SA launches FOGO research to combat household compost

A new South Australian research project is aiming to encourage efficient FOGO disposal by understanding household behaviours around food waste. 

The what, where, and why of Household Food Waste Behaviour project is in collaboration with the Fight Food Waste CRC, East Waste, the University of Adelaide, Green Industries SA and sub-contractor Rawtec.

​Building on existing international research, the project will utilise detailed micro-waste auditing, ongoing waste disposal monitoring technology and novel household surveys from a broad cross-section of the community, to develop a comprehensive report on household  food waste bin behaviour.

Fight Food Waste CRC outlined in its plan that ultimately the project aims to successfully change household food waste behaviour in the long-term to achieve the recycling of food waste into a valuable commodity as opposed to sending it to landfill.

“Whilst this project will be focussed on Adelaide, similar benefits can be expected for councils in other Australian cities,” Fight Food Waste CRC said in its project plan.

Fraser Bell, East Waste Chair said that diverting food waste from landfill represents the single biggest financial and environmental opportunity for councils.

“Food waste is a valuable commodity and we hope to improve household bin disposal behaviour,” Bell said.

“Through this new research, we will build a picture of the behaviour of our residents, including the levers that can influence positive and sustainable changes in their practices moving forward.”

Dr Steven Lapidge, Fight Food Waste CRC Chief Executive Officer, said this SA project complements the Fight Food Waste CRC’s national research efforts focused on household food waste behaviour change.

“This is a big opportunity for Australians to save money through reducing household food waste, as well as to divert as much unavoidable food waste from landfill,” he said.

“Local governments across Australia can learn from this leading research project.”

Following this research project, the City of Mount Gambier has introduced a universal FOGO service for residential properties due to recently receiving $32,954 towards the initiative via the State Government Kerbside Performance Plus (Food Organics) Incentives Program.

City of Mount Gambier residents will no longer have to pay an additional fee to subscribe to the kerbside FOGO bin service from 1 July 2020, with council endorsing a plan to absorb the cost of the service into general rates for residential properties.

To date the service has been provided by council on an ‘opt in’ basis whereby residents subscribe through an annual payment of $85.00. Under the change residents will only be required to pay an initial fee to cover the cost of the official green organics bin if they do not already have one.

The most recent kerbside bin audit conducted by council staff indicated that on average 45 per cent of household waste going to landfill is organic matter that could be diverted and recycled through composting.

With 6,853 households currently subscribed to the service and the number set to increase, it is forecast the change will represent a loss of more than $500,000 from council’s operating revenue that will be absorbed through rate revenue.

Nick Serle, City of Mount Gambier General Manager City Infrastructure, said It is much more cost effective for council to dispose of organic matter to a commercial composting operation than it is for it to end up in landfill where it decreases the life of each cell and increases the emission of harmful greenhouse gases.

“This is a large investment however we are confident the savings and environmental benefits that will result from less organic matter entering and contaminating landfill will far outweigh the initial loss of income.”

He said the technology installed on the waste trucks will enable the contents of all bins to be closely monitored.

It is anticipated that by reducing the barriers to accessing the FOGO service that residents will be able to experience first-hand how easily they can reduce their volume of general waste simply by sorting it into the appropriate stream.

Lynette Martin OAM, City of Mount Gambier Mayor, said she is confident residents will see a big reduction in their general waste each week, just by utilising the kitchen caddy system.

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Increase of household waste during isolation affects recycling

During current lockdown measures, Australian households have thrown out more than 10 per cent more rubbish and recyclables via kerbside bins.

ACOR said urgent action is needed to manage the additional volumes of plastic waste as the increase in household waste is affecting Australia’s recycling and resource recovery system.  

ACOR CEO Pete Shmigel said over the past two months, the recycling and waste industries have experienced unprecedented levels of kerbside recycling, especially from soft plastics.

The impact of more people staying at home has raised concerns with ACOR on Australia’s ability to meet national packaging recycling targets by 2025, which were agreed by federal and state governments in 2018.

Mr Schmigel said before COVID-19 emerged, the nationally adopted target for plastic packaging being recycled was set at 70 per cent of plastic packaging being recycled or composted.

“A commitment was made to the phase-out of problematic and unnecessary single-use plastics packaging,” he said.

“With these new and unexpected trends, these targets will be even harder to hit by 2025.”

Mr Schmigel said there are exceptionally high levels of soft plastic going through the system, including fresh food packaging, packaged food wrappers, the wrapping around paper towels and toilet paper, postal and delivery sacks, and plastic shopping bags.

“Regretfully, too much of this soft plastic is ending up where it does not belong – the kerbside recycling bin – and that spoils our good recycling efforts as a country,” he said.

“As per local Councils’ instructions, soft plastics do not belong in kerbside recycling bins.”

However, return of soft plastic by consumers to supermarkets has stayed steady, which means extra material being consumed is not being fully captured for recycling. 

Mr Schmigel said also due to people working from home, recycling from business sites is down by over 20 per cent, which is impacting on the overall viability of the industry.

Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction Trevor Evans launched a report by the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) this month tracking the progress of the national 2025 packaging targets.

It found only 16 per of Australia’s plastic packaging was recycled or composted in 2017-18.

“We need change at both the supply and demand ends: behavioural changes from Australians to get it right at the kerbside and to return soft plastics to supermarkets, and policy changes from governments,” he said.

ACOR is calling on the Federal and state Governments to help consumers by making  labels mandatory rather than voluntary for brand owner companies and purchase recycled content products such as plastic roads and noise barriers.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced export bans on waste plastic last year, to tackle the amount of rubbish including paper, glass and tyres in the world’s oceans.

“If no action is taken to address the plastics issue, other than to implement the proposed export bans and the current system is maintained, the recovery rate for plastic packaging will drop from the current 16 per cent to 13 per cent in 2025,” the 2019 report stated.

“Upcoming communications campaigns to help consumers reduce kerbside recycling contamination from the Governments of South Australia and Victoria are very welcome in this context, and their example should be followed by the other States,” he said.

“These campaigns go a long way to help inform Australians on what to recycle where, but it is ultimately all our responsibility to actively learn correct methods.”

Mr Schmigel said ACOR’s suggested low-cost initiatives are necessary and will keep hi-viz recycling jobs in cities and regions going during this challenging time.

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QLD State of the Environment report highlights interstate waste

The Queensland Government has released its 2018 State of the Environment report, highlighting interstate waste as a pressure on the state’s landfills.

Relatively low costs of landfill disposal in Queensland are said to be the motivator for cross-border flow of waste in the report.

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More than 1.26 million tonnes of domestic waste, 2.146 million tonnes of construction and demolition waste (C&D), and 1.443 million tonnes of commercial and industrial (C&I) waste was sent to landfill in 2016-17.

Of this, 53,000 tonnes of domestic waste, 640,000 tonnes of C&D waste and 23,000 tonnes of C&I waste was generated interstate and transported to Queensland landfills.

The amount of trackable waste received from interstate also increased from around 13,000 tonnes in 2011-12 to 52,200 tonnes in 2015-16.

Littering and illegal dumping is also highlighted as a serious environmental pressure, with reports suggesting the problem as widespread throughout Queensland.

The average number of litter items was found to be higher in Queensland than other Australian stats, particularly at beaches, retail strips and recreational areas.

Queensland Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch said the increase in the amount of interstate waste was proof that that Queensland needed a waste levy.

“The state government’s waste management strategy will stop interstate waste and increase investment in the industry to encourage more recycling and create jobs,” Ms Enoch said.

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