Nothing ever truly gets thrown away. It has become a daily habit of putting unwanted items into the bin, taking it to the curb, and never seeing it again. But it doesn’t go away.

Items destined for landfill slowly degrade in the environment, polluting ecosystems that we depend upon for food, water, and fresh air. Organic waste in landfill decomposes in an oxygen-deprived environment, generating greenhouse gases and contributing to climate change.

To combat this and be more conscious of what we’re sending to landfill, a waste audit can help. Knowing what’s in your bin means knowing how you can reduce it or dispose of it in a more sustainable way.

You can conduct a waste audit one of two ways: empty out rubbish that’s already in the bin, or log what you’re about to put in the bin. Consider the below points to decide which method to choose:

  • Where do you live? Can your rubbish be emptied on a tarpaulin in your garden? Do you not have a garden in a block of units? Will it fly away in your windy suburb?
  • Can you ensure your safety and hygiene if you sort rubbish by hand – can you provide protective clothing, sturdy gloves, eyewear and a wash-up afterwards?
  • At what time interval do you want to audit your waste? Do you want to keep a daily log, or do it at the end of the week?
  • How many categories will you sort your rubbish into, and how much detail will you record? Recording too much detail before throwing away each item may take too long and deter recording at all.

Before the audit, create a spreadsheet with each category. We recommend the following categories: recyclable, landfill, compostable, reusable, refundable containers, re-purposable, and avoidable. You can add more or configure the categories differently (e.g. “avoidable” may be a sub-category under each main one). You can also note which bin the items came from (e.g. if there are only recyclable items in your recycling, and no contamination, you don’t need to improve this).

Action the audit. Get everyone in the household involved – if they do it right the first time, they may not need to do it again!

At the end, calculate the total amounts of waste in each category. Then analyse your results. Start with the category that you can redirect or eliminate the easiest to keep it out of landfill. This “low-hanging fruit” will empower you to keep making changes to your waste. 

Next, consider if there’s items that you can avoid purchasing? Is there packaging you could avoid by buying bulk in a reusable container? Do you need bottled water if you can fill up at the tap?

Then, is there waste you generate that isn’t waste at all? Are there items that can be reused or repurposed? Food scraps and leftovers can be used in future dishes, saved to make stock, given to chickens, or composted.

Finally, is all the waste that needs to be generated going to the right place? Can you separate eligible containers for refund? Are recyclables going to landfill?

Sometimes, household members need help knowing which bin to use. The Sustainability Office recommends placing posters right next to the bin, which have minimal text and clear visuals, see here for examples

You’ve finished your waste audit, yay! We recommend conducting another audit a few months later to see what improvements you’ve made and what you can keep making in the future.

Thank you to the following resources: