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How to Perform a Trash Audit

Zero Waste for Beginners

Last Updated on April 28, 2021

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! 

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:

Step 2 organize by frequency of tally mark:

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. 


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. šŸ™‚ 

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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