Kerbside trial offers food for thought

Anglesey County Council undertook a consultation exercise with householders to ensure its food waste collection trials would be a success. Meirion Edwards reports

Approximately 6.7M tonnes of household food waste is produced in the UK every year. This represents about £10B of food, equating to £420 per household per year. Recently in Wales, the Welsh Assembly set out what are believed to be the first UK targets for sorting recyclables at source in its Towards Zero Waste strategy consultation document. The strategy seeks to achieve 70% recycling or composting of waste and make Wales a zero waste society by 2050.

At Isle of Anglesey County Council, we identified that collecting and treating food waste was an important method of diverting significant amounts of household waste from landfill three years ago. It was critical to have an alternative method of disposal and we developed a partnership with neighbouring councils Gwynedd County Council and Conwy County Borough Council to build an in-vessel composting plant that could treat food waste mixed with green garden waste. This opened in March 2009.

To produce good quality compost, it is important that the quality of material entering the composting facility is high. Focusing householders' attention on food waste and ensuring it is collected to provide a clean feedstock was a challenge both logistically and from a communications perspective. So we worked closely with our collection contractor Verdant and our communications team Acer Marketing Communications to make the scheme successful.

We began by examining how other councils had approached collecting food waste and learned that higher yields of food waste with lower incidents of contamination could be achieved with a separate weekly collection. Research had shown that results were best where an alternate weekly collection for residual waste was operating. However, we were unsure which collection system would prove most effective with regard to kitchen caddies and it became clear that a trial was needed.

While the trial was being designed, we began to raise awareness of the amount of food wasted each year by households. First, we began promoting the shocking fact that half the food being thrown away is perfectly good, suggesting the freezer is their friend and highlighting the national Love Food Hate Waste campaign.

At a local level, we partnered with the North Wales Chronicle running a leftovers competition for nine weeks, publishing recipe entries from local residents to organisations including the Air Ambulance and the Women's Institute. This culminated in the production of a recipe booklet of winning recipes and a family meal out for the winner.

The food waste collection trial began in February with a month of promotion before the delivery of the kitchen caddies and bins. Getting people on board was crucial, so we had to ensure residents knew what was happening and how important their feedback would be to shaping the future collection service. Appropriate properties across six areas of the island were selected, ensuring a mixture of rural and urban locations and different household demographics.

We took our plans to our council members and were pleased to receive their support. We held a number of surgeries for residents to come and see the caddies and bins they would use. Residents received their caddies, bins and an instruction leaflet at the end of January and collections commenced on the first week in February. As the bins were delivered, and throughout the first few weeks of collection, a team of people door-knocked to answer questions, encourage participation and record feedback.

A total of 5,642 households participated in the trial. Of these, 985 properties received vented kitchen caddies with compostable liners, 657 properties received sealed caddies with no liner and the rest received sealed caddies with liners. During the 12-week trial, nearly 128 tonnes of food waste was collected, representing on average 1.88kg per household, with a participation rate of 54%.

Analysis of the figures showed that participation was low in areas where there were holiday homes. Perhaps, not surprisingly, we also saw lower participation in households that did not get a liner. The 'yuk factor' clearly puts people off and our trial showed that most households either participate and continue, or do not participate at all. We were pleased that the level of contamination we saw from participating households was very low, showing that they got to grips with it quickly.

As Anglesey begins to consider its strategy to support Wales' move towards zero waste, food waste collection from the kerbside is likely to become an important tool. While we want Anglesey's households to minimise their food waste and save themselves some money, we understand the best method is to collect the food waste they generate at the kerbside and contribute to the proposed 80% source separation target.

Meirion Edwards is chief waste management officer at Isle of Anglesey County Council

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