How to Perform a Trash Audit

In order to reduce your waste, you have to know what you're throwing away. Know thy enemy is like... rule number one. 

Trash/waste, you are the enemy, and we will vanquish you! 

how to perform a trash audit from www.goingzerowaste.com

So, that might be a tad dramatic, but other than starting with The Big Four and buying less, performing a trash audit is a great step for beginners. 

It's a really simple process, I promise. I'm currently wondering how I'm going to get a full 1,000 word blog post out of it without resorting to more battle analogies, but for your sake - I'll spare you. 

All you need is a couple of minutes, a little commitment, and a clipboard or notebook. 

Step 1 Get to know your trash:

Dump all of your trash out and go through it. For each item you find write it on the clipboard. For each recurring item add a tally mark. Like below:

How to perform a trash audit from www.goingzerowaste.com

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Step 2 organize by frequency of tally mark:

How to performa trash audit from www.goingzerowaste.com

This will give you a nice visual road map on how to reduce your trash. You can figure out where you can make the biggest impact. 

I love it when people just want to dive into zero waste, 100%, right away! But, it's hard. There's a lot of changes that you'll be making, and it's important to avoid burn out because it is IMPOSSIBLE to go zero waste overnight. 

It's impossible to do it in a week or even a month! I STILL have products from my PZW days even three years later. 

Step 3 make some changes:

Now, you can start looking for easy zero waste swaps. Always start with the things you're throwing away most for two reasons.

  1. You'll have make the biggest impact.
  2. You're going to an immediate and noticeable difference. We love instant gratification. 

I'd want to tackle the first five right off the bat. 

PAPER TOWELS: The first thing I would do is start phasing out paper towels for reusable dish towels. Get my six tips for ditching paper towels

FOOD SCRAPS: Then I'd start composting. Composting is one of the best things you can do for the environment! Whether you're in an apartment or have a backyard, there are a lot of options for you to explore.

Before you even get to composting, maybe you can eat those scraps! Check out 8 recipes for using up your food scraps, and my guide to storing your produce without plastic.  

Q-TIPS: You can buy q-tips with paper bases instead of plastic ones and then throw them in your compost! 

JELLO: As far as jello cups go, you could make a big batch of jello from the box. You can recycle or compost the box, and then divide the homemade jello up into individual containers like these*.

Not all schools allow glass in lunch boxes, so a stainless one* might be a good option instead of plastic. 

COFFEE CUPS: Avoiding coffee cups is pretty easy! Check out all my tips in this post about The Big Four

Step 4 repeat: 

Your trash probably changes from week to week. Keep checking in on your trash and recycling to see where you can easily improve. 

Obviously, there will always be some unavoidable trash. The first thing that pops into my mind is medication. 

I get a lot of people emailing me asking how to handle the trash with their medication.... and my answer is always the same. 

YOUR HEALTH COMES FIRST!!! 

I will scream it from the rafters. Do NOT let any other person tell you differently. I've seen some other prominent zero wasters say some scary things....

So, one more time for the people in the back, ***your health always comes first!*** 

The fact of the matter is that we lived in a flawed system. For more information read this post about the true meaning of zero waste. It's so long, it got it's own audio file so you can listen while on the go! 

Don't look at what you can't do, always look at what you CAN do. There's so many things you can do that don't involve medication. And, seriously, if you changed everything in your life except medication, that's freaking amazing!! 

Celebrate! Cause you're awesome. :) 

This post contains affiliate linking. It's denoted with an asterisk. This means if you choose to purchase one of these items I will make a slight commission for referring you. You can read more on my disclosure page

How to Deal with Judgmental Friends and Family

The bottom line is not everyone is going to get why you're living a zero waste lifestyle. People aren't going to understand a lot of things you do.

I freak out over penguins and jam out to musical theatre 24/7... not everyone understands and that's A-OK. 

You're not going to please everyone, you have to do what's best for you. Check out these blog posts on going zero waste when a partner doesn't want to or even dating with lifestyle differences

How to deal with judgmental friends and family members - zero waste edition from www.goingzerowaste.com

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We all have family members in our lives that we don't see eye to eye with. This could be about politics, religion, dietary choices, zero waste, opposing sports teams basically everything that makes Thanksgiving dinner awkward. 

We all have them. 

