Reduce the amount of waste in your local landfill by conducting a Waste Audit!
As overconsumption continues to trend across the world, having the ability to track and dispose waste safely becomes increasingly difficult. Break this trend by conducting a Waste Audit at your school and divert waste from your local waste facility! Do you want to live in world full of trash?!
This toolkit address the following Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs) within the Performance Expectations of NGSS for Grades: 6-8 and 9-12
- Asking Questions and Defining a Problem
- Planning and Carrying out Investigations
- Analyzing and Interpreting Data
- Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking
- Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions
- Obtaining Evaluating, and Communicating Information
Why It’s Important
Our landfills are filling up at an alarming rate often with resources that can be reused, recycled, composted, donated, or not even used in the first place. We are running out of space to put waste in our landfills, which is one reason it’s important to reduce the amount we produce.
What You Will Accomplish
Students will take action by sorting through waste which will enable their peers to understand what can be recycled, composted, or replaced with a reusable item.
Why Should You Audit Your Waste?
The resources provided can be shown as a slideshow or printed out as individual worksheets for students to learn.
We Produce A LOT of Trash!
Reducing the amount of trash in landfills is important because it reduces the amount of resources used by processing facilities. According to the EPA, the average American student creates 67 pounds of lunch packaging waste each school year. That’s more than 18,000 pounds of plastic, paper, and other non-food materials for just one average-sized elementary school. 
Wasted Food is Harmful to the Environment!
Food is the single largest category of waste put in landfills, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. When food waste rots in a landfill it releases harmful greenhouse gasses that trap the sun’s heat in our atmosphere and contribute to global warming. Food in landfills emits methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Landfills are the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions in the United States. 
Waste Causes Greenhouse Gas Emissions!
Fossil fuels are used for a majority of production and waste sectors across the world. This means that fossil fuels are used both to produce our packaging and dispose of it after it has been discarded. All of these fossil fuels give off greenhouse gasses that warm our planet and lead to climate change. In 2019, landfills alone produced 91 million metric tons of CO2 in the United States. That’s the same weight as 455,000 blue whales! 
Watch these two short videos to learn why it’s important to reduce your waste!
Why Waste is an Environmental Justice Issue
Waste is often classified as an environmental justice issue due to the inequities that exist between low and high income communities. Wealthy neighborhoods are often given more resources to manage waste while disenfranchised communities are frequently left with inefficient provisions to maintain a clean living environment. Furthermore, the same communities with lower incomes are usually placed in close proximity to waste management facilities where additional pollution burdens individuals.
Let’s think about it…?
- How many of you already recycle at home?
- How many of you reuse items to avoid waste?
- Describe a time where you saw waste being mismanaged.
- Why do you think reducing waste is important?
How to Conduct a Waste Audit
Follow the steps below to set up a successful Waste Audit at your school! Need help? Contact us!
Step 1: Decide Who’s Participating
Use our Waste Audit Sign-Up Sheet Template to gain your core team members. Participants can come from:
- Students from an existing Green or Eco Club
- Your school’s student council
- A whole class
- Create a new group and use the sign up sheet to add members
Step 2: Assign Roles
- Student Lead: Helps pick the location of the audit and work with custodial staff to gather waste
- Notetaker: At least 1 student records information on the audit worksheet
- Sorters: At least 3 sorters will sort the items
Step 3: Get Permission
Before conducting the Waste Audit, ensure that you have proper permissions to do so. Ask administration or custodial staff if you can audit your school’s waste.
Step 4: Gain Participants, Be Safe
- Invite attendees to support your efforts. Use the Waste Audit Invite and Safety Guidelines.
- Use the Waste Audit Sign Up Sheet to track additional participants.
Step 5: Gather Your Materials
Gather your Waste Audit collection supplies and choose an accessible location where they can be stored. Materials include:
- Writing Utensil
- Waste Audit Tracker
- Waste Sorting Receptacles (cardboard boxes, buckets, etc.)
- Tarp (optional)
Step 6: Find a Location
Now that you have the proper permissions and materials, find a suitable location to conduct your Waste Audit. This can be anywhere with a large open space and flat ground. Here are some examples:
- Grass field
- Empty parking lot
Reach out to your local waste hauler to see what items they accept for recycling and for organics.
