The average American produces 4.51 pounds of municipal solid waste (MSW) every day. That translates to approximately 267.8 million tons produced annually in the United States. Of that amount, 52.1% goes to landfills.
If citizens were mindful of waste management, they could reduce those numbers. An emphasis on reusing and recycling will decrease the amount of trash that goes to landfills, which would, in turn, reduce carbon dioxide and methane gas emissions.
Why Should You Conduct an at-Home Waste Audit?
You must conduct an at-home audit to accurately measure how much waste you and your family produce. Only after you’ve analyzed your results can you change your lifestyle. It’s your responsibility to take care of the planet for future generations to enjoy.
You may discover much of your waste is recyclable. When you recycle, these materials are reused or repurposed in a useful way. You’ll be saving energy, reducing greenhouse gases and maximizing nonrenewable resources.
You must follow a detailed guide for conducting a waste audit to ensure your results are accurate.
Conducting Your Audit
Here are eight steps you need to complete to conduct an at-home waste audit.
1. Make a Plan
Before you can conduct the waste audit, you must create a plan. You need to determine how many days worth of trash you want to analyze. The more you have to examine, the more accurate your results will be. Think of it like a survey — to ensure your results are statistically significant, you need to analyze a substantial sample size.
You should also consider where you plan to conduct the audit. You’ll need a large space where you can sort through the garbage. You may be able to do it outside but be aware of the weather because you don’t want your trash blowing away.
2. Gather Supplies
You will be rooting through trash, which holds bacteria, mold, bugs and viruses. Therefore, you need to gather protective materials and recording supplies before you begin the audit.
Buy heavy-duty gloves and a tarp or floor covering. If you believe there will be liquids inside the garbage, consider getting protective glasses and something to protect your clothes from drips.
Make sure you have some type of pen and paper or digital device for recording your findings. After you’ve finished the audit, you’ll want to clean with a disinfectant, so buy it in advance if needed.
3. Prep Your Space
Take the supplies you’ve organized and begin prepping the space. You want to make sure your floor or yard is covered before you dump out the garbage. Make sure your recording items are nearby so you don’t need to trek through the house during the audit process.
4. Establish Type Regions
Before you start pulling out the trash, decide what piles you intend to make. You can divide most at-home waste into recyclable items, compostable materials and rubbish. You can also establish additional sections like toxic substances and unique recyclables — like batteries.
5. Separate Waste
Dig in and begin separating the waste products. Sort them based on the categories you’ve decided on for grouping. You can choose to count or weigh as you sort, or you can do it once you’ve separated the trash.
It helps if you have another person available to write notes while you sort.
6. Record Results
There are two methods for measuring your waste. The first is to use a scale and weigh each type. You would then document the weights of each category.
The second method is to count each item and record your results. You should list the object type and quantity and provide a brief description. Also, mark whether you could compost or recycle the material.
If you are conducting a weeklong audit, you could divide the result based on days of the week. This would allow you to determine when you produce the most trash.
7. Chart or Graph Your Totals
Now that you’ve recorded your findings, you can chart or graph your numbers. There are free programs available online to create charts, graphs and diagrams. Choose the one you prefer and input the data to see the breakdown of results.
If you have a Gmail account, you’ll automatically have access to Google docs, which allows you to construct a bar, column, line or pie chart for free. It helps to color-code each category so you can accurately interpret the data.
8. Analyze Results
Using your chart or graph, you can identify areas of excess. Do you tend to buy items that can’t be recycled? Have you discovered you could have composted many of the items placed in the trash? Record your problem areas so you know where to make changes in the future.
Based on your findings, how does your MSW production compare to the national average? Are there areas you could improve? If you choose to audit every day for a week, did you notice a pattern in your consumption? Seeing the data can help put things into perspective.
Taking the Next Step
Now that you’ve completed the at-home waste audit, you can begin to make changes to reduce your carbon footprint. Doing so will minimize your yearly waste and create healthy habits for you and your family. Here are six things to consider implementing.
1. Try Problem Solving
Gather the family and brainstorm solutions for reducing your garbage output. Perhaps you can buy vegetables without plastic wrap or be better about recycling. Ask everyone to contribute ideas and make a list of improvements to make. Encourage the design of SMART goals, which are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based. This will help everyone stay on track and reach targets.
One easy tip for recycling and composting is to create a sign to go near your trashcan. On the poster, list what you should recycle, compost or place in the trash. You can also write down recycling centers in your town or the hours they do street pickup.
2. Reduce Plastic Usage
Single-use plastics are one of the most significant sources of ocean pollution. One way you can reduce your waste output is to drink more tap water. This lowers the number of single-use plastics — like water bottles — you consume.
Also, consider buying reusable items that can reduce your plastic consumption. Examples include:
Fabric grocery bags
Mesh produce bags
3. Buy Recyclable Products
Most grocery items come in recyclable packaging. Look on the wrapper, can or bottle for the triangle that signifies a recyclable object. The numbers found within those arrows reference the type of material and how to recycle it.
Contact a local county or municipality to discover what recycling options are available for you. Many locations provide on-street pickup, while others prefer if you drive to a recycling center. You should also research whether there is a local scrap metal center. These places will pay you money for recycling nonferrous metals.
Examples of nonferrous metals include:
Copper: Commonly found in wiring or household piping
Brass: Used frequently in fixtures and doorknobs
Stainless steel: Featured in almost every industry, from cooking and health to automotive and construction
Aluminum: Found most commonly in soda cans
Bronze: Used to make bells, sculptures and construction materials
4. Begin Reusing and Repurposing
Besides recycling, you can practice reusing and repurposing items. Instead of throwing away worn-down clothing, you can repurpose it into tote bags or cleaning cloths. Transform glass jars into storage containers. You can even reuse food scraps to create compost.
5. Practice Composting
The majority of your food scraps and yard waste goes to a landfill. However, you could place this organic material into a container to produce compost. Compost provides a range of environmental benefits, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions and strengthening soil health.
Research whether there is an organic matter pickup in your area. If you prefer, you can also create your compost pile at home so you can enjoy the beneficial nutrients in your garden each year.
6. Schedule Another Audit
The only way to truly see how much change you’ve made is to perform another audit. Compare your second audit to the first and record your results. What can you conclude from these findings? Are there still areas for you to improve on?
Continue making adjustments to your lifestyle and schedule additional audits until you reach the outcome you desire. Once you’ve mastered things, you can take what you’ve learned and apply it to other areas of your life. Encourage your friends and family to perform waste audits at their homes so you can spread the knowledge you’ve gained.
The First Step Toward a Sustainable Future
Conducting an at-home waste audit is the first step in living a sustainable lifestyle. Follow these eight steps to ensure you perform it correctly. You’ll need accurate results to determine ways to change your habits and reduce your environmental footprint. Evaluate these six eco-friendly methods for implementing your plan today.
Emily Folk is a freelance writer and blogger on conservation and sustainability. To see her latest posts, check out her blog, Conservation Folks, or follow her on Twitter, @emilysfolk!