How to Conduct a Waste Audit at Home

It has been more than six months since the pandemic seemed to take over all of our lives. Many of us have lost all sense of time and forgot the last time we went to a concert or was able to give a hug to a loved one or shake someone’s hand. The pandemic resulted in the rise of new habits and behaviors; this includes wearing face masks or cloth coverings over our noses and mouths, carrying a portable hand sanitizer bottle in our bags, learning to wait on lines to exercise physical distancing from others, among other things.

Additionally, there has been a rise of plastic bag usage since the bag ban in New York was put on hold for many months, only recently getting enforced in late October, along with the use of disposable single-use items such as masks and gloves, and takeout containers. (Fun fact: over 100 health experts came together to publish a statement addressing the safety of reusables during COVID-19. And spoiler alert: they said that reusables are safe to use as long as basic hygiene procedures are followed!)

Another trend we’ve noticed is the increase in consumption habits at home - this can be in the form of ordering packages and groceries (we won’t shame anyone for retail therapy!), or choosing to spend more time in the kitchen and preparing more meals at home. You might have found that you are throwing away a lot more than you had intended prior to the pandemic. So what can you do?

Conduct a home waste audit and get your household members involved

Once an item enters a trash bag, it is as if it has entered an abyss and is forever forgotten! It is easy to ignore what you are throwing away if you do not have to see it. Consider conducting a waste audit to take a hard look at what you are asking your sanitation workers to collect each week.

If you can, set up your waste system into four categories before you begin your audit: regular trash, curbside recyclables, non-curbside recyclables, and organics. If you don’t have a system in place yet and everything is in one receptacle, not to worry! You can still conduct a successful waste audit with these steps:

  1. Decide on your timeline for when you want to conduct your audit. Depending on your household and how much waste you produce, you might want to conduct one after one week, or after two weeks, for example.
  2. We recommend you use a large tarp or cut a large garbage bag and lay it flat (this is where you will dump and organize your waste).
  3. You can start small by taking on the trash bag from your kitchen. If you are feeling up to it, you can work on other rooms’ trash bags as well. If your trash has not been pre-sorted prior to you beginning the audit, separate the “waste” into four primary categories: regular trash (for landfill/incineration), recyclables at the curb (that can be sorted in the blue or green bin), recyclables that need to be dropped off at special locations (like electronics, plastic bags), and organic materials (this can be composted).
  4. Create an “inventory” of your waste and organize by category.

Once you have sorted your waste, what’s next?

Evaluate what you have. Are there items in packaging that you could potentially purchase in bulk or package-free next time? Are there items that you were going to throw in the trash that could actually be recycled? Are there food scraps that can be composted instead? If you live in NYC, you can check this list of food scrap drop-off sites that are open during COVID-19.

If you want to take your waste audit an extra step, there are many free tools online to calculate your carbon footprint. Here’s one example that you might want to try out.

We’d love to hear from you and see how you have taken on the waste audit in your home! Leave a comment at the bottom of the page and let us know what kind of waste has been generated and where you can see yourself diverting from landfill and incineration.

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