A campaign which aims to raise awareness about the amount of waste households produce in WA has been gaining attention throughout Australia.
It’s been featured on the War on Waste and the mainstream press and it was presented at this year’s Waste 2019 Conference.
Face Your Waste has reached two million households – an extraordinary result in a state of just over 2.5 million. The campaign allows households to volunteer as bin ambassadors and use a transparent bin.
Mindarie Regional Council (MRC), one of WA’s largest waste authorities in Perth’s north, devised Face Your Waste two years ago with a view to making its residents more conscious of the waste they were producing. The authority is responsible for member councils that include the cities of Joondalup, Perth, Stirling, Vincent and Wanneroo and the towns of Cambridge and Victoria Park.
Australians generated 13.8 million tonnes of core waste in 2017 (excluding hazardous waste, ash and landfill gas), according to the National Waste Report 2018. In the Perth metro area this was 539 kilograms per capita in 2016-17.
Face Your Waste was spawned off the back of a lack of awareness of what happens to our waste after it leaves the kerbside.
The idea was to confront residents with their waste and inspire better outcomes. Its aims are to reduce contamination, waste to landfill and most importantly, waste creation in the first place.
Face Your Waste provides practical tips on how to reduce/avoid waste as traditional campaigns talk a lot about dealing with waste better as opposed to not creating so much. It is also aiming to be relatable with a comedic campaign spokesperson “Famous Sharron”, who provides simple tips such as taking reusable bags to the store and favouring quality over quantity.
The message supports that of Own Your Impact, a WA Government initiative focused on inspiring Western Australians to take ownership of their waste.
Geoff Atkinson, Education Manager at MRC, says the campaign has exceeded expectations beyond what council could have imagined.
“It actually got tremendous traction within various aspects of the media and since then basically everyone in the Perth metropolitan area has seen the Face Your Waste message,” Geoff explains.
“We wanted to really capture people’s imagination and get them talking about their waste – a little bit different to other campaigns. While they’re important, it can be easy to gloss over the issue and think that’s someone else’s waste.”
The program was first rolled out in April last year at a variety of households over a two-week period, using its 20 clear bins. MRC’s feedback found that a standard bin cycle was not enough to make a change and soon moved to a complete month.
He says that initial tests showed the 240-litre bins were robust enough to withstand side lift and rear loader trucks. The success of the program has seen more than 350 bin ambassadors registered in the first six months.
Geoff says feedback has been overall positive. He says that anecdotally, people taking part in the trial are making conscious decisions to purchase differently.
“From what we gather with the research we’ve done, transparent bins haven’t been used anywhere else and it’s actually quite unique,” Geoff explains.
Although some residents are concerned about people knowing what’s in their bins, the concept is voluntary and therefore would not affect households that don’t want to participate. The program is not intended to penalise householders in any way but rather increase community engagement.
“We’re not looking to roll this out to all households on a permanent basis. I think it has a novelty factor about it. If everyone had clear bins I wonder if it would work as it would become normalised,” he says.
Anecdotally, the project has drawn attention to how much waste households produce each month.
“When you put your bins out, you don’t really know whether what your putting out is a normal amount or how it ranks in terms of what others put out. So with these bins you can make a comparison to your neighbours.”
He adds that this provides a benchmark for others to look to eliminate unnecessary waste while also potentially identifying contamination more easily.
“It provides a bit of community competition where they can share stories and exchange ideas and make decisions on how they can do it better,” Geoff says.
“Some people thought they were doing things right but then go to see what their bin looked like and realised they produced a lot of avoidable waste or recyclables.”
He says where they have been used at events, including business training, they have proved a useful tool in improving contamination education.
He says numerous other councils in Australia and New Zealand have expressed interest in replicating the concept. The idea might also be able to be linked to other initiatives such as food and garden organic rollouts or single-use plastic bag bans to encourage waste reduction.
“The broader idea behind this campaign is that it can reduce contamination and the amount of waste being produced in the first place. It’s putting it back to grassroots and taking ownership that can be dovetailed into other campaigns,” he says.
As to the project’s next steps? Geoff says that MRC will look to measure waste reduction outcomes and provide some data on the longevity of behavioural change.
“It’s important to know if people keep reducing their waste after reverting back to normal bins and it creates a pattern of behavioural change that allows people to keep doing the right thing afterwards.
“It’s not how much waste you’ve got in the bin, but how much you can reduce over time. If you’re producing a bin full because you have a number of people in the household, that is fine. It’s about taking steps to bring that amount down.”