Early detection of chronic kidney disease (CKD) followed by appropriate clinical management appears the only means by which the increasing burden on the health-care system and affected individuals will be reduced. The asymptomatic nature of CKD means that early detection can only occur through testing of individuals. The World Health Organization principles of screening for chronic disease can now be largely fulfilled for CKD. The risk groups to be targeted, the expected yield and the tests to be performed are reviewed. For a screening programme to be sustainable it must carry a greater benefit than risk of harm for the participant and be shown to be cost-effective from the community point of view. Whole population screening for CKD is impractical and is not cost-effective. Screening of those at increased risk of CKD could occur either through special events run in the community, workplace or in selected locations such as pharmacies or through opportunistic screening of high-risk people in general practice. Community screening programmes targeted at known diabetics, hypertensives and those over 55 years have been described to detect 93% of all CKD in the community. The yield of CKD stages 3-5 from community screening has been found to vary from 10% to 20%. The limitations of screening programmes including the cost and recruitment bias are discussed. The most sustainable and likely the most cost-efficient model appears to be opportunistic general practice screening. The changing structure of general practice in Australia lends itself well to the requirements for early detection of CKD.