At Lil Helper we are eager to learn more about how to empower waste free families! So when we saw Sandy from Rugs by Roo, a fellow Canadian business owner, was doing a trash audit and zero waste challenge, we had to invite her to share her experience. Ready to make some more eco-friendly changes? Read on for how checking what’s in your trash can help you make small changes that add up!
In a world where surface sanitization has become a full-time job, you might feel utterly disgusted about the idea of digging through your trash bin. Today, I invite you to consider a different narrative. Consider how much insight you might gain about your family’s buying habits and how much trash you can potentially divert away from landfill by simply stopping, noticing and doing a bit of research. I was able to divert 80% of our trash to compost and recycling. I did this by simply recognizing what they were and reallocating them into the appropriate bins. It was low effort and some swaps even saved me money in the long run. If this sounds intriguing to you, then let me walk you through how I did it.
Why Did I Dig Through My Trash?
Back in April, to celebrate Earth Month, I decided to do a 30 day Zero Waste Challenge with my family. For someone who has never done one before, Google was the obvious first step. When I Googled “how to do a zero waste challenge”, it brought me to an article written by Kathryn Kellogg called “31 Day Zero Waste Challenge”. She shares an extremely comprehensive guide on 31 things you can do each day to achieve this. When I fast-forwarded to the 31st day of the challenge, the words “do a trash audit” were listed. Kathryn explains that if you do not know what you’re throwing away, then how are you supposed to know how to reduce it? This made complete sense and so I decided to take this on.
How To Do A Trash Audit?
Kathryn breaks it down into a 4 step process, which you can find here. It essentially boils down to four easy steps:
Step 1: Make a list of the items in your trash bin
Step 2: Tally the items to see what items appear most often
Step 3: Sort, eliminate or swap out items on the list
Step 4: Repeat process every couple of months
What Did I Find In My Trash Bin?
Instead of waiting until the last day of the challenge to do the trash audit, I decided to do it on Day 8. I knew it was gonna take a couple of audits before we can completely eliminate everything in our trash. We did a second trash audit on Day 28 of the challenge.
Here are the items that we found in both audits:
Trash Audit 1:
- Q Tips
- Lint from our dryer machine
- Dust collected from our vacuum cleaner
- A pair of old socks
- Hair from our hair brushes
Trash Audit 2
- Lint brush roller sheets
- Chewed up plastic toy
- Butter wrapper
- Fruit tray liner
- Broken ceramic bowl
Since there weren’t that many items on our list, I decided to tackle every single one of them. If you find that your list has a lot more items than mine, Kathryn recommends just focusing on the most frequent ones for now to avoid burnout.
With each item, again I turned to Google to help me figure out what to do with them. I was surprised by what I did not know. Many of them required nothing more than a simple reallocation to the compost bin.
Steps 1 to Waste Free: Sort
In the sort pile were Q Tips, lint from our dryer machine, dust collected from our vacuum cleaner and hair. Our Q Tips were the paper-based kind and therefore, it was simply a matter of throwing them in our compost bin instead of trash. Easy! The same goes for the hair from our hair brushes.
I also learned from Kathryn’s blog that lint from our dryer machine can go in compost if our apparel is made of a natural fiber such as cotton. This is pretty eye opening because lint from our dryer is perhaps one of the most frequent items we have in our trash bin. With this knowledge, it is really making me reconsider the material of clothing that we put on our bodies.
My kids wear mostly hand-me downs from their cousins and I never really paid attention to the content label. As I went through their wardrobe, I realized that there was a good mix of cotton and polyester clothes in their wardrobe. Knowing what I know now, I will probably keep their cotton apparel and consider donating some, if not all, of their polyester apparel. Not only does this mean that our dryer lint can then go in compost, cotton is also healthier for my kids’ skin so it makes complete sense to make the switch.
Of course, there are some apparel items where polyester is unavoidable such as jackets and fleeces. In those cases, we would have to ensure that we wash those separately so that the lint can be treated differently.
As for the dust collected from our vacuum cleaner, I recognize that most of it is dog fur and wool fibers from our wool rug in our living room. Kathryn’s blog mentions that this can go in the compost bin too. Note that you won’t want to compost it if you have synthetic rugs in your home.
Step 2 to Waste Free: Swap
Next, I moved on to items that can be swapped out for a more eco friendly option. Easy swaps were the lint brush roller sheets, butter wrappers, fruit tray liners and old socks.
There are reusable lint brush rollers that do not generate any waste other than the lint that is collected. I will be switching to one of those once we are finished with the set that we have.
For the butter wrappers, I reached out on social media for alternative suggestions. We found a few butter brands that are sold in glass jars. I will be seeking those out on our next butter run. As for the fruit tray liners, these mostly come from buying raspberries at Costco. We will be switching to strawberries and blueberries for now as those do not have liners. On the occasion where we want to eat raspberries, I will consider getting them from the frozen aisle or a farmers market where they are usually sold in paper cartons.
As for the old sock, it is made of polyester material and it will be going in the trash bin. This has made me realize that I probably should be purchasing cotton socks for my family instead of polyester. While polyester does have sweat wicking capabilities, cotton is a healthier option for their skin. Plus, when it reaches its end of life, we can compost them.
Step 3 to Waste Free: Eliminate
These are items where I sort of hit a dead end with. This included ribbon, the broken plastic toy and the broken ceramic bowl. These items are not compostable or recyclable. The ribbon came from a chocolate bunny that the kids got over Easter. While they did receive this as a gift from a family member, it’s really made me aware that I need to start infusing the knowledge that I’ve gained from my zero waste journey into my day-to-day conversations with my family members. Hopefully this will help them to be better equipped to make more eco-friendly purchasing decisions too.
As for the broken plastic toy and ceramic bowl, while these items will be going into the trash bin, I hope my kids have learned their lesson to never leave their toys lying around on the floor and to be more careful with their dinnerware.
When I decided to embark on this zero waste journey with my family, I knew it would be challenging. I knew that we wouldn’t achieve success overnight. I am still amazed by the amount of knowledge I gained coming out of these two trash audits and how small habit changes can make such a huge impact. Going into the challenge, excluding diapers from my 1 year old, we averaged one small bag of garbage every two weeks amongst my family of five (six if you include the dog). Now, I can safely say that we turn out one small bag of garbage every two months.
Small changes like removing the trash bin from our kitchen and moving it to our washroom has really got us to stop, think and reconsider where the item should go. Making our recycling bin larger than our trash bin has encouraged the kids to really pay attention to what they are throwing away and consider repurposing the item.
I hope my story will inspire you to conduct a trash audit of your own. The key is to stay curious, don’t feel bad about what you’ve done or didn’t do, involve the family and have fun with it!
Written by Sandy Wong, Founder, Rugs by Roo, a Vancouver based online retail store that specializes in natural, non-toxic area rugs for the modern family. Rugs by Roo’s mission is to bring joy to the families that house their rugs as well as those who make them. Sandy is also a wife and a mom to two girls, a boy and a pet beagle named West.