at your garbage and identifying areas where you can do better and create less waste.

How to do a Waste Audit

To complete a waste audit for your household garbage, here are some steps to take:

  1. Choose a start and end date, such as January 1st to 31st.
  2. Choose some accountability partners–challenges are always more fun with friends!
  3. Collect all of your garbage for your set period of time. This means you won’t be taking out your garbage for city pick up or to your building’s garbage area.
  4. Note: Collecting your garbage refers to just your garbage and not your recycling or compost/green waste–just anything going to the landfill.
  5. At the end of the month, lay out all of your garbage and sort it into types.
  6. Document it. Take notes, create a spreadsheet, take photographs–whatever works for you.
  7. Look for ways you can reduce the waste that you’ve collected.

Why you Should do a Waste Audit

A waste audit is a great opportunity to identify areas where you can create change.

If you are just starting out on your zero waste journey, a waste audit is a way to show yourself the things in your life that are creating the most waste. These items that have piled up in your garbage would be perfect ones to focus on, as cutting out the biggest areas of waste will make the most impact in your journey.

If you are further along in your zero waste process, a waste audit would allow you to see what waste you are still creating. This provides you the opportunity to examine what bits of waste are sneaking into your life.

Wherever you are at, a waste audit gives you the chance to look at your garbage and investigate what your other options are.

My Experience Doing a Waste Audit

This year was my first time doing a waste audit and I found the process fascinating. What it did for me was make me aware every time I went to throw something into the bin. I was thinking more about each item that I was choosing to discard.

Having a set amount of time that I was not taking my garbage to the outside bin allowed me to truly see how much garbage I was creating. As a single person household, I don’t create a ton of garbage as it is, but I was never quite sure how much I was creating and found it interesting to see.

I was able to identify the biggest areas of waste for me:

In my bathroom garbage: tissues.
In my kitchen garbage: soft plastic packaging.

I’ve cut down on both of these items substantially the previous year, but clearly need to do more.

Finding solutions for the waste: Tissues

I started using handkerchiefs during the pandemic, which had partially reduced the amount of my discarded facial tissues. Happily, I recently found out that facial tissues can go in with our green waste! I have now added a green waste bin to my bathroom as our city separates biodegradable waste from recycling and trash.

In addition, my Zero Waste group had some excellent suggestions for cutting down on tissue waste:

  • Cut up old flannel sheets, PJs, or receiving blankets to make handkerchiefs
  • Check thrift stores for soft tea napkins to use as handkerchiefs
  • Use a glass jar on the countertop to store clean hankies

Finding solutions for the waste: Soft Plastics

During the pandemic I started shopping with a zero waste grocery delivery service. It has allowed me to not only cut out some extra plastic packaging, but also to recycle my soft plastics. The shop, Fulfill Shoppe, offers a soft plastics pick up service.

Unfortunately there are some plastic packaging that still ends up in the bin, so I’m going to focus on a plan for reducing this further including shopping for alternatives and researching if the plastics in my garbage can be recycled.

For more details on British Columbia’s soft plastics recycling program, check out details via this link: https://recyclebc.ca/flexiblepackaging/

Seeing the Change

Even after only one waste audit, I can see the positive impact that it has had. Having the green bin in my bathroom has made it so simple to divert my tissue waste and other green waste, such as hair, from the landfill. My awareness of what is going in my garbage can is much higher and I’ve begun to reduce a lot of the waste I was creating.

Have you ever done a waste audit? If not, would you consider doing one?

4 Comments

  • Michelle (Boomer Eco Crusader)

    This is really interesting. The BC soft plastics program is unique in Canada. I wish we had something similar.

    Probably 80-90% of our waste goes in the recycle box or green bin but there are definitely areas for improvement. Our family of 3 puts out one bag of garbage every two weeks. I am always amazed when I walk around the neighbourhood on garbage day at the amount of garbage in front of some people’s houses. Where does it all come from?

    • A Sustainably Simple Life

      One bag every two weeks for a family of three sounds like you’re doing well! I was surprised at the things that snuck into my garbage can when doing the waste audit and it was a great way to make some small, but impactful changes.

      I’m grateful for the soft plastics program and also that my city has a green waste (food waste) bin in addition to garbage and recycling. It helps so much!

  • CristinaR

    This was such a great read and an interesting way to see what you use the most and swap it! I really need to give this a try! Quite envious of the program of recycling you have in Canada! Thank you for sharing x

    • A Sustainably Simple Life

      I am so grateful for the programs we have in my area. It does make things a lot easier, I feel. Great to hear you might give your own waste audit a try! 🙂

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