zero waste zero waste challenge

Closer to zero waste: what is a trash audit?

What is a trash audit- - Green Indy Blog

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Day two of my week of zero waste challenges is all about getting down and dirty! Yup, I’m talking about digging into your trash can and finding out what’s really going on there with a trash audit.

It can be a pretty gross undertaking, but honestly: what can motivate you to reduce your waste production than the prospect of digging through it a second time?

What is a trash audit?

A trash audit is essentially a study of what kind of trash you make. This is obviously incredibly helpful for someone interested in the zero waste movement, as it sheds light on problem areas. Honestly, I think a lot of people will be shocked at the amount of trash they create absolutely unconsciously every day.

Once you get a full view of what you’re actually tossing, it’ll be far easier to pinpoint effective lifestyle changes to make in order to reduce waste.

What’s the procedure?

Now that you can answer the questions ‘what is a trash audit?’ you can get started – just start digging through your trash.

Wait… you wanted more direction than that? Oh, fine – here you go:

  1. Choose a length of time. I would suggest a week, but even a day of trash could be pretty eye-opening. You could even just hop right into the trash bag you’re using right now with a vague idea of when you last took out the trash.
  2. Choose the way you’re going to analyze your trash. Decide on a couple of general guidelines before you begin. Will you note every piece of trash as it goes into the bin or do one larger tally at the end of the day/week? Will you list specifics or just general groups of items?
  3. Weigh your trash – if you want. I can tell by volume/visually whether I’m making more or less trash than normal. Weighing is a cool extra step, though, if you’re curious to see what percentages are plastic/food waste/metal, etc.

Once you’ve decided all that, it’s time to get into the good stuff: how to make your next trash day even smaller! Seeing real zero waste-ier results will happen quick!

Zero waste: what is a trash audit?

My results:

To be honest, I was pleasantly surprised with the results! A bit of background about my situation:

Where I live: I live in a small one-bedroom apartment (no recycling facilities) with a non zero waste husband and a cat. My husband has been pretty good about helping me transition but still purchases several items per week packaged (mostly meat). I have a small compost bucket that I’ve been filling for about 2 months that’s about 2/3 full so there’s no food waste in my trash can (AKA it’s not that gross!).

Recycling options: since I take my recycling to a drop-off site here in Indianapolis, I’ve got a pretty amazing range of options, recycling-wise. According to the Indianapolis city website:

The drop-off sites accept all colors of glass, No. 1 – No. 7 plastic containers (except Styrofoam), aluminum, tin, steel beverage and food cans, newspapers, magazines and plastic bags (grocery sto​re style).

NB: Those drop off locations do not accept cardboard. A list of locations accepting cardboard can be found here.

So what did I find?

Green Indy Blog Trash Audit

Glass: alcohol is our biggest culprit here (aside from my husband’s penchant for pickles) but we’ve honestly saved up so many bottles we don’t have a reason to save more of them. Luckily, these are recyclable.

Metal: one of our biggest weaknesses is soda – something we’re desperately trying to cut down on. We got a 12-pack of cans a few weeks ago so that makes up most of this number. I also got a pack of sparkling water when I wasn’t feeling well which is not a normal purchase. Both came packaged in cardboard, so luckily no plastic! We also had a few odd cans of veggies that we got on sale when money was really tight. All of this will be recycled.

Paper: cardboard packaging from Amazon made up the bulk of my paper material, but we’ll likely reuse those for shipping. We also had an egg carton and several packages from items that were rescued from being tossed at our work so I don’t feel too bad about that. All of it will be recycled.

Plastic: the hummus, seltzer, bread, and ziploc bag were all saved from being thrown away unused, so I feel pretty OK with that. The milk is from a local farm but still in plastic. This will all be recycled.

Dumpster: quite a lot of small items so, while there was more than I would like to admit, the relative mass of stuff headed to the dumpster was pretty small. We are definitely searching for a better way to dispose of cat litter – and can definitely cut out the takeout wrapper – but I foresee the ramen packaging staying. The cups with paints/chemicals will also stay as it’s part of my husband’s freelance art.

Overall? I give myself a B on this trash audit. There are a few areas that we can definitely work on, but I’m really proud at how far we’ve come. I’m also happy that a lot of our waste comes from items that would have been thrown away without every getting used!


Have you ever done a trash audit? Would you consider doing one now you’ve seen how it works?

10 thoughts on “Closer to zero waste: what is a trash audit?”

  1. Maybe for alcohol you could switch to refillable growlers (or howlers, half growlers?). We’ve been stuck on this one too because often we can’t finish a whole growler ourselves… but a howler over dinner for two seems doable. We’ve also contemplated forgoing beer at home and just going out to a bar with taps when we want a drink. (Maybe even filling a water bottle there for home, if that’s legal?). Anyway, no pressure at all to make a switch there, just a few of the options I’ve been mulling over myself in that arena 🙂

    1. I have a couple growlers that we use on occasion but my husband and I really don’t do beer. Ash & Elm has great cider but again, I only want cider so often. We’re liquor people so it’s been a struggle to find options! I feel like a solution must exist, but IN is still incredibly backwards re: liquor laws, so maybe not?

  2. I use cat litter that is compostable and I mix it with small animals pine shavings. We also have compostable bags that the cat box cleanings go into…doesnt smell great but it has been working and breaking down. I did an experiment, bought a bag of animal bag compostables, and compostable bag liners – they both worked well though bag liner broke down much faster! Like if it was fresh litterbox, while I was filling the bag 🙁

    1. I was looking into that but right now my compost is going toward an edible garden. Once we purchase a house (within the next few months), I may want to pick your brain about all this because I’m super interested!

  3. So, my understanding has been that the boxes like Coke comes in, or the Poptart box you have listed are actually paperboard, and not cardboard. I drop my recycling off at the Broad Ripple park location, and they don’t accept paperboard items there, to my knowledge. I’ve just been throwing them over for over a year now, unfortunately. Do you take yours to a place in Indy that accepts paperboard?

  4. I’ve been auditing my trash every once in a while for years. Usually I just look in the trash before it leaves the house and figure out what i have most of, and then try to find a way of avoiding that trash. Food packaging makes up most of the last of our family’s trash today, and plastic food bags are not recyclable here, so that is my focus this month.

    Here we have a great curbside recycling program, but unfortunately we are an hour away from any grocery that sells bulk! Even the natural food store in our town divvies up their bulk foods into pre-measured plastic bags for their convenience! We’ve tried talking to the owner about that, but she’s nuts.

    So for anyone else who does not have a bulk store near, there are still a few things we can do to reduce waste. I love snacking on dried fruit instead of sweets, but i was buying them in prepackaged bags, as they usually come. I invested in a food dehydrator and find it very easy to use! Now i can buy fruit (and vegetables) package free, local, and in season, and dehydrate my snacks and store fridge free for the year. I’m also exploring my area for larger units of rice, oats, and flour. After all, when we buy package free at a store, the store still got the item in a package. Fewer packages means less waste and sometimes larger bags means biodegradable paper or cloth sacks.

    Thank you for your challenge! I’m learning lots from you and others.

    1. So many good ideas in this comment, thanks so much for sharing Holly! I love the idea of buying in bulk (ie. larger packaging) because it’s a great alternative to not having any true bulk options.

      A huge congrats on working toward zero waste in a difficult situation and I look forward to any more information/tips you come up with along your journey!

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