Deep dive into FOGO recycling attitudes

FOGO recycling attitudes

A deep dive into attitudes and behaviours will help councils to understand how their communities feel about food organics and garden organics or ‘FOGO’ recycling.

Barriers such as low awareness about the types of food that can be recycled, uncertainty about where it goes and ‘the yuck factor’ are being turned into motivators for change by the NSW Environment Protection Authority (NSW EPA) as it drives a successful FOGO service for householders and councils across the state.

The environmental regulator is using community insights, identified by recently commissioned research, in a new education program that aims to shift attitudes as the state heads toward mandatory organics recycling in all council areas by 2030.

Amanda Kane, NSW EPA Organics Manager, says the Starting Scraps program will arm councils with the best available research, information and educational tools to encourage their residents to use the service well.

“With the rollout of FOGO, we have an opportunity to educate people about an entirely new kerbside waste service right from the beginning,” she says.

“If we can get the messaging right and get people using the service well from the beginning, we’re off to a really good start – ensuring a clean, green stream that can be processed into a beneficial end product.”

Food waste makes up about three per cent of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions and costs the economy about $36.6 billion each year, according to the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water. The National Food Waste Strategy aims to halve the amount of food waste nationally by 2030.

The NSW Government’s Waste and Sustainable Materials Strategy 2041 aims to recover more food and garden organics and reduce landfill waste and emissions. The goal is to introduce a FOGO service to two million New South Wales households by 2027.

In 2020, NSW EPA piloted Scrap Together, a community education project in three council areas to help residents already using FOGO to make the most of their service. The program has been welcomed by councils, and the NSW EPA expects to announce the recipients of round two grants soon.

Building on these insights, the NSW EPA is now piloting Starting Scraps – a similar program for people new to the FOGO service. Resources available to councils will include a six-phase series of videos, radio ads and social media tiles focusing on information to address concerns and to encourage people to use their FOGO bins well. 

Amanda says these educational programs are firmly based in social research and that the NSW EPA works alongside councils who are looking to establish or improve their FOGO collections. 

“It’s important for councils to recognise community attitudes and mitigate concerns about FOGO in order to roll out a successful service,” she says. “We know we can play a critical role in providing the information that people need to understand and embrace the change.”

Last year, the NSW EPA commissioned a survey of more than 1000 residents across 30 local government areas with no FOGO service and found 70 per cent of respondents were interested or very interested in FOGO. That dropped by about 20 per cent when they heard it was possible the red bin collection could move to a fortnightly collection. 

“Ninety-five per cent of people identified at least one benefit of FOGO and 70 per cent of people identified at least one ‘major’ concern, mostly: my neighbours won’t sort food scraps properly, or the FOGO bin or caddy may attract vermin or cause odours,” Amanda says. 

The research also included a cohort of people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities, with 21 per cent of people speaking a language other than English at home. There were little statistical differences in attitudes, except when it came to the kitchen caddy – people from a CALD background were more likely to think it would be messy, or too much effort to use.

To fine-tune the messaging for CALD communities, the NSW EPA will conduct further in-language research with the Ethnic Communities Council of New South Wales.

“One of the big takeaways from the research is for councils to allow a long lead-in time to introduce FOGO, giving the community time to understand what it is and preparing them for each phase,” Amanda says. “Research shows that educational messages and campaigns that are positive, uplifting and make people feel good about what they’re doing is the best way to go.” 

And Amanda says there’s lots to feel good about. FOGO recycling is expected to divert half a million tonnes of organics waste from New South Wales landfills every year by 2027, saving councils money on landfill fees and creating a nutrient-rich compost for use in landscaping and agriculture.

There are great environmental benefits too – every tonne of organics waste diverted from landfill saves 1.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide from being emitted.

“The arrival of FOGO is likely to be the biggest change to peoples’ kerbside waste services in a generation, so it’s important we let people know it’s coming, what the benefits are and how to make the most of the service,” Amanda says. 

“In five or 10 years, food waste recycling will be second nature for every household across the state, delivering a fantastic outcome for councils, communities and the climate.”  

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