A reader wrote in this past week, "I'm absolutely loving your blog and first off wanted to say thank you! It's really inspiring and amazing to have tools laid out for how I can cut back on my waste, so thank you for paving the way.

Second - I have a cousin who is very conservative and a couple years ago when I started using a diva cup the topic came up and her response was 'Even if you're not using tampons, tampon companies are going to keep making the same amount, they'll still be there anyway.' 

(Very similar to what she said when I became a vegetarian)

I remember being taken aback and not really sure how to respond. I guess my question is, do you have any advice on how to talk to people so deeply entrenched in this mindset, and I wonder about this too. 

Even if I'm doing my part, will these companies continue to produce the same amount regardless?" 

When talking to friends and family members you have to remember *insert any lifestyle difference* is your choice and your choice alone. 

It's important to know your why and bring it back to a very, very personal reason. If you do something for someone or something else, for example, you're going zero waste for the earth or for the animals, you're coming off holier than thou in their eyes. 

You are better than them because you're selfless and their inaction is selfish. 

In order to break that first barrier, you have to make it about you. Make it selfish. I went zero waste for my health. I went zero waste to save money for myself. 

Another example would be biking to work to reduce emissions for the environment vs. biking to work to improve your overall well-being. 


"make it selfish"


Do you see the difference?

People are much less likely to put up a stink if you're being "selfish" or doing something for your own health. 

I'm not saying it's logical, it's just an easy way to level the field when it comes to talking to people that are difficult to talk to. 

Other key points for pleasant gatherings is to avoid these topics and focus on the things you do have in common. Most of the time we can be polite for one afternoon. 

As far as whether or not one person will make a difference, I can't help but think of this quote from Margaret Mead. "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." 

How to deal with judgmental friends and family zero waste edition from www.goingzerowaste.com

You can really make your cousin angry when you whip this quote out - selfless and self-righteous all at the same time. 

But, to get to the bottom of the question will one person make a difference. Will just your actions make a difference.... in the grand scheme of things will the actions of one person make a difference?

No, probably not, but it's not just about your physical actions. It's about awareness. 

Your actions inspire others. Their actions inspire even more people, and before you know it there are hundreds and thousands of people who can change the world because of the awareness through your actions. 

Family dinner at a local restaurant in Texas. Kathryn (KK) and conservative cousin (CC), in a particularly cynical mood) meet after several years.

SC 1. 

CC: Even if you're not using tampons, tampon companies are going to keep making the same amount, they'll still be there anyway

KK: Have you heard of supply in demand? It's a very simple principle, where demand goes down and things have to change. They have to start disclosing their ingredients, move to safer product, or change up their packaging.

Plus, I'm not the only one moving away from Tampons, lots of people are. But, even if I was the only person, it really doesn't matter because it's better for my health, and I'm saving a ton of money with my diva cup. 

SC 2. 

CC: Even if you're not using tampons, tampon companies are going to keep making the same amount, they'll still be there anyway

KK: Good thing I'm not the only one moving away from tampons. (Breaks out into Safety in Numbers from The Boyfriend) 

I just had to bring it back to the musical theatre thing. 

After both of those interactions, my next step would be to disengage and talk to someone else. 

It's also important to remember a couple things: 

  1. You ARE awesome!
  2. You ARE making a difference
  3. You aren't alone; you have a lot of people who support you (me!!) 

And, to leave you with this... is it ever a bad idea to make the world a better place? 

 Joel Pett cartoon for USA Toda

Joel Pett cartoon for USA Toda

How to Recycle Metals the Right Way!

Recycling should be a last resort. If you've been reading my blog for a while, you'll know it's a recurring theme. 

Before we get to recycling, we should first reduce and reuse. These R's are often forgotten because they're not actionable. How can you quantify reducing and reusing? How can you see the fruits of your labor? 

How to recycle metals the right way! from www.goingzerowaste.com

Recycling is easy because it is so actionable. It's easy to recycle because it's tangible and we humans love to see physical, instant progress. We're not so keen on abstract ideas like reduce and reuse.

Nonetheless, recycling is still an important part of the process. Like we talked about a couple of weeks ago. China put a ban on our paper and plastic imports with a contamination rate over 1% at the beginning of 2018. 

Metal is is the most valuable of all the recyclable materials. Unfortunately, metal is up on the chopping block next. I'm not telling you this so that you stop recycling. I'm telling you this so you can recycle better! 

