MWRRG’s FOGO guide for councils

MWRRG’s FOGO guide for councils

Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Group has developed a comprehensive guide to help councils design, implement and maintain a high-performing food organics and garden organics service. 

How do you design a food organics and garden organics (FOGO) collection service for success and what are the major considerations that go into a business case for local governments? 

These are the questions statutory authority Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Group (MWRRG) sought to answer when developing a FOGO guide for councils to access. With 19 Victorian councils operating a FOGO service and five others undergoing trials, MWRRG has been working to boost these numbers as part of its task of developing Melbourne’s organics network.

Increasing the recovery of organic waste is one of MWRRG’s four key strategic objectives in its 2016 Metropolitan Waste and Resource Recovery Implementation Plan. To achieve this objective, an organics processing network to divert Melbourne’s organic waste from landfill has been developed through collective procurement contracts in Melbourne’s north-west, south- east and east. 

THE JOURNEY

Rob Millard, MWRRG Chief Executive Officer, says EPA Victoria has worked hard over the past 10 years to improve the regulation of the composting industry and the design and operation of such facilities. He says that facilities now have a social licence to operate they didn’t have 10 years ago.

 “You can really go back to 2009 when composting facilities were being closed because of odour problems and issues with planning permits,” Rob explains.

He says that industry has put substantial time and resources into developing infrastructure and markets to ensure the ongoing sustainability of collection systems. 

“We’ve been building a new network of organics processing facilities and part of having a sustainable industry with composting facilities is to have an output in the market for those products.”

Rob says that progress on FOGO really started to take place when the planning phase transformed into a business case and procurement strategy. The first step occurred in 2013, when Veolia established a large-scale green waste processing facility as part of its contract with MWRRG and 11 northern and western metropolitan councils.

Since then, MWRRG has secured the South East Organics Processing Contract involving eight councils and three organics processors, as well as an agreement involving five councils and three preferred tenderers in Melbourne’s east.

Together, the organics processing facilities network has the potential capacity to divert more than 520,000 tonnes a year of food and garden waste (from household and commercial/industrial sources) from landfill by 2019.

BACK TO EARTH

In 2013, the award of the first organics network contract in Melbourne’s north and west spurred on MWRRG’s the Back to Earth Initiative.

The Back to Earth Initiative is an educational campaign involving partnerships with 19 metropolitan councils and three councils in the Goulburn Valley. As a communications and education campaign, it goes beyond instructional messages and provides a link between what residents put in their bins and the process that goes into creating an end product that can be used on gardens and farms.

The Back to Earth Initiative includes a website, Facebook page and a series of videos showcasing farmers who use compost resulting from organics collection. 

Participating councils are supported with a communications guide, advice and collateral development.

MWRRG’s FOGO guide was launched in late September.

Although initially established to support garden waste collection, the Back to Earth Initiative has increasingly been used to support councils rolling out FOGO collection.

FOGO SOCIAL RESEARCH

In 2017, MWRRG commissioned a desktop review of FOGO services across Australia and social research to explore the community’s willingness to separate and recycle food waste via their kerbside waste collection system. The research found 71 per cent of participants responded positively to the concept of separating their food waste.

The research also showed that residents are motivated to participate in food waste recycling when they understand its end use and benefits. This approach was found to provide opportunities over time to build positive social norms around separating food and garden waste services, much like other recycling.  

“There is an opportunity for councils to start building awareness of the food waste problem, as well as the benefits of reducing food waste in landfill, even if a food waste recycling service has not yet been introduced,” Rob says.

Overall, the research found that FOGO was best pitched to residents with positive messaging on the societal benefits of a service, layman’s terminology, bin stickers and education on contamination and encouragement and enforcement in accordance with desired rollout outcomes. Rob says feedback from the research showed getting community buy-in for the full FOGO solution was critical.

“All councils will consider a FOGO service when each council is ready to. Some councils are ready to do it now, while others plan to do it in the future or are weighing up the options for their community,” Rob says.

Introducing a kerbside food and garden organics collection service – A guide for local government brings together the latest research, modelling and lessons from FOGO pioneers. 

The guide was developed with the support of councils, state government and industry, which collaborated through an advisory group to develop a document that helps councils design, implement and maintain a high-performing and cost-effective FOGO service. 

The guide is presented in an easy-to-use interactive online format, with practical tools and advice for planning and implementing a service in six stages. 

SIX STEPS TO FOGO

The six stages of the plan encompass understanding the case for change, designing for success, developing a business case, procuring FOGO services, rolling out the service and monitoring and improving it.

“Each component will have a council overlay, so we’re not being prescriptive in the service design,” Rob says.

The guide comprises sections targeted at a variety of audiences, including waste officers, CEOs or councillors. 

He says the document may be enhanced in the future as new ideas emerge and could be reviewed roughly every 12-18 months to ensure it remains current. 

“There would be nothing worse than a poor performing FOGO service in one council negatively impacting a number of other councils, so we have to ensure services are designed, implemented and managed well.” 

Rob adds that he is confident that Melbourne’s organics-recycling network will be able to increase its capacity despite the city’s growing population. 

“It’s all about protecting the buffers and having them in the right locations that won’t be affected by population growth. For instance, the three facilities in Dandenong are in an industrial zone and won’t be affected by increases in our population,” Rob says.

While there is a finite limit to the city’s buffers, Rob says the network was designed to allow businesses to take their organics out to the regions once the respective processors reach their capacity.

COUNCIL TRIALS

Melbourne’s City of Darebin in the city’s north provided direct feedback to MWRRG following a six-month trial of FOGO in Kingsbury to inform the development of its guide. 

Kelly Barnes, Environment Officer, Water, Waste & Litter, says council measured participation through pre and post-trial surveys, door-to-door interviews, truck weigh data, visual bin inspections and kerbside audits. She says the trial found 72 per cent of the wider Darebin area supported a FOGO service.

“The key messages were spruiking the benefits of recycling food waste – diverting food from landfill, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and creating a useful end product used by Victorian farmers,” Kelly says.

Kelly says it was also important to make it as easy for residents as possible, with kitchen caddies provided free as an incentive to participation. 

She says getting community buy-in involved identifying the perceived barriers surrounding odours and pests and providing the community with strategies and information on how to overcome this. 

Kelly says that in terms of the business case supporting a circular economy, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing diversion from landfill made it a compelling proposition. The City of Darebin is now looking at rolling a FOGO service out across the municipality.

This article was published in the November issue of Waste Management Review. 

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