Council in Focus

Inner West Council’s food organics programs

Inner West Council’s Group Manager Environment and Sustainability Jan Orton tells Waste Management Review about council’s numerous food organics programs.

Q. Sydney’s Inner West Council (IWC) has adopted a zero waste vision. Aside from the implications of waste minimisation, what does this mean to council? 

A. A community that is zero waste is one that avoids waste generation where any discarded materials are designed as a resource for other processes and no materials are discharged to land, air or water.

For IWC, it means that we are looking at all waste generated within the Inner West community (including council) and for opportunities to manage our materials as resources.

As an amalgamated council, we’re reviewing and rethinking our services to move our spending upwards on the waste hierarchy to focus on avoidance reuse and recycling and to minimise what we are dealing with at the bottom of the waste hierarchy.

Traditionally, councils have looked at end-of-pipe solutions for managing waste and most funds for waste were spent at the lower end of the hierarchy. Council can influence waste avoidance and reuse in the community by sharing information and skills and community building around waste issues, rather than simply waiting for technology to improve diversion rates.


Q. Tell us about some of the food waste programs council has in place for avoidance?

A. IWC programs have engaged across all levels of the waste hierarchy and engendered responsibility across various sectors. 

Council and the community have different spheres of influence which need to be built into projects to increase resource recovery. For example, the community has the greatest influence in waste avoidance with support from council and other organisations
and individuals. 

When it comes to avoidance, council’s Food Fix program initially targeted families with young children after a successful trial it was extended to all IWC residents. We engaged 260 households through 15 skills-building workshops and 545 residents participated in food waste avoidance activities or demonstrations across 12 local events or festival stalls. 

IWC’s evaluations showed an increase in participant’s motivation to avoid food waste, a change in behaviour around food waste and a reduction in food waste.

Q. How do council programs support food waste resource recovery? 

A. For reusing, a range of composting programs were offered to empower our diverse community, including trials of the Compost Collective, Compost Huts and the Compost Revolution program.

The Compost Collective provided support for composting on common property within 96 apartment complexes and engaged 399 households. Residents were provided compost bins and turners, on-site training and follow up support and on average diverted 1.8 kilograms of organic waste per household per week.  

The Compost Huts Trial engaged 120 households who took their food scraps to a council managed compost hut in one of two council reserves. The trial ran for 23 weeks at one hut and 19 weeks at the other.

Residents were able to participate by subscribing online and were provided with training and an access code to avoid contamination. 

Compost Huts had a very positive response from the community, with 2.4 tonnes of food waste diverted over five months and 94 per cent of participants diverting all eligible waste from their red bin during the trial. 

Compost Huts had the capacity to accept the waste from 60 households per hut (about 19 tonnes per hut per annum) and were found to work best in well-used multi-functional spaces. 

Participants in the trial reported recommending the huts to other neighbours and found the community building aspect of public place composting enjoyable. The community were quick to take ownership of the compost huts as they had been involved in the siting and design of the huts since the project’s inception.

The widely known Compost Revolution program engaged 1350 residents last year by supplying equipment and online tutorials. Residents in IWC are eligible for a 50 per cent discount on composts and worm farms sold through the Compost Revolution. IWC also provided face-to-face composting workshops and support for schools, residents and community gardens.

For recycling, Food Organics Only and Food Organics and Garden Organics (FOGO) programs offer a centralised solution for processing organic waste to residents who are not interested or able to compost but still wish to dispose of organic waste sustainably. 

In the area of recovery, the garbage from most of the local government area is sent to the Veolia mechanical biological treatment facility in Woodlawn to recover food and other organics to produce low grade compost for landfill cover and mine site rehabilitation. This allows significant volumes of organic waste to be diverted from landfill. 

In terms of disposal, food waste that isn’t recovered or collected separately via one of our programs ends up in landfill.

A trial of Compost Huts engaged 120 households in Inner West Council.

Q. What are some of council’s most proudest achievements in waste? 

A. As a newly formed council, IWC has many opportunities ahead of us. We are currently reviewing all of our kerbside waste and recycling services. 

Our proudest achievement is rethinking the way we achieve zero waste collaboratively with our community. By empowering the community we learn from one another through the sharing of knowledge, resources and skills. Community embraced initiatives are often the most accepted as social norms.

Q. What do you look for in a successful tender and how do you go about it? 

A. It’s all about the specifications – knowing exactly what you are tendering for and encouraging innovation and sustainability. Writing clear tender specifications for the service or goods required with strategic objectives clearly articulated and repeated throughout usually determines the quality of bids received.

It’s also about having an assessment criteria aligned to the specifications of the tender and weightings aligned to the values of the organisation. Value for money is more than financial comparisons – it incorporates social, environmental, economic and civic leadership.

Q. How is IWC helping to achieve the NSW target of 75 per cent of waste away from landfill by 2021-22?

A. IWC is examining what’s being generated and addressing problem wastes to determine where we can achieve the greatest impact on recovery. For example, audits showed that food makes up 37 per cent of the average garbage bin by weight so this is an obvious opportunity. As part of our integration plan, we’re working on reviewing all organics services, trials and opportunities to determine the future service for Inner West. The resource recovery targets are integral in determining a sustainable solution for the IW community.

Q. What are some of the challenges for resource recovery in NSW into the future and how does IWC hope to address these? 

A. Access to transfer stations and facilities is a key challenge in a highly urbanised area as resource recovery is being pushed further out of the Sydney metropolitan area. It’s important to try and close the loop and avoid waste where possible as well as to manage what’s left as close to the point of generation as possible, rather than sending it away to be a burden on other communities.

Significant population growth is predicted within IWC and the urban landscape is changing dramatically with taller apartments across the skyline. We are tackling this issue at the planning stage collaboratively with our planning department to more effectively manage resources through a new development control plan.

The transient nature of communities and the different approaches to collection and processing that exist across the country creates an ongoing challenge to maintain awareness about services and what can and can’t be recycled. Product stewardship across a range of industries and fostering a circular economy through local recycling markets are the highest priorities for Australia at the moment. Local government is ready to move to support take-back programs and material collection but are looking to the states and Federal Government for leadership in setting the policy and national frameworks in these areas.

This article appeared in the October issue of Waste Management Review. 

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