Finding the facts: JustWaste

The City of Launceston asked a waste consultant to find out why its most avid recyclers weren’t using their food organics and garden organics program for food waste.

In December 2017, the Launceston Waste Centre Organics Processing Facility opened in the north of Tasmania with the ability to process food and garden waste.

It used a method of forced aeration to process up to 20,000 tonnes of organic waste per year – enough to handle the entire kerbside waste for the majority of northern Tasmania.

With the introduction of the new facility, the City of Launceston was able to roll out a food organics and garden organics (FOGO) collection program to divert waste from the council-operated landfill, which can make up 30 to 46 per cent of municipal solid waste, according to the Australian Department of the Environment. 

To ensure the City of Launceston was making the most of the new facility, it contracted waste consultancy firm JustWaste.

Justin Jones, Director of JustWaste, says the council wanted a system that had a minimal amount of contamination to create a high-quality end product.

“The council didn’t just want to give out a second waste bin and determined the best option to ensure the system was used properly was to make the FOGO system voluntary,” he says.

More than 6500 residents signed up for the scheme since it began in October 2017, however Justin says that while the volume of material being collected is higher than expected, the amount of food in the bins was significantly low.

JustWaste looked to find out why the system wasn’t being used for food waste and create educational materials to correct the issue.

Isabel Axio, JustWaste Consultant and Environmental Manager, says bin contamination was hovering around one per cent but so was the amount of food content in the bins.

“To find out why the food content in FOGO bins was so low, JustWaste began a two-part study which involved a survey and bin inspections,” Isabel explains.

“We surveyed 1942 residents that signed up to the scheme and found participants were already quite conscious of reducing food waste, with many using it for animal feed or home compost. 

“This meant that a lot of avid recyclers weren’t generating much food waste and were mostly using the bin for their garden waste.”

Around 42 per cent of the survey participants said they put the household’s food waste in the FOGO bins. However, bin inspections revealed this was closer to 22 per cent.

Isabel says the bin inspections are important to gather data to evaluate a system’s performance after its implementation, especially as survey responses may not be totally accurate.

“We’ve found that residents with FOGO bins want to reduce their waste but still encounter barriers, such as certain foods being perceived as distasteful to leave in a bin for a fortnight, especially in the summer months,” she says.

“By finding these barriers, we’re able to provide educational material and practical advice to improve the scheme. JustWaste recently participated in a video rollout of two characters called Fo and Go to explain the service, along with leaflets dropped into participating households and videos via social media.”

“By knowing what is happening in people’s kitchens, we’re able to focus on the right education material to drive diversion.”