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  • Writer's pictureellencdonker


A summer walk turns into a waste audit

Playgrounds reopened in July after being closed due to the pandemic and, naturally, my two children were eager to return to their old stomping grounds. They hadn’t been on a swing or slide for months.

Headed to South Orange’s Farrell Field, we turned the corner with the park in the distance and our eyes locked on the sight of trash strewn on the sidewalk in front of several houses. It caught the children’s attention because among the pieces of trash was a small, brightly colored toy which appeared to be in good condition. (Admittedly, I was hopeful that the sight would grab their attention because I had been teaching them about waste since they were very young!) Surrounding the toy was household trash: used paper towels, plastic baggies, food and other garbage. As I heard the pleas to bring the toy home, my mind was busy classifying the waste.

It immediately became a teaching moment for my school-age children. Why and how did the trash end up on the sidewalk? Where could it end up if not placed back in the garbage can? And, most importantly – how could the trash have been eliminated in the first place? We discussed hungry animals or winds as the likely cause of the trash spilling from the can to the sidewalk, concluding that an easy solution is always to secure your garbage can tightly with a bungee cord or the like. We talked about the role of rain or wind in spreading waste to the nearest storm drain where it could travel to our local rivers and then to the ocean, polluting our waterways.

Without planning it, we had begun the first steps of a waste audit, which aims at “waste reduction and prevention” – in other words, reducing or not creating waste in the first place. A waste audit evaluates waste by type and amount and identifies how to decrease it. While waste audits are more common in work places and schools, they can be done anywhere trash is generated.

Waste, whether garbage or recyclables, doesn’t magically go away when it is picked up at the curbside; it simply goes somewhere else. Children and adults alike are taught to “pick up litter.” But the messaging must shift to efforts of not making waste in the first place. With a little creative and critical thinking, anyone can do it. Our impromptu mini-waste audit reminded us that making less waste is an all-around good thing.

Start a Home Waste Audit

Try conducting a waste audit for a day or week’s time. Simply record everything you place in the garbage or recycling for that period of time. Get the whole family involved – kids enjoy sorting and recording.

When you're done, analyze how you can reduce or prevent waste and create a family list of resolutions from the responses in the last column. For example, “replace paper towels with cloth,” or “plan meals before going food shopping.”

Rethink Your Waste Routines

Cut out this reminder and place it in your home to take steps to prevent and reduce waste!

There is no such thing as “away.” When we throw anything away it must go somewhere. Annie Leonard, creator of the film The Story of Stuff.

Georgia Madiba lives in South Orange with her husband and two children and is completing her certification as a Rutgers Environmental Steward. She is the co-chair of South Mountain Elementary’s Green Team. As a high schooler, she lectured her father on the perils of plastic sandwich baggies and urged him to stop using them.


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