The Zero Waste Trash Challenge: First Stop, A Bin Audit

Step one to getting zero waste is keeping your rubbish in sight and in mind: bring that junk into your awareness.

Editor’s note: Rachelle Strauss is the author of My Zero Waste, a homegrown blog and informational site about a family of four striving to reduce the amount of waste they send to landfill each week, month and year. In her ongoing series with EcoSalon, she’s challenging readers to do the possible: reduce household trash to one bin a year.

Back in January, I introduced the idea of stopping to think before you threw anything away. The question I posed was “Where is away?”

“Away” is simply somewhere else – a landfill site, an incinerator or a ship to China. The trouble is, once we’ve put something in the ubiquitous black bin bag, it’s out of sight, out of mind. We can’t wait to “get rid of it,” to absolve responsibility for it and, in some cases, forget it ever happened.

I’d like to challenge you to start thinking about your rubbish. Start thinking about what you are doing before you dump something in the bin. Start thinking about what you are buying before you get it home. Bring your rubbish in sight, in mind and into your awareness.

Don’t worry; I’m not asking for an overnight change of habits; this is all about taking baby steps, manageable steps, steps so small you won’t even notice – towards a fantastic goal.

This month, then, I’m challenging you to become aware of your bin habits. That’s all.

What do you throw away without thought? What do you haul to the curbside each week? What do you buy on autopilot without considering the alternatives?

To gain this knowledge you need to take a bin audit.

A Good Dirty, Squirmy Rummage

Rubber gloves are handy. Pull them on and have a rummage. Is your stomach turning yet? It should be. Who wants to be reminded of all the garbage we throw away on a day-to-day basis? It’s okay if you’re disgusted, perhaps you should be. This is the awareness.

Get in there. Have a poke, a prod and a ponder. Hold things up in horror. Feel guilty if you need to for all the food waste in there or the broken plastic that that you really didn’t need to buy in the first place.

Micromanage That Junk

Make a list dividing it into categories like food (waste, packaging, leftovers), household (cleaning product containers, DIY remnants, aerosols), personal (toiletry packaging, sanitary protection, medications packaging).

Use whatever system works for you and write it all down.

Now pin it to the fridge where you can be reminded of your wasteful habits.

Can you measure your waste in some way? Either chuck it on the scales or measure by number of bags. Write this down along with your list of rubbish; it will give you something to feel good about when you can see your progress a couple of months down the track.

If you could work out a percentage, what are the top five wasters in your bin? Is it plastic bottles, yogurt cartons, food waste? Write these down too.

The guilt stops here because you’re on the path to positive change. I’ll even hold your hand. In less than a year you’ll be in possession of a size zero waste.

The dirty work is done. Let the real work begin.

Postscript: In 2009, Rachelle Strauss and her family accumulated one lone and solitary trashcan of landfill waste. It was not an overnight transformation, but rather an 18-month process of planning and a gentle change of habits. In Strauss’ ongoing series with EcoSalon, she challenges readers to do the possible: reduce household trash to one bin a year.

Images: Bonnie NatkoChristopher Wolfe; Duncan BlackwoodThe Daily Mail, Dru Bloomfield