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Waste Audits and Oceans Week Waste Challenge Review

In celebration of Oceans Week, the Stop Trashing It Network challenged our network to track and reduce the waste they produce over a week. This blog post will be focusing on some key reflections Olivia had after participating in this challenge, as well as tips and tricks for anyone interested in conducting their own waste audit.


Over the last week, I joined several of our Ambassadors and network members in the waste reduction challenge led by Stop Trashing It Network in honour of Ocean’s Week. I tried to be very mindful about how much waste I produced, and I tracked my waste to see if there are any changes I can make to my lifestyle. This challenge was extremely meaningful to me. Over the years, I have learned about the negative impacts of waste and how waste harms wildlife and creates Ocean Garbage Patches. I have also learned about the cyclical nature of the environment, and how everything we use doesn’t just disappear when we throw it in a trash can. For example, one plastic bag usually takes 1000 years to decompose.

A great way to begin this challenge and reduce your ecological footprint is by conducting a personal or household waste audit. There are many online resources for those who are interested in learning more about waste audits, including this online webinar.

In order to conduct a waste audit, it is essential to begin by tracking your waste over 5-7 days. Do not include your compost or recyclables in this audit. After a week, take an inventory of what items you are sending to the landfill. Assess each item individually and ask yourself the following questions;

  • What category of trash am I disposing of the most? Ex: food packaging, medical waste, electrical waste, etc.

  • What kind of plastic am I disposing of the most?

  • What changes can I make to my lifestyle to avoid disposing of these waste items?

  • Can any of these items be repurposed, recycled, or composted?

While answering the last question, you may realize that you are throwing away items, such as food waste, that can be composted or recycled. A helpful resource is the Halifax Recycles application, that provides users with information pertaining to what can and cannot be recycled. The Halifax Regional Municipality also provides this information on their website.

Following these questions, analyze your trash to determine whether you can find sustainable alternatives to some of the items you are throwing out. For example, over the last year, I traded plastic toothbrushes for a bamboo alternative, I swapped plastic wrap for beeswax wraps, and replaced disposable, single-use plastic straws with metal straws.

One of the most important waste items to transition away from is single-use plastics. Plastic disposal is an important issue since plastic never really goes away. Instead, it breaks down into microplastics and is consumed by wildlife, and then by humans.

By the end of the challenge, I was very pleased with my success and the success of others who participated in this initiative. Most of the waste I compiled in my jar derived from receipts (which are not disposable in Montreal, where I am currently based), medication packaging, food packaging, fruit stickers, dental floss, and disposable gloves.

Other items that I disposed of that didn’t fit in the jar included sliced bread packaging, take-out containers, and ice cream wrappers.

Considering the current pandemic and social distancing measures, I disposed of waste items that I normally would not use, including gloves and take-out containers. I resorted to take-out at times when I didn't feel like waiting in lines at the grocery store or if I hadn't prepared food in advance and I was hungry. I also could not ask restaurant employees to put my take-out order in my own reusable containers due to sanitary concerns during these times. This experience has, therefore, taught me that the majority of my waste derives from food packaging, and that thinking ahead, meal planning, and cooking from home as much as possible are some of the easiest ways to reduce my food waste.

In terms of my successes throughout this challenge, I did attempt to reduce my waste whenever possible, by doing things like purchasing a reusable mask instead of disposable ones, and I wash my mask in the laundry machine after usage. Since I am only leaving my house to make essential purchases or for exercise, I also compiled fewer receipts, as I am shopping less than usual. This pandemic and all the uncertainty that we have been feeling for the last few months has definitely brought on some challenges and lifestyle changes, but I am hopeful that as I continue to find ways to adjust, I can keep doing my best and my part to reduce my ecological footprint.


Originally from Montreal, Olivia moved to Nova Scotia to pursue graduate studies at Dalhousie University. Olivia is passionate about sustainability and creating a greener community. When not at school, you can find Olivia hiking, camping, or discovering the beautiful sights of Nova Scotia. Follow her low-waste journey on Instagram at @olivia_gian.

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