Conducting a Family Waste audit

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Every day half a tonne of municipal solid waste is deposited into land fill for every single Australian. This is a problem not only because we are running out of landfill sites and it is a shocking waste of finite resources but also as it degrades the waste releases large amounts of greenhouse gases. To begin to reduce this waste and live more sustainably each of us must take responsibility for the waste we generate. To be able do that we need to have an appreciation for types and amounts of waste we generate, hence the idea of a waste audit. A waste audit is a close look at the type and amount of waste produced by your household on a weekly, monthly or yearly basis.

Cardboard boxes can make a solar oven

To conduct your waste audit, every week for a month or so before you put your waste out for collection (recyclable and non-recyclable) get hold of a large plastic groundsheet or shower curtain and spread it out on your lawn or other open area where you have a bit of space. Put on a pair of thick rubber gloves and separate the solid waste into categories, below are some suggested categories you may wish to use –


  • Paper e.g. Newspapers, magazines, corrugated cardboard cartons, cardboard food boxes, paper bags, catalogues, papier-mâché packaging, office paper, egg cartons; paper plates (non coated)
  • Glass e.g. Glass food and drink jars and bottles, green brown and clear glass
  • Metals e.g. Steel food tins, aerosol cans; Aluminium drink cans
  • Compostable Food Waste e.g. Fruit and veggie peelings; citrus skins; other kitchen waste; bread, cereal
  • Non-Compostable Food Waste e.g.  Fish, meat, bones, cooking oil; fatty wastes
  • Other Compostables e.g. Tissues and paper towel; lawn clippings; leaves, tree shreddings; shredded clothing (natural fibre), sisal bags; tea leaves/bags;
  • Plastics (Category 1 & 2) Soft drink and water bottles; milk bottles, detergent bottles, juice bottles, butter tubs, and shampoo and toiletry bottles

Non- Recyclables

  • Plastic (other Categories) e.g. Polystyrene foam; uncategorised plastic food packaging, plastic grocery bags; disposable nappies; poison bottles; syringes; plastic plates; bread bags
  • Paper/Cardboard e.g. Waxed cardboard; foil or plastic coated paper or cardboard; frozen food boxes
  • Glass e.g. Mirrors, window glass, ceramics; poison bottles; light bulbs; cookware
  • Clothing with Synthetic fibres;
  • Big stuff e.g. Carpeting, underfelt, treated or contaminated timber; insulation
  • Metals e.g. Aluminium foil; aluminium trays; cookware
  • E-Waste e.g. TVs, computer, monitors, printers (unless at a specialised E-waste collection/drop off point)
  • Hazardous Waste eg Pesticides, weedicides, paints, fuels and oils, battery acid, caustic soda, fertiliser; chemical cleaners

Using kitchen scales for the smaller amounts and bathroom scales for any large amount weigh each category and enter the weight into the “week 1” column on the waste audit form. Repeat this process as often as you are game, but try giving it a go for a month then add up the weekly lines to give you a monthly total. If you are of a mind, you can also multiply the monthly total by 12 to understand how much solid waste you family contributes to the environment in a year.

Plastic buckets can be repurposed to make a Bokashi Bin

Obviously if you have kerbside collection of recycling and/or green waste you are ahead of the game, but even these services come at an environmental cost with the resource depletion and greenhouse gas emission due to the fuel and electricity consumed to collect and process this recyclable waste.
In any case you will be in a better position now to understand your impact on the environment.

However, this is not the end of the story, because the goal of all of this work is to get you to modify you behaviours and reduce the amount of waste which you and your family produce. One way to help you do that is to use the hierarchy of waste i.e. the action at the top is the most desired, but if you can do that you move to the one below and so on.

The Hierarchy of waste (The 5 R’s)

1. Refuse – refuse to buy shoddy products that break easily and opt for better quality products, refuse to buy food and other products that are over packaged and/or packaged in non-recyclable materials. Refuse plastic carrier bags.

2. Reduce – reduce packaging waste by buying items in larger packages or bulk, or where possible provide you own recycled packaging, buy the product with the least amount of packaging, home produce your own food, cleaning products and other materials to reduce waste.

3. Reuse – donate superfluous items to charity; use empty glass food jars to hold homemade preserves; turn two empty 5 litre washing detergent buckets into a self watering plant pot. Think about reusing waste (grey) water in this space too.

4. Recycle (including composting) This is the removal of your recyclable waste at the kerbside which is then treated off site. The most important blow you can strike for recycling where you live is to start composting, a worm farm, a bokashi bin, or all three!

5. Remove – When you have worked through the hierarchy of waste with all of you waste materials, this is the residual waste you have left over where there is no option (currently) but to send it to landfill.

Action Planning

Now that you know what sort of waste you are generating and the amounts, you can make a judgement on what sort of waste you will make a priority to reduce. A good start might be the category with the largest weight of the one you would find easiest to reduce. It is probably best to start out working towards reducing your families’ waste output in only one or two categories, three at the most. You don’t want to take on too much then get overworked, start out slow and build on your successes; this is a long term project.

Write down the category at the top of the action chart and then use the waste hierarchy to work out what strategies you wish to use to reduce the amount of your target category(ies) then write them down in the space next to the appropriate part of the hierarchy. You could allocate family members to one or more of the projects and even a completion date if you want to be that organised.

Once your waste reduction project is in full swing, wait for 6 to 12 months then conduct another waste audit and see how much you’ve improved.

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