Reduce your personal waste with a 'trash audit'

Waist up portrait of shocked caucasian woman screaming with hands near her face while working at the waste recycling plant
Photo credit Getty Images

It's time to take out the trash.

Kathryn Kellogg is the author of the book, "101 Ways to Go Zero Waste," where she breaks down the desire for eco-friendly, sustainable living into an approachable step-by-step process.

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Alongside her book, you can visit her website, Going Zero Waste, where she focuses on the idea of conducting a “trash audit” – a structured way for you to approach the garbage in your life and reduce your waste.

Kellogg – who is also a spokesperson for plastic-free living for National Geographic, Chief Sustainability Officer at the One Movement and an actor when she’s not saving the planet – starts with the clear thesis: “In order to reduce your waste, you have to know what you’re throwing away."

Reducing your waste is so simple that Kellogg humorously admits: “I’m currently wondering how I’m going to get a full 1,000 word blog post out of it.”

The only supplies you’ll need is commitment and a clipboard. And yes, you are going to need to root through your own garbage.

Step 1: 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.

While it doesn’t sound pleasant, it is an exercise that will give you direct knowledge about your most frequent waste. It will, as Kellogg says, give you “a nice visual road map on how to reduce your trash. You can figure out where you can make the biggest impact.”

Step 2: Organize by frequency of tally marks.

It is impossible to go to zero waste in one day. But with this tally system, you can get an idea of where you need to make changes to reduce your personal waste.

Step 3: Make some changes.

In order to make a change, start with the things you're throwing away the most because it'll have the biggest impact and you'll see an immediate and noticeable difference.

Step 4: Repeat.

While you may have a lot of recurring trash, of course items will change from week to week. So stay proactive and keep checking in on your trash and recycling with this audit system to see where improvement is possible.

You’re not going to save the melting ice caps by dumping over your kitchen trash basket, but it is a workable, satisfying, and personal start.

As Kellogg says, “Don’t look at what you can’t do, always look at what you can do.”

For more ideas on how you can save the planet, visit 1Thing.

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