6 simple steps for an at-home trash audit

One of the best ways to get a handle on your trash output is by channeling your inner raccoon.

Yup, I’m talking about digging into your trash can and finding out what’s really going on there with a trash audit.

It can be a pretty gross undertaking, but honestly: what can motivate you to reduce your waste production than the prospect of digging through it a second time?

What is a trash audit?

A trash audit is essentially a study of what kind of trash you make. This is obviously incredibly helpful for someone interested in the zero waste movement, as it sheds light on problem areas. But don’t be too hard on yourself – you’ll always have some trash because we don’t live in a society with a circular economy. If you want to learn more about that, check out my post on why zero waste isn’t zero.

Honestly, I think a lot of people will be shocked at the amount of trash they create absolutely unconsciously every day.

Think fast: what’s in your trash can right now?

You probably can’t answer that question, can you? That’s kind of the point. Once you get a full view of what you’re actually tossing, it’ll be far easier to pinpoint effective lifestyle changes to make in order to reduce waste.

The good news, though, is that once you do a trash audit you’ll be set for quite some time. Don’t think this is something you need to do weekly, or even monthly (I mean, unless you want to and then go for it!).

I usually conduct a trash audit when I feel myself slipping – when the trash starts piling up a little faster and my purchases get sloppier.

6 simple steps for an at-home trash audit - PollyBarks.com

What’s the procedure?

Now that you can answer the questions ‘what is a trash audit?’ you can get started – just start digging through your trash. Wait… you wanted more direction than that?

Oh, fine – here you go:

1. Choose a length of time for your audit

A week is an excellent time frame. It’s not so much time that you get bogged down in an insurmountable pile of garbage, but it’s also long enough that you should get a decent slice of what your actual waste output is like.

Plan to start and finish on a day when you’ll have around an hour to sort and analyze what’s going on.

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2. Choose the way you’re going to analyze your trash

By number of items? By weight? I find weight is the most precise and least time-consuming way to measure. I have a small luggage scale (affiliate link) I use to weigh my bags.

How will you divide it? You can measure everything together, but I suggest separating it out at least by landfill, recyclable, and compostable waste. If you’d like to really dig deep, you can start dividing it by item type to get a really detailed look.

how to do a trash audit - PollyBarks.com

3. Start with just landfill trash

This means – ideally – having recycling and composting options set up in your home. Compost is a no-brainer since you’ll eliminate all the ickiness of trash; I’m able to do a trash audit simply because I don’t have to worry about sticking my fingers into a week-old apple core. (If you absolutely can’t compost, at least create a wet and dry trash.)

Recycling should also be separated immediately just because there’s a chance it’ll get thrown away if it’s not sorted properly. I realize not everyone has time to dig around in their trash, especially if you create more than we do.

4. Take notes on what you find

To actually start your waste audit, you’re going to need to take a look at the trash you already have. Hopefully you’ve got around a week’s worth of trash to compare to. This first measurement is your baseline – and what you’ll measure your progress against moving forward.

I’d suggest setting up a simple paper with info spaces for:

  • How much trash/recycling/compostable material you produced
  • A spot for comparing your changes when you re-audit
  • A box of notes on what you see most often
  • A goal-setting area so you can brainstorm ways to reduce your waste
6 simple steps for an at-home trash audit - PollyBarks.com

5. Set goals for your trash audit

Digging around in your trash is likely going to bring up a few items that you know you can eliminate immediately. Great! Beyond that, I’d encourage you to set at least 2-3 challenges for yourself during the week. Here are a few ideas if you’re feeling a little stumped:

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6. Re-audit your trash at the end of the week

After becoming aware, setting a few goals, and making some habit changes, return to the sheet and re-audit.

Hopefully you’ve found a reduction in your waste output!