Step 7: Determine a Day and Make a Schedule
The last step in planning your Waste Audit is determining the day to do so. This can be done at any time you see best fit including lunch time, free periods, or after school. If you plan to conduct multiple audits, use the Waste Audit Organizer to make a daily, weekly, or monthly schedule.
Step 8: Audit Your Waste
Now that you have everything prepared, it’s time to audit your waste! Follow these simple steps to audit your waste properly:
1. Set up Your Materials
- If you are using a tarp, lay it down flat on the ground and secure it with tape, stakes, or a heavy item like rocks
- Ask custodial staff for a trash bag from your cafeteria that will be audited by your group.
- Label your waste collection receptacles with the following categories
- These are single material items that are clean and dry. This can include plastic bottles, glass jars/bottles, metal cans, paper, magazines, newspapers, cardboard, etc. Ensure that all drinking bottles still have their lids or they will be sent to the landfill.
- Any items that have multiple materials (plastic, metal, paper, etc. in combination) need to be sent to the landfill. This can include chip bags, candy bags, tape, etc. If any recyclable items are dirty, oily, or wet, they must be sent to the landfill because they are contaminated. This can include milk cartons, lunch trays, yogurt cups, etc.
- These are food scraps that can be sent to be composted to make soil. This can include fruits, vegetables, grains, etc. If you would like to put these items to use, check out our Composting at School Toolkit.
- Items labeled as other are unique because they require special pick up for processing. This can include containers with poisonous contents, hazardous waste, and E-Waste.
2. Assume Your Roles
Getting in your previously assigned role, for each trash bag, the Sorter students will sort through the trash and place them in their respective receptacles. The Notetaker student will stand nearby and tally the amount of items placed in each receptacle using the Waste Audit Tracker. One worksheet should be used for each trash bag.
3. Sort Your Waste
Lay out all of the trash on the ground/tarp and begin sorting them in the waste receptacles. Make sure to keep track of how much is being placed in each receptacle using the Waste Audit Tracker. If possible, weigh each receptacle and note that as well. One worksheet should be used for each trash bag.
4. Dispose of Your Materials Safely
After auditing your waste, create a plan on how to dispose of it safely. Waste should be disposed of based on the category you gave them. This will ensure that items are disposed of safely and correctly.
You never know what strange and unexpected items a Waste Audit will uncover. Keep a “treasures” list and read the list periodically. Being a waste-buster has a fun side!
Step 9: Share Your Findings
After you conduct your Waste Audit, it is time to share what you found! Using the results from the Waste Audit Tracker, educate other students on how much waste your school can divert by disposing your waste correctly. Here are a few ideas on how you can share your results:
- Create a presentation or video to share or broadcast in your school announcements.
- Deliver your presentation class to class in a walking assembly. Use the Waste Audit Walking Assembly Sheet as a guide.
- Have a tabling event at a school function to educate your community.
In your education materials, include how waste is managed globally. If you need some ideas, here is an example:
- The US could be considered a very rich or wealthy country. As such, we decided a long time ago not to deal with our waste, but to pay less fortunate countries like China and the Philippines to take our trash. After 10-15 years of taking our waste, these countries and others have said “No more!”. As air, land, and waterways are now polluted, other countries are no longer taking our waste. As waste accumulates it’s up to cities and states to find a solution. And this is where we come in, because trash does not magically disappear!
Step 10: Going Above and Beyond
If you want to take it a step further, share your results with your school administrators so they can help your team create a solution to dispose of the schools’ waste correctly. Need ideas on how to do so? Check out our other toolkits:
Step 11: Measure Your Success
Compile all the data that your team gathered and complete the Waste Audit Wrap Up Form.
How’d it go…?
- What were some small wins that happened during your project?
- What could you do to up your game next time?
- What personal changes will you make to reduce your impact on climate change?
- Waste Audit Sign Up Sheet
- Waste Audit Invite & Safety Guidelines
- Waste Audit Organizer
- Waste Audit Tracker
- Waste Audit Walking Assembly Sheet
- Waste Audit Presentation Slides
- Waste Audit Wrap Up Form
Congrats on completing the Waste Audit Eco-Toolkit!
Did you enjoy this toolkit? Find your next project here!
This toolkit and its resources were inspired by the LBUSD Think Green Program.