How To Conduct A Household Waste Audit
Waste is unavoidable. No matter how well intentioned our environmental efforts may be, every individual, business, and organization produces waste everyday. In fact, Americans produce up to 220 million tons of waste yearly, and each piece of trash makes an impact on the environment and the economy. When you’re managing a busy family household, some waste production is inevitable. However, the habits and materials you employ can reduce waste production and make a big difference.
Trash takes up landfill space, generates greenhouse gases, and wastes non-renewable energy sources. However, recycling reduces greenhouse gas emissions and conserves our natural resources. If you want to shrink the carbon footprint of your household, you’ll need to know exactly how much waste you are generating and how much of it could be recycled instead. Waste audits are the best ways to do this.
Why You Should Conduct a Waste Audit
As you do your part to protect the planet, one of the first steps is to perform your very own waste audit at home. Most people don’t even know how much waste they actually produce! There’s only one way to find out.
A waste audit will tell you how much waste you currently generate and how much you could be recycling instead. Keeping track of this information will make your household greener and your waste easier to manage. Once you know what materials you’re wasting the most, you can take action to reduce your reliance on those materials to save both money and the environment.
How to Conduct a Waste Audit
Auditing is a comprehensive way to calculate and categorize important information. For your waste audit, your trash will provide all the data you need, but it won’t be useful unless you organize your methods ahead of time and know how to collect and interpret it. Take the following steps to conduct a waste audit in your home, and make sure you don’t skip any details along the way.
1. Gather Your Supplies
Of course, you’ll need your household waste and a few other tools to get started. Before conducting your waste audit, gather or locate all of the following supplies:
- Trash receptacles
- Recycling receptacles
- Heavy duty scale
- Heavy duty gloves
- Spreadsheet software
- Pen and paper, or portable device for recording data
These supplies will help you measure the waste, stay clean, and document the data.
2. Organize Your Audit
Before you actually begin to weigh and record all your waste, you’ll need to figure out your classification system. First, decide how long you want your audit to last. Do you want to measure your daily waste production, or extend the time frame to a week? We recommend a full workweek to give you a realistic perspective of your fluctuating household waste.
Now, divide your waste into different categories. If you hope to recycle, compost, or reuse more of your waste, your audit should measure the waste that falls into each of these categories. For example, the following waste categories cover many types of reusable and recyclable materials:
- Paper and cardboard
- Plastic and rubber
- Hazardous/toxic waste
- Compostable/organic waste
After you’ve decided on your method of organization, it’s time to get started on the audit itself.
3. Sort Your Trash
You have two options for sorting and weighing your trash: measuring each item as you throw it away, or sifting through your waste bins at the end of each day. The first method is more time-consuming and may interrupt your daily activities, but the second comes with hygiene and accuracy issues. It may help to meet in the middle and ask everyone to separate their recyclable and compostable trash before throwing anything away.
After you choose your sorting method, all that’s left to do is implement it. Make it a team effort to save time, and consider games and incentives that make it easier to collect this important data from all of your family members.
4. Record Your Findings
Now it’s time to tally up the weights of each piece of trash, or weigh the trash from each category. Make sure you document each number in an organized spreadsheet that includes the specific categories. If you conduct daily audits every day for a week, your documentation should include different sets of data for each day. Now you can organize your information according to day of the week, category of trash, and anything else you record.
5. Graph Your Results
You have the raw numbers, so now it’s time to interpret your data. Map the information visually to make sense of all those numbers, using pie graphs or charts to show the stark difference between categories. If you have children, this could be a great learning opportunity! When the data collection is complete, analysis will be the last and most important step of your waste audit.
What To Do After The Audit
No one wants to sift through the trash for no good reason, so make sure you make the most of the information you gathered. Your waste audit should have revealed the types of waste you produce most frequently, places or times in which people are particularly wasteful, and how many different types of waste you generate in a given week. Now, take these trends and turn them into solutions.
Identify Areas of Excess
What kind of trash do you produce the most? If it’s non-recyclable and non-perishable, there’s probably a more efficient alternative. For example, if plastic packaging makes up a bulk of your waste, phase out individually packaged food items by buying in bulk. If you waste a lot of textiles or rubber, there may be more durable or eco-friendly materials available for your home.
Problem-solving is always a good bonding activity, so take advantage of this opportunity to brainstorm together as a family. The topic? Smart ways to reduce your landfill waste. Invite everyone to offer new ideas for reducing their personal waste or eliminating a form of family-wide waste. What can you do to shrink your collective carbon footprint together? Create recycling plans and systems in your home and make it easy for everyone to participate in conservation.
Switch to Recyclable and Reusable Materials
One-use cups, forks, and even documents are increasingly unwelcome in the modern home. Identify the items that create unnecessary waste every time you use them, and switch to recyclable materials and products instead. Use real plates and cups in the kitchen and avoid paper products. Invest in a water filter instead of stocking up on bottled water. Digital files are the ultimate reusable materials, so go paperless whenever possible too.
Conduct Another Audit
After a few months of proactive waste management strategies, conduct another waste audit. Use the exact same categories and collection methods as you did the first time to make sure the comparison is as accurate as possible. You may be surprised by your results and how much your household has improved!
Watch Your Waste!
Earth is the only planet we have, and it’s already running out of landfill space and other non-renewable resources. Your home is worth preserving, so as you crunch your budget and tweak your household habits, don’t forget to prioritize your waste management methods too. Pay attention to the amount of waste you generate, how you dispose of it, and how you can change your behaviors. Be sure to get the whole family on board so you can feel good about doing your part to protect the environment.
About The Author
Dominick A. Farina owns Trashcans Unlimited, a leading supplier of trashcans and recycling bins.
Image credit: Antranias
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