I’ve said it for years and I’m sure I’ll still be saying it for years to come – Waste is easy! It’s also one of the easiest places to start or check in with your journey towards sustainability. Waste is something we all have experience of, it’s in our daily lives – even if we don’t want it, it is thrust upon us without a care in  the world as to the damage it may do. But……does it have to be this way?

Waste Audit at St. Josephs and Remarkables Primary - QueenstownIf we want to really get a hold of our waste system at school, work and home then the best place to start is by going through all the waste you collect, and activity known as a waste audit. I’ve done a fair few of these and believe me, they are very rarely pleasant. What I do find though is that when people start to go through their rubbish then they start to really see what it is that they throw away.

The first thing you notice is that it stinks. This is possibly the worst part of it, and you know what? It’s easily avoidable. Ask yourself, “why does my waste stink?” The answer lies in the fact that there is decaying food in the bin somewhere. If there is one thing we really shouldn’t landfill, that is food.

Contrary to what many people think, organic waste doesn’t decompose in a landfill, nor does it compost, it rots. For organic waste to compost we need five things to be present; Air, Water, Carbon, Nitrogen and Heat. These things need to be mixed together in the correct way for the composting process to start working. I’m sure by now you’ve worked out that the chances of this happening within a landfill are pretty slim. As the organic waste rots, it creates leachate (the yuck liquid that causes so many problems in the ground around old landfills) and methane (a greenhouse gas 6 times more potent than carbon dioxide, this is also highly explosive).

The simple solution here is to stop your rubbish being yuck and also to play a major part towards slowing down human induced climate change is to keep your organics out of your rubbish bin. Doing a waste audit will tell us just how much food we are dealing with each week so we can then design a good solid system to cope with it.

So perhaps we need to bring this back into focus a little bit. How does a waste audit work? It’s pretty simple, you need to collect your rubbish for a week, some people say a day, but I reckon a week is good, then you capture all the different elements of the waste you generate. I also think it’s a good idea to record where the waste came from.

Once you have a huge pile of rubbish bags then you need to get yourself at least 7 containers, a tarp, latex gloves and some bathroom scales, oh and don’t forget – some mates who preferably have blocked noses.Waste Audit at St. Josephs - QueenstownThe 7 containers are used for each different waste stream – Paper, Card, Food, Metal, Glass, Plastic, Landfill. Lay the tarp on the ground and spread the 7 containers around the outside of it.

Empty one bag at a time onto the tarp and then it’s everyone’s job to sort though the pile putting each type of waste in the relevant container. When a container is filled then we need to record the volume and weight of the contents of the container. If one areas worth of bags has been sorted then we need to record the volumes and weights of each of the streams. Then simply repeat this process until you have sifted through an entire weeks worth of rubbish.

As you can see this is pretty easy, it’s just a little stinky. During the last month I’ve been involved with two waste audits at school, St. Jospehs and Remarkables Primary.  Both of these audits have been very much student driven, they have noticed that their waste systems could be better at school and want to do something about it.

We now have data about the type and amount of waste that is produced. What can I say, it is predominantly food, paper and non recyclable packets. So is there something we can do about this? Of course. We can tell parents about the amount of food that is thrown away, hopefully getting them to send less to school in the first place. We can also design a worm farm and chicken / pig bucket system to take care of what we do have. The paper isn’t easy at school, but we can ensure that GOOS paper boxes are in every room and the students understand how to use them. As for the non recyclable packets……this is probably the hardest one of them all, we are up against some of the finest marketing brains in the world here, somehow we need to make the challenge of avoiding these products in the super market more appealing that the product itself. Not an easy task, it’s a good job we have some pretty on to it minds on the case of this one.

School assemblies, newsletters, blog posts, newspaper articles…..they are all fantastic methods of telling our community about our waste problem and the steps we are taking to cut it down. If everyone does their little bit then we will this battle. Every time we win a battle we become a little more confident about our abilities and it means the next project we embark upon will be a little easier and more successful. So even though doing a waste audit is not the most pleasant of jobs it’s one of my favs…….