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How to Perform a Trash Audit

Zero Waste for Beginners

Last Updated on February 13, 2023

A regular trash audit is key to going zero waste. After all, how can you minimize waste if you don’t know what you’re throwing away? Know thy enemy is like… rule number one. 

A waste audit is exactly what it sounds like: taking note of every item you throw away over a period of time. This is one of my favorite solutions to waste management, because it’s truly eye opening to see just how much trash you’re actually producing. If you want to learn how to reduce waste, I highly suggest an audit of your waste production to get you on the right track. 

A photo of a red trash bin with the text 'how to perform a trash audit' depicting an article that details how to minimize waste

the importance of a trash audit

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

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.

All you need is a couple of minutes, a little commitment, and a clipboard or notebook to conduct your waste audit.

the problem with many solutions to waste management

If you don’t know what you’re throwing away, it will be difficult to figure out where you can improve and reduce your waste. Many solutions to waste management revolve around zero waste product swaps and buying less, but you can’t fix your areas of weakness if you don’t know what they are.

For instance, say you realize you’re throwing away 56 paper towels every week because you use them to clean up every spill, to clean your bathrooms and kitchens, to blow your nose, and to dust. You now know that a great place to start is how to break up with paper towels.

why you’ll love conducting a waste audit

  • It’s not as gross as it sounds! You won’t need to dig around in your trash if you don’t want to.
  • It’s eye opening for many to actually see how much waste they’re producing.
  • It gives you the groundwork you need to minimize waste in your household.

how to reduce waste

step 1: get to know your trash

I recommend starting at the beginning of the week and making note of every time you throw something away (see below). Every time you reach for the trash can to throw something away, write it on the clipboard. For each recurring item add a tally mark.

It’s optional, but to audit your counts, I recommend dumping all of your trash out and going through it to make sure you didn’t miss anything.

an audit example showing how to reduce waste by cataloging what you throw away

step 2: organize by frequency of tally mark:

This will give you a nice visual road map on how to reduce waste in your life. 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 are a lot of changes that you’ll be making, and it’s important to avoid burnout 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. 

An example of a waste audit showing one of the best solutions to waste management

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.

  • You’ll make the biggest impact.
  • 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, 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, 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 to minimize waste

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. It is unfortunately the world we live in. If you conduct regular trash audits, you’ll find you produce less and less waste each time you address items on your list.


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


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!*** 

And, seriously, if you changed everything in your life except medication, that’s freaking amazing!! 

what if i can’t reduce all my trash?

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

My advice is: don’t look at what you can’t do, always look at what you CAN do. Small steps make a big difference and beating yourself up about imperfection isn’t helping anything.

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

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