At-Home Waste Audit

Use this guide to understand your waste production and learn more about ways to minimize your waste. This activity is ideal for students, faculty, and staff living on or off-campus and only requires a few basic supplies.


  • Scale (a body weight or bathroom scale, not a kitchen scale)
  • Food waste bin (this can be a bucket, large bowl, or storage container)
  • Gloves and tarp (optional for use while sorting)
  • Data sheet (once you sign into Google, the link will give you a copy of the data sheet to edit)



  • Gather the materials listed above.
  • Decide on the week you will conduct the audit.
    • Pro Tip: Pick a relatively typical week so you get an accurate picture of your waste habits. Also, start your collection the day your trash is picked up so you have a clean slate to start with.
  • If you have housemates or family members you are living with, let them know you are going to do a waste audit, and get them involved if you can!


  • Save all the waste that you accumulate over a one week period. You can separate the waste as you go or wait until the end of the week to sort it all at once.
    • Pro Tip: Separating your food waste from the beginning of the week can reduce mess at the end.
  • Maintain your normal waste practices and try not to let the audit affect your purchases.


  • Prepare a space to sort through and look at the waste you collected (gloves and a tarp can be handy).
  • Gather all your waste from the week.
  • If you have not done so already, sort the waste into Recyclables, Compost, and Landfill.
    • Recyclables: follow the local recycling guidelines for your area.
      • Note that U-M recycling guidelines often differ slightly from the local municipal recycling guidelines. For example, what is recyclable in a U-M Ann Arbor dorm is different from what is recyclable in an off-campus Ann Arbor home.
    • Compost: follow the local composting guidelines for your area.
      • If you do not have municipal food compost, then everything that is not recyclable should go in the landfill. 
      • If you would like to consider backyard composting, then you can sort using a backyard composting guide to learn more about your waste stream’s compost potential.
      • Note that compostable materials generally will not decompose in a landfill due to the anaerobic environment. Compostable plastics are only compostable with some municipal compost services, and not in a backyard compost pile.
    • Landfill: all other waste.


  • Weigh each category, and record the weights in the data sheet provided.
  • As you start to think about ways to reduce your waste, it can help to identify specific items that you have multiple of in your waste audit such as take-out food containers, plastic bags, soda bottles, junk mail, and shipping boxes. These are just examples, and the most common waste items will differ for each household based on purchasing habits.
  • Send an email to the Plant Blue Ambassador program at for personalized recommendations and for help if you have any questions.


Approaches to Waste Reduction

  • Decrease total waste (do this first!)
    • Reduce consumption by evaluating what new things you really need.
    • See if you can borrow or rent items you may only need infrequently.
    • Reuse and repurpose items you already have. 
    • Buy in bulk (this often results in less packaging). 
    • Give preference to items without packaging when possible. 
    • Prioritize quality and durability over the quantity of items.
  • Increase recycling
    • Buy items that can be recycled in your area. 
    • Make sure recyclables are empty, clean, and dry.
    • Teach others what can be properly recycled in your area.
  • Increase composting
    • Start a backyard compost pile. 
    • Request a curbside compost bin, if available in your area. 
    • If you are already composting, be sure to include napkins, coffee filters, and other organic wastes, not just food.

Recycle and Compost Information

Below is a list of recycling and composting rules for various municipalities in southeast Michigan. This is not an exhaustive list, so if you find another helpful resource to share with others, let us know by emailing

Campus Waste

Local Community Waste