Food for thought: the Oldham experience

Educating householders was key when Oldham Borough Council wanted to introduce food waste collections. With the help of its waste contractor, it engineered a successful communications campaign

Oldham Borough Council has been collecting household food and garden waste since October 2007. These weekly bio-waste collections are undertaken by standard, 26-tonne refuse vehicles and transported to an in-vessel composting (IVC) facility in Rochdale, Greater Manchester - a plant which can process 25,000tpa of bio-waste and produce 19,000tpa of PAS 100 compost.

The IVC facility is operated by Viridor as part of a 25-year contract between Viridor Laing (Greater Manchester) and the Greater Manchester Waste Disposal Authority. The facility is one of four IVCs to be built across the region, and together with a mix of other technologies is treating household waste across the region, with at least 50% recycling and composting with 75% landfill diversion by 2020.

Oldham Borough Council has found one of the biggest challenges in its food waste drive is educating the public. There is a common misconception that bio-waste will rot down and not pose a long-term problem. By separating it out of the residual waste stream, bio-waste can be dealt with effectively, but Oldham residents were convinced that it would be difficult and time consuming to separate their food waste, and were particularly put off by the perception of having an odorous indoor caddie in their homes for up to a week.

Contamination concerns
Contamination of bio-waste is also an important issue. Tony Byrne, site manager at the Viridor IVC facility, says: "If waste that is not biodegradable is mixed in with bio-waste, the quality of the end product, for example the compost from this facility, will be compromised. One of the crucial things that many people don't realise about food waste recycling is the need to use bio-degradable bin liners for their kitchen caddies. More often than not, residents use plastic bags which have to be picked out of the waste before processing, a time consuming, and costly task."

Oldham Council wanted to ensure that householders understood the need to recycle bio-waste and how to use the recycling scheme correctly, and that the collection process was as easy and efficient as possible. To address the issue of education, Oldham conducts ongoing promotional and educational campaigns with local radio, newspapers and magazines to promote the bio-waste collection service. Through word of mouth and direct marketing through flyers, the council has increased the participation rate.

Communication is key
Mark Husdan, waste minimisation and recycling manager for the council, says: "Communication is the key. For us to achieve high participation rates, the public needs to be informed as to why it's so important to recycle their food waste. It needs to be made easy for them, as otherwise many won't take the time to separate their bio-waste from the rest of their rubbish and recycling."

In June, Oldham launched a new food and garden waste collection service. Under the scheme, each household is also provided with a 7-litre kitchen caddy. In addition, the opening of the Rochdale facility in October 2009 has reduced the amount of time needed to transport bio-waste after collection. This is good news for the council as it increases the time crews can spend out on their collection rounds. "Making the collection system practical and easy to use is essential, if it is convenient they are far more likely to participate," maintains Mark Husdan.

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