The 411 on Conducting a Home Waste Audit P

According to the EPA, the average person generates 4.51 pounds of waste per day. Have you ever wondered if you’re on the high or low end of the scale? You can find out by conducting a household waste audit.

I know, it doesn’t sound like fun digging through your garbage, but the best way to reduce your waste is to “know what you throw.” I’ll walk you through the process below in my own waste audit.

Reminder: Every waste audit is unique, so don’t expect your results to be the same as mine. Each household has different purchasing habits, and each community has different rules for garbage, recycling, and compost collection. I live in a two-person house with no children, in a city with a population of fewer than 200,000 people.

Step 1: Determine Your Timeline

First, decide how long you want to track your waste output. Since most communities collect garbage weekly, a seven-day waste audit is appropriate. For the most accurate audit, conduct your audit the day before collection day.

Waste Carts

If your waste audit shows that you recycle more than you send to the landfill, switching to a smaller garbage cart may save you money.

In my example, my household generated two half-full bags of garbage and a half-full bag of recyclables over seven days. My household generates so little waste that we switched to a 48-gallon garbage cart. We could probably go two or three weeks before putting out the bin for pickup if not for the fact that the Arizona summer heat turns food waste into smelly compost very quickly.

Step 2: Prep Your Audit Space

Set down a tarp, newspaper, or other protective covering on the floor before you begin the audit. Ideally, you’ll find an indoor space so no garbage blows away, but opt for tiled floors instead of carpet so that any leaks can be cleaned up more easily.

Step 3: Organize Your Waste

You’re going to create four categories of waste:

  1. Items recyclable at the curb (paper, glass, metal, plastic bottles)
  2. Items recyclable, but not at the curb (plastic bags, electronics, batteries)
  3. Organic waste (yard waste, food, soiled paper)
  4. Everything else (non-recyclable packaging, diapers, straws)

results of a waste audit: includes garbage and recyclable items

The contents of my household waste audit, with recyclable items on the left and waste that’s destined for the landfill on the right.

Step 4: Chart Your Audit Results

Once you have your waste sorted by category, create a chart that shows what you have. Here’s my chart:

Cart Used Material Type Description Quantity
Recycling Glass Glass bottles/jars 9
Recycling Metal Aluminum foil 4
Recycling Metal Metal lids 8
Recycling Paper Mixed paper 22
Recycling Paper Newsprint 1
Recycling Paper Paperboard boxes 5
Recycling Paper Paperboard tubes 1
Recycling Plastic Plastic bottles 11
Recycling Plastic Plastic containers 7
Recycling Plastic Plastic lids 9
Garbage Food Fruit/vegetable remains 11
Garbage Medical Bandages 4
Garbage Paper Paper cups 2
Garbage Paper Soiled paper 8
Garbage Paper Candy wrappers 16
Garbage Plastic Food packing bags 27
Garbage Plastic Plastic straws 2
Other Hazardous Batteries 1
Other Hazardous Lightbulbs 2

You don’t have to be this detailed, but it certainly helps since not all paper and plastic are the same. In my case, garbage and recycling output is pretty even, with most of the garbage being single-use plastic packaging and food waste.

Now you have a pretty good idea of how much waste your household generates during a week. Of course, this doesn’t include items that you discard away from home. If you remember those items, consider adding them to your list for a more accurate audit.

Read part 2 of this series to learn how to make changes based on your home waste audit.

Editor’s note: Earth911 originally published this article on September 12, 2018.



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