Updated: Dec 23, 2019
A waste audit is, in simple terms, just a way to document the quantity of waste someone produces. Waste audits often appear on college campuses or used in reference to large firms trying to document their dedication to the environment. They can also be, however, something individual people or households do to! With the average U.S. citizen producing over 4.5 pounds of waste each day, we have a real trash problem on our hands. Many people acknowledge that something needs to change but also don't know where to start. Without a good idea of what 4.5 pounds of waste really means or what it contains, it's understandable that a lot of people end up doing nothing rather than something. A waste audit though is a great way to change that mindset and motivate people to actually reduce those pounds down to a much more manageable amount.
Understand how much you produce
Even though the average U.S. citizen makes 4.5 pounds of trash a day, that doesn't mean you make that much. As with all averages, some people fall below and some people fall above. In order to truly understand whether or not you are making a difference in your waste production, you need to actually know where you started. If you are a ways above the 4.5 pounds, maybe it's time to kick it into high gear and make some more comprehensive changes to bring that average down. And even if you are below the average already, that doesn't mean you don't have room to improve. By doing a waste audit right at the beginning, you can reliably track change and show the difference you are making.
Understand what you produce
Many zero waste blogs out there (mine included) will provide Top 10 lists of the first things you should get rid of. Although those can be helpful for some, you might find that you are already doing all of the things listed. You might find too that those things aren't what you're really struggling with! In order to make the most meaningful change, you need to know what you are throwing out most often. Maybe it's tea bags, snack packaging, and to-go containers like me when I started out. Or maybe not. If you do a waste audit, you will see exactly what you are throwing away and can switch out the heavy-hitters first.
Make realistic goals
Once you conducted a waste audit and know how frequently your trash bin fills up, you can make realistic goals for it's reduction. If you're making 10 pounds a day right now, maybe shooting for two pounds isn't feasible within the next month. But if you're already at two pounds, challenge yourself to go even farther! There is no set number that people have to hit in order to make a difference - every ounce matters! As I have discussed during previously blog posts, the "zero" in zero waste isn't actually feasible and we need to understand when not everyone can make equal amounts of change. The effects will compound to create a larger impact though as you reduce more and more.
The best way to conduct a waste audit is to just start! You can collect your waste in a bin and then rummage through it. Or you can tally it up with a clipboard and create a graph chart. You can weigh it. You can count it. You can take pictures of it. There is no one way to do a waste audit. The most important thing is to actually do one! So what's in your trash can right now?