Doing a simple waste audit and tracking your weekly trash at home can help reduce your landfill and recycling.
Here's a simple template that doesn't require you to sift through smelly garbage and will help you target areas that will make the biggest impact.
A Few Starting Tips
A great place to start is to define what your short term waste goals are.
Choose to reduce:
> Overflowing bins
Once you are clear on what your focus is, it becomes easier to narrow down how to approach it.
The content of our bins is a reflection of our lifestyles and differ a lot between households.
If you are new to the whole concept of reducing rubbish, then cutting back on landfill is a fantastic place to start.
If you are already on a zero waste (or low waste) journey, you probably have more specific goals. You can write your goals down if you like, but just having them clear in your own head is enough.
Don't aim for perfection. It is really easy to feel a sense of guilt about our personal waste.
Any little change you make will truly make a difference, and is a step in the overall journey of living a more eco-friendly lifestyle. The fact that you are reading this post should tell you that you're already doing something positive.
Don't worry what anyone else may be doing (or seems to be doing), skip comparisons and aim for small lasting changes that actually work for you.
If you can, get your family, housemates or visitors on-board with the idea of reducing waste.
This can be tricky, and you may have to offer bribes of free food or something of value to encourage their participation.
Believe me, lecturing isn't going to help and all you really need is for them to tolerate and hopefully support what you are trying to do for now.
Don't expect everyone to get excited by your ideas, but over time they may begin to see the value in them.
Now you should have a basic goal in mind, you won't try and achieve the impossible, and you'll find a way to gain some level of cooperation.
How to do a Waste Audit (the Simple Way)
In essence, you are going to record outgoing waste.
This includes four main streams of waste you are likely to encounter (landfill trash, recycling, composting/organics as well as items you donate or drop off to a recycling centre).
I recommend using the checklist for at least a week, to get a clear picture of what your overall waste looks like.
Feel free to extend this time frame if you feel it would be useful.
Now, to avoid the smelly bin dive......
You can totally go ahead and sift through garbage at the end of the week, but this is so unappealing and completely unnecessary.
This template (or your own version) should be used to record items as you toss.
>Write it down straight away so you don't forget
> Before emptying bins, have a quick glance and make sure it was captured on your tracker
> Record the items in the column that best matches where they were put (not necessarily where they belong)
For example, the recycling section is just for those items being put into the recycle bin and does not include recyclables placed into landfill.
The opposite applies too, if non-recyclables are being placed in the recycling bin, record it.
If you have multiple bins around the house, you may want to keep a list by each of them.
My waste bins and recycling are setup in the kitchen, so this is where I track rubbish.
The worksheet looks small, but you will find that this works much better and is less confusing when you go to review it.
You can choose to note individual items and on the same line just tally quantities(this works great if you want to specifically track how many milk cartons vs juice cartons).
Or for a simpler option, you can create broader categories, for example, soft plastics, tetra packs, tins, bottles etc. and keep a running tally.
Before you print out the template....
I don't want to be adding to your bins! if you have some scrap paper you could use instead, go for it. If you are printing the template, make it double sided so you get twice the use out of it.
Simply tracking your waste can have the effect of increasing awareness of and you may even find yourself adjusting some of your typical habits during the process as a result.
This is absolutely fine, and if you want to make improvements during the process, then just go for it. Let's say you are about to toss some stale bread into landfill.... when you are about to record it, you change your mind and decide it is actually green waste, then just do that and note where it went.
Confused about what goes where in your bin system?
Head to your local council website for information and
if you're in Australia, head here for some super useful information
Review your waste at the end of the week (or however long you decided to monitor),
> Get all your waste tracking details in a pile.
You may have several lists at this stage!
> Take a good look through, and see what really stands out as a big waste stream or an easy fix.
The results may surprise you and be completely unexpected.
For example, sometime ago I was surprised at how many plastics recyclable and non-recyclable were coming from our bathroom, not to mention other disposables like toothbrushes, floss, razors, band aids and all sorts of stuff. The plastic annoyed me and when I looked at what it was, liquid soap was a common item over the month we tracked. They were taking up valuable space in our already overflowing recycle bin. The simple solution was swapping to a bar of soap.
Remember, there are no rules on what you must focus on and it is all totally up to you.
Another easy way to determine which waste stream to focus on reducing is looking at which category had the most items in it.
Say for example you have almost zero landfill rubbish, but tons of plastic or paper recycling - this can be a great prompt to rethink packaging you bring home from the shops, especially big items if you regular purchase new household items.
Making steps to find second-hand goods or even to buy less stuff might solve it.
Not all solutions will be simple, and some wont work at all on the first attempt. It can take 3 or 4 tries before you find the right answer.
As you put small changes in place, make sure to give yourself (and your household members) time to adjust. This could be as little as a few days or may take a month depending on how challenging it is.
When you are ready, start the process of tracking again from your new and improved level of waste management.
You will be able to make comparisons between when you began and it serves as a great positive reminder that you're making progress.
And that's it - your simple way to audit bins at home without sifting through rotting garbage (yuck!).
This method is fairly intuitive, with the template designed to be able to be used by family and household members easily without having to read instructions.
If there is an area or item you're struggling with, feel free to send me a message or comment below for help and ideas.
Check out this post on Simple Ways To Reduce Food Waste
Try the War on Waste Challenge