We haven't been the most diligent recyclers (hence, the ban), so I'm hoping that through this new series we can recycle better and learn to depend on recycling less. 

aluminum cans:

Aluminum cans are the most valuable and recyclable thing in your bin. It's light like plastic creating less emission when distributed, and unlike plastic, aluminum is infinitely recyclable without any loss of quality. 

An aluminum can, can go from the curbside bin to the store shelf in as little as 60 days. 

Aluminum cans typically contain drinks, so after you've finished your drink tap out the excess moisture, and they're good to be placed in your curbside bin. The cans don't need to be crushed. 

aluminum foil: 

Aluminum foil is reusable! If you have it, use it until it starts to flake and fall apart. And, don't forget about any aluminum pie tins or baking dishes. 

Wash any food scraps off of the foil and let it dry. Once it's dry, ball the aluminum foil up until it's a ball at least 2" in diameter. If it's any smaller, it can get lost and wind up in the landfill. 

Common items you might not think of with aluminum foil include:

  • butter wrappers like Kerrygold
  • chocolate wrappers inside of bars or chocolate bunnies or eggs etc.

pop tabs: 

With aluminum cans come pop tabs which weren't originally attached to the can. You'd pop open the can and then discard (often litter) the pop top separately. 

The tabs are aluminum, and too small to be incorporated into the recycling process, and even though they're attached to our cans in modern times. Certain charities still accept them as donations. 

You can send your tabs to the Ronald McDonald House where they handle the recycling for you, and the money they get from recycling goes to house families. 

steel cans:

90% of all the cans in the super market are made from steel. Things like canned tomatoes, a can of chickpeas, or a can of coconut milk are all steel. 

You don't have to remove the paper label from your steel can before recycling. When the cans are recycled they are subjected to very, very high temps that burn the labels off.

You can test whether or not your can is steel by using a magnet. Steel is magnetic; aluminum is not. 

When recycling plants sort metals they do it with magnets. The magnet will pick up the steel, and the aluminum will be left behind. 

As far as cans go, you need to rinse them before putting them in the recycle bin. You don't want to leave food particles in the can as it can contaminate the bale. 

steel can lids:

Steel can lids are recyclable, but if you don't have a smooth edge can opener*, you shouldn't throw them in the bin. 

Most recycling is still sorted by hand. Before you put anything in the bin you should ask yourself, would I feel safe just grabbing this? If the answer is no, you have to find another way. 

You have two options, you can take it to a transfer station for separate recycling or you can shove the lid down inside of the steel can and crimp the opening ensuring that the lid won't escape. 

bottle caps:

Bottle caps for beer or sodas that come in glass jars can be metal or aluminum. You'll have to test it by using a magnet, and separate the steel caps from the aluminum caps.

You'll want to store steel caps inside of a steel can and aluminum caps inside of an aluminum one. 

Fill the can half way full with the caps, and then place the lid of the can on top of the caps. Then crimp the opening of the can ensuring the caps and lid can't escape. You can now recycle this in your curbside bin. 

lids from glass bottles:

Lids on glass bottles, like pasta sauce or tahini, are often made from steel. You can unscrew those from the glass bottles, and place them in the recycle bin. The lids are large enough they aren't going to be lost.

Typically those lids are lined with a very thin layer of plastic. Because of the high-temps used to recycle metal, it's burned off. (Another reason why recycling shouldn't be the first line of defense.)

razor blades:

One of my favorite zero waste swaps has been a safety razor, but when you have a safety razor... what do you do with all the blades?

You'll need to take razor blades to a transfer station that handles metal recycling with machines only. 

If you're in Northern California, I go to the Concord Recycling Center. Get a steel can that contains broth only. Cut a slot in the top of the can big enough for a blade to slip through, and pour the broth out. Rinse with water and leave the can to dry for a day or two. 

Obviously, there's no way of completely guaranteeing it to be dry, but that's alright. Drop you used blades into the slot. Once it's full put a piece of tape over the slot and take it to your nearest metal recycling facility. 

other metal scraps: 

For other metal scraps, I recommend going to your transfer station or giving your local waste management plant a call. 


These are the most common practices across the US, but every recycling facility accepts different materials. It's always best to go online to your waste management companies website or give them a call! 

Up next in this series, I will be covering paper and plastic. Let me know if there are any others that you'd like to see.