What is a Trash Audit and How to Conduct One

What is a Trash Audit and How to Conduct One


The average American produces almost 5 pounds of trash per day. That is a lot of garbage going into the landfill. One of the simplest ways to reduce the amount of waste you produce is to perform a trash audit. This means inspecting the trash you're throwing away and identifying where you might make changes. It might be a kind of icky to go through all your garbage, but it is a great way to go zero waste. Keep in mind the 5 Rs and which things you can refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, or rot. Once armed with the knowledge of where most of your waste comes from, you should be able to reduce it efficiently. Here is how to perform a trash audit.


Step 1: Examine Your Waste

To get started, you will need:

  • Rubber gloves.
  • A notebook.
  • A pencil.
  • An area to dump the waste.
  • A large tarp or newspaper to keep things neat.
  • Garbage.

First, grab a pair of gloves for when it is time to sort through your trash. You will also need a notebook and a pencil to write everything you see. We recommend one of these beautiful notebooks from Craftboat as a perfect way to keep tabs on your zero waste journey. Once you have these items, set aside some time to look through the trash from your home. Dump out all your trash onto a tarp. Use gloved hands to sift and sort through everything — then make a plan.

Three Hand-dyed Notebooks

Step 2: List and Count Recurring Items.

Make a list of everything you find in your trash with a tally mark next to the recurring items you discover. Or you can just write down the number next to each of the objects you find, whichever is easiest.

Here is an example:

Trash Audit Count

Step 3: Make Improvements.

Once you have sorted through your trash, review your findings to identify your problem areas and set goals. Make changes where you can make a big impact. You can do this by working on the things thrown away the most.

Below is an example of the items needing the most attention. If you change some habits here, you could make a huge difference.

Trash Audit Tally

Don't forget to check out our blog post on the 5 Rs of Zero Waste for some really great ways to help you cut down on many things before they wind up in a landfill.

Step 4: Repeat As Needed.

After taking some time to go through your primary trash bin and making some adjustments, you might want to do a trash audit on all your wastebaskets. You will probably discover that each one contains different types of trash. For instance, your bathroom might contain tissues, cotton balls, Q-Tips, dental floss, toothpaste tubes, hair, etc. While your kitchen trash might have other things like paper towels, paper napkins, or food scraps and packaging. If you really commit to doing trash audits, you'll probably see that your trash changes from week to week. Making adjustments and improvements will be a process. A zero-waste lifestyle is not achieved overnight, but you'll be surprised how much you can accomplish by just addressing just a couple areas. New habits take time to build, so remember to be kind to yourself!




“National Overview: Facts and Figures on Materials, Wastes and Recycling.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling/national-overview-facts-and-figures-materials.

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