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Conduct a Home Waste Audit

About this Project

You, the Consumer: The Behind-the-Scenes Story

The first step towards making positive environmental changes is to first understand what you are currently contributing to the waste stream.  Create a baseline – a one-week snapshot of what you consume, what you throw away, and what gets recycled.

A Home Waste Audit is where you collect and sort all your waste before putting it out for collection.  After a set period of time, you look through what you have collected and try to identify patterns, areas for improvement, and maybe some cost savings ideas. How can you know where you need to make changes if you don’t truly understand your actions and consumption?


Make Your Home Waste Audit Plan

Choose a week where there are no special events or activities.  Things that could skew your results include, holidays, family trips, or missing/extra people in your home.  Your audit should start on trash collection day, and ideally end a week later, right before the next trash collection day.

You’ll need to determine how you will sort your trash and waste.  Here are some suggestions:

  • Lay out a tarp on the ground and sort all trash and recyclables into categories on the tarp. This works well if you have a garage or spare room with tile or hardwood floors.
  • Use multiple trash cans or bins with labels on them. Examples include “Food waste” “Glass” “Plastic” “Paper” “Wrappers” “Miscellaneous”.  At the end of the week, look through each bin.
  • Each person keeps a log of their waste. If you don’t have space for the first two options, you could give each member of your family a print or digital log to help them keep track.  Everything they put in a trash or recycling bin has to be documented.  A fun idea is for everyone to take pictures of all their waste, and then you’ll flip through the images at the end of the week.

Perform Your Audit!

It’s important that everyone in your household is a part of the audit, and you collect your trash, including when you are out of the house.  An idea is to bring a sturdy, large sandwich bag to collect your trash while at work or school.


The audit is a chance for you to understand the type of waste you produce.  When looking through your trash, try to answer these questions:

  • How many of the items could be recycled? How much goes into the trash?
  • Is there anything that surprises you about what you collected? (maybe you have a lot of excess mail or you have a large pile of food wrapping)
  • What items could have been used longer or replaced with items that last longer?
  • What items are necessary and what could be replaced with another environmentally friendly option? Did you really need to buy/use that “thing”?
  • Besides recycling, what options do you have for disposal rather than it going in the trash can? (Can you start composting?  Are there any items that should have gone to the Transfer Station for recycling?)
  • How much of your waste is from packaging? Are there alternatives?

Information is power, and now that you know all about your trash, recycling, and consumption, what can you do to change your behavior and help the environment?

Watch the Story of Stuff

Complete your audit by watching “The Story of Stuff” with your family.

You’re surrounded by stuff — in your home, your car, your office, everywhere — but do you understand where it comes from and where it goes?  You’ll be shocked, entertained and inspired by The Story of Stuff and other short films that give the unvarnished story of what our consumption means to ourselves and our planet.  Sit down with some popcorn and be amazed at what you see.  You’ll never look at your stuff the same way again.

There are other films in the Story of Stuff series:


Along with understanding what you consume and the waste you generate, you will likely find opportunities for cost savings.  Items you can buy in bulk, or cut out entirely.  Less waste goes into the trash, and more money in your pocket!

Photo Credit: stefanolunardi, Shutterstock

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