3A. OCT 11 - 24-Hour Waste Audit


Seeing, is believing. Strong evidence can change perspective and build the support needed to implement solutions. In order to enact change, we must first be able to show that there is a problem.

A waste audit is a methodical examination of the amount of waste and rate of contamination in a given location. This can demonstrate the amount of waste, specifically plastic, that we are contributing into the earth’s natural cycles as a household, school or community.

For this activity, we are going to be performing a 24-hour waste audit in a location of your choice.


Step 1: Planning

Planning is crucial to any good project. First, decide on a location. This could be your home, your classroom or specific room in your school/community center, or your school. If you are performing your audit at school, it is important to include your administration and custodial team in the planning process. This is to ensure you have permission, as well as ensure that your samples are not tampered with when the custodians would normally clean. Decide on the specific bins that will be a part of your audit, and confirm a labeling system to communicate with custodial staff not to empty those bins.

You should use both waste and recycling bins for this waste audit. For personal safety, do not include the compost/organics bin if your location already separates it out.  

Step 2: Preparing for the Audit

Empty all of the bins that you will be using for the waste audit. Start the clock, and go about your day as normal. It is essential that you do not change your behaviour because you are aware of the audit.

You will need to gather supplies in order to conduct your audit after the 24-hour period. Safety gear and adult supervision are required. You will need:

  • A space to sort the waste – you may wish to have a tarp or extra garbage bags to lay down to make for an easy cleanup
  • Safety gloves
  • Weight Scales
  • Paper/pencils to record data
  • Camera

Step 3: The Audit

After the 24-hours have passed, collect the waste and recycling from the designated bins. Sort out the waste into 4 categories:

  1. Plastics
  2. Compost/Organics
  3. Waste
  4. Unsure/Other

Perform the same sorting process for the recycling bin(s).

** Be sure to keep the products from the waste bin(s) and the recycling bin(s) separate**

As you sort the waste and recycling, keep track of the most common items found in your samples. You may use this chart if it is helpful, or create your own.

Once you have separated each bin into the four categories, weigh and record each subcategory.





Waste Products


· Straws

· Plastic cutlery

·  Styrofoam

E.g. Bin 1= 0.75 kg, Bin 2= 1.2 kg




· Plastic bottles

· Plastic containers

· Aluminum Cans




· Food waste

· Compostable foodware





Step 4: Calculations

To determine the success of the waste management systems in your location, we will perform 2 calculations: contamination rate and diversion rate.

Contamination Rate of Waste Bins;

The contamination rate is the percentage of products that ended up in the wrong bin. In the waste bin, any material that should have been diverted away from the landfill is considered a contaminant. This includes recyclable and organics/compostable, which could have been repurposed rather than being sent to the dump.

(Weight of Recycling + Weight of Organics) ÷ Weight of Garbage x 100%

Diversion Rate of Recycling Bins:

The diversion rate is how successful your recycling program is at diverting recyclable materials away from landfills.

Weight of Recycling ÷ (Weight of Recycling + Weight of Garbage) x 100%

The weight of recycling includes any organic waste that is collected for compost and any recyclable waste that is diverted from the landfill.

Step5: Sharing Results

  1. Share a photo of yourselves in action conducting your waste audit on the Photo Gallery, and comment about the following in the caption of your photo
  • contamination rate
  • diversion rate 
  • How many bins did you sample from (i.e. your sample size)
  • Location of Sampling (i.e. home, classroom(s), school)
  • Key factors that would have an impact on your results 
  • What is the biggest takeaway for you, that you get from your results? 

You may post more than one phoot, or post a photo of the garbage itself if you wish. 

*** Be sure to keep your results, as we will be discussing them at the next meeting on October 18***

2. Comment on two other photos on the biggest similarity and the biggest difference that stands out to you between your waste audit and theirs.  


Please format discussion titles as follows; Activity Number: Title, Your city  (e.g. 1C: Shoreline Cleanup, Vancouver). Include all the names of those who participated and contributed in the body of the discussion post. All authors should be accredited.

Discussion posts and comments you post are what will be used in the final paper! Be are clear, respectful and engaged in your responses as well as while commenting on others. Don't forget to ask questions!

Learning Objectives

Some provinces require that organizations of a certain size perform annual waste audits. Other provinces, such as in British Columbia, do not require this audit or hold organizations accountable. Each province has a different procedure and perception of our waste, and yet we all produce it. It is important to understand where the problem is coming from in order to find appropriate solutions. 

The Vancouver Aquarium, an Ocean Wise Initiative, performs a waste audit every year to identify our diversion rate and look at all thew ays that we can improve our building operations to minimize our environmental impact. Here are some figures from the 2017 waste audit:

This is the breakdown of the overall waste created in the Aquarium, including a breakdown of the individual items that contributed to that waste. From this figure, we identify that a large number of our compostable items are ending up in the waste bins rather than the compost. Our next steps are to explore how we might be able to reduce that amount of contaminants in the waste.  

Here we have a specific breakdown of what was diverted, recycled and sent to landfill of our overall waste 

Consulted Resources: 

Vancouver Aquarium / Ocean Wise Waste Composition Study and Waste Reduction Recommendations Report (2017)

EverGreen Environmental, How to Conduct a Waste Audit. https://www.goevergreenllc.com/how-to-conduct-a-waste-audit/

Clean River Recycling Solutions:  How to complete a waste audit in 5 easy steps https://cleanriver.com/waste-audit-in-5-easy-steps

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