What we learned by counting our household waste

2022 Home Waste Audit Reflections

Winter is in full swing and school is officially back in session! To kick off the new year, members of the U of T Trash Team joined the Home Waste Audit, a 4-week journey to count and categorize household waste with the goal to reduce how much you are throwing away.

From January 19 to February 15, participants sorted, counted and took actions to reduce waste at home. Here’s what some of us had to share about our experience.

Zoe: Conducting the Home Waste Audit during the re-opening of Ontario meant an increase in social interactions and I found reducing waste in social gatherings was tough. However, at the start of my Home Waste Audit I was fortunate enough to meet fellow U of T Trash Team volunteer, Lisa Erdle, while skating on Lake Ontario near the Toronto Islands.

Lisa and her partner Brendan were very kind and shared homemade treats and hot cocoa, a delicious no waste option. This act of kindness inspired me to also plan ahead when hanging out with friends, by making shareable baked goods instead of buying pre-packaged snacks like granola bars or hot drinks in takeout cups. 

Having grown up in sunny Malaysia, waste management had some differences. Recycling services were not widely offered like they are here, and there were no blue bins or composting green bins that got conveniently picked up outside houses. Instead, I remember making regular trips with my parents to recycling centers to dispose of our recyclables. The Toronto Waste Wizard has been my best friend over the duration of the Home Waste Audit. Currently in my 4th year as an undergraduate studying materials science, the process of learning about material recyclability has been fascinating to me. I’m hoping to continue to learn more about the materials we use in our daily lives and the natural alternatives on the rise to replace plastics.

My grocery basket is not perfect, but I tried to reduce packaged food items. 
© Zoë Ungku Fa’iz

Ludovic: The Home Waste Audit was an opportunity for me to take back old habits I had before COVID-19, like using my own travel mug when going for coffee, buying in bulk, and bringing my own bags for veggies at the grocery store.

Unfortunately, my partner and I got sick (with COVID-19) during the Home Waste Audit and this had some consequences to our waste! Rapid antigen tests accounted for some surprise but unavoidable waste. For every test completed, at least 5 items entered the trash bin and every time we used a tissue these went into the garbage bin instead of the green bin. In addition, being stuck home left us little choice but to buy groceries online, which resulted in more packaging than usual. For example, we received some veggies in plastic wrapping, something we would normally avoid.

A week of recycling items, classified by material type. © Ludovic Hermabessiere

It is important to highlight the ways COVID-19 modifies our lives, including the challenge it presents for those aware of the environmental issue of plastic and who are trying to reduce waste at home. In spite of these challenges, we were able to change a few of our habits in the final week and the knowledge learned will help us continue to decrease our waste.

The Home Waste Audit helped me clearly see how much waste I produce weekly and identify the areas in which I can improve.

Jane kartesheva

Jane: I live with my sister and we adapted some basic waste reduction habits years ago, such as bringing our own travel mugs to the coffee shop, using tote bags for groceries and using reusable produce mesh bags. Even though we reduce waste where we can, we still accumulate trash from areas including food packaging, personal-use products, and deliveries. The Home Waste Audit helped me clearly see how much waste I produce weekly and identify the areas in which I can improve. For example, when gathering with friends, I now plan to bring homemade snacks instead of buying chips and fruits in excess packaging.

Items from the landfill bin are ready to count and categorize.
© Jane Kartasheva

It’s very easy to end up throwing out more than necessary if you don’t know how to sort waste properly, and the TOwaste app was an amazing resource! Did you know that paper towels go into green bin but if they are soiled with chemicals – the garbage bin? This is one of the many things I learned by paying closer attention to waste sorting. I will continue to educate myself about waste management in Toronto and discover new ways to reduce my footprint.

Emily: My dog Ara and I found the Home Waste Audit to be both fun and challenging! Before moving to Toronto, we lived in Northern Yukon where we didn’t have many options when it came to refillables or bulk stores.* This process reminded me of the different options and small businesses to support in the city, like one of my favourites, Nuthouse, where you can refill food products like oatmeal and nuts in bulk. Breaking habits of online ordering, especially in the pandemic can feel very hard, so the Home Waste Audit was a great reminder to support local businesses, especially ones so near to my home!

Ara sorting our recycling. © Emily Chudnovsky

I also enjoyed reading Rachel Salt’s books on the impacts of plastic and how to reduce your own plastic footprint, The Plastic Problem and Your Plastic Footprint: The Facts about Plastic Pollution and What you can Do to Reduce Your Footprint. I’m very glad to have done the Home Waste Audit, as having to consider every piece of waste I produced gave me a chance to think about different ways to make less of it! 

Great books by Rachel Salt, borrowed from the Toronto Public Library! 
© Emily Chudnovsky

Within a short 4-week period, members of our team gained a better understanding of how our environments can have an impact on our habits. By sorting through our waste, we have learnt about the resources available – online and in our own neighbourhoods – to reduce and rethink the items we use daily. If you feel inspired to try your own Home Waste Audit, head over to this page to get started!

Written by Zoë Ungku Fa’iz, Materials Science undergraduate student, with submissions by U of T Trash Team members Ludovic Hermabessiere, Jane Kartasheva and Emily Chudnovsky.

*Though in Dawson we did have access to an incredible “Free Store,” an initiative from the communities’ not-for-profit recycling depot where everyone brought pre-loved items for others to enjoy. After doing a bit of research I found the instagram page, Stooping Toronto (@stooping_toronto), it’s got tons of great items to be treasured by a new home! 

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