How to do a Church Waste Audit

March 31, 2011


Does your church know what to do with its waste? (cc image courtesy of frankh via Flickr)


[Ed. note: This article is part of our series of weekly church activities, Cultivating Community, published on Thursdays.]

From the bulletins piled by the door after the service to the mound of pizza boxes stacked up after the junior high lock-in, churches can produce a lot of trash. It is unfortunate that often the bigger a church gets the larger its trash pile grows—but it doesn’t have to be that way!

We’ve walked you through ways to conduct an energy audit at church; now its time for a waste audit. Reducing waste is a great way to start putting creation care principles into practice. Here are a few ideas about how to make less waste and to find better uses for the waste you do produce.

Getting started:

  1. Watch your energy use. Make a list of the areas where the most trash is created. Is it paper? Coffee grounds? Plastic cups? Count how many trash bags or dumpster pick-ups your church goes through in one week. Are the lights left on in rooms with no one in them? Are food scraps from the café going to waste? Educate yourself on what your church is tossing out!
  2. Once you know what you’re throwing away it’s time to ask the question: How can I throw away less? Get together with a group of staff or people in the congregation and start brainstorming. We’ve provided a few ideas below to get started.


Fact: Americans use 100 billion plastic bags a year, which require an estimated 12 million gallons of oil to produce. Plastic coffee cups go into the trash can in your church’s lobby, to the dumpster and then straight to the landfill and they never biodegrade.

Ways to save:

  • Stop buying Styrofoam and plastic cups, plates, and other utensils. Have metal silverware and ceramic plates on hand instead. Ask for volunteers to do the washing up in the kitchen after events.
  • If you need to store things (crayons, name tags, files, etc.) use non-plastic storage bins instead. Have a church Mason jar drive for the small things. Get metal file cabinets or wooden storage racks for the rest.
  • Bring your own mug to church. Have a coffee mug collection drive. Ask everyone to bring one non-plastic mug they are not using from home and donate it to the church.

Paper and Cardboard

Fact: Recycling 120 pounds of paper saves one tree. Paper manufacturing is the 3rd largest user of fossil fuels worldwide. 115 billion sheets of paper are used annually for computer printing.

Ways to save:

  • Make sure everyone on staff knows how to print and make copies on both sides of a piece of paper. Post signs by the printer and copier with instructions.
  • Have a waste paper bin for people to use for scrap.
  • Redesign your church bulletin to be more space-efficient and therefore more energy-efficient. Print on both sides. Make the bulletin smaller and decrease the margins on both sides to use all of the paper. Build up your website so people can rely on it more instead of printed materials. Make Power Point slides for use during the service.
  • Read our Guide to Starting a Recycling Program at Church and organize collection bins and signs to let people know how to use them.

Food Waste

Try starting a compost bin for all those food scraps. (cc image courtest kirstyhall via Flickr)

Fact: According to In 2009, 50.2 million Americans lived in food insecure households: 33 million adults and 17.2 million children. Almost 100 billion pounds of food are wasted each year in America.

Ways to save:

  • Keep a careful inventory and use it to plan portions and orders more accurately. If, say, the junior high pizza night has mountains of leftovers the first time, keep track of it and don’t let it happen again.
  • Does your church have a café? Do they ever throw out unsalable (but still good) items like bread or pastries? Find a local homeless shelter or food bank and organize a team of volunteers to share the load of taking extra food to people who need it instead of throwing it away. Does your church partner with youth homes or shelters in town? Tell them when you are having events that tend to have leftover food and invite them to come pick up the leftovers after the events are finished.
  • Read our Guide to Composting and start a compost bin on your property to save waste and start making your soil richer.


Fact: While a candlelight service can be romantic, churches need lighting. The right lighting can play an important role in setting a certain mood in services and creating a friendly, warm atmosphere in church. But people’s tendency (especially when the electricity bill doesn’t come to their mailbox each month) will be to leave lights on and assume somebody else will turn them off later.

It is an unfortunate maxim that the bigger a church gets the bigger its trash pile gets, but it doesn’t have to be that way!

Ways to save:

  • The first one is simple: turn off the lights when you leave a room. Walk through of your church building to find rooms where lights are often left on (especially in rooms with high-energy specialty bulbs, such as the auditorium). Make an announcement in the bulletin or during the service that you are trying to reduce waste as a church and ask people to be careful to switch off lights.
  • Put signs below light switches as a friendly reminder to people.
  • Change the incandescent bulbs in your church to low-energy fluorescent bulbs. According to, “the energy saved by replacing a 100-watt incandescent bulb with an equivalent CFL over its lifetime is sufficient to driving a Toyota Prius hybrid car from New York to San Francisco.” Multiply that by all the lights we switch on at church each Sunday, and you get a lot of miles out of your electricity use!
  • Hold smaller gatherings in rooms with good natural lighting (or outside!) and leave the lights off.


Fact: Fixing a leaky faucet can save 140 gallons of water a week. According to Colorado State University. Drip irrigation exceeds 90 percent efficiency whereas sprinkler systems are 50 to 70 percent efficient.

Ways to save:

  • Make posters and signs reminding people to conserve water. Include some water use tips.
  • Find leaky faucets and fix them.
  • Reduce the amount of water used in every flush of the toilet by putting pebbles or a glass jar filled with sand in the bottom of the tank.
  • Install mesh aerators in your faucets to help reduce the amount of water used without reducing water pressure.
  • Create rain barrels to catch and store runoff from the roof.
  • Check every hose and sprinkler outside for leaks. If it leaks, fix it.

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