Communal collection

Sarah Jones learns how Edinburgh has dealt with the problems of recycling food waste in high-density housing areas

The issues surrounding the disposal of food waste are plentiful, especially when it comes to densely-populated areas. The City of Edinburgh Council has launched a new communal food waste collection service in an attempt to tackle these problems. 

The average household in Edinburgh throws away half a tonne of food waste per year, but it was only three years ago, in 2011, when food waste collections were introduced in the city. These collection services are carried out weekly and have proven successful – last year, 4,390 tonnes of food were recycled, an impressive increase of 283 per cent on the previous year.

But the council is determined to boost these figures further, and communal food waste bins are being trialled in suburban Portobello to do just that. These 500-litre bins accept all cooked and uncooked food items.

Environment Councillor Lesley Hinds tells Resource: “Edinburgh, like many cities, has a... mix of housing types, including different types of high-rise, flats and tenements, each presenting their own challenges when designing recycling services. When we were planning the rollout of our communal food waste recycling, we researched other councils’ approaches, worked with the bin manufacturers and used our own knowledge and experience to create a service tailored to the needs of the city.”

Even where they exist, food waste collections in high-density areas are often problematic, with recycling collectors often needing to make several time-consuming trips between houses and their vehicle or using laborious ‘slave systems’, such as carrying around a larger empty container to fill before returning to the vehicle. Edinburgh has confronted these issues with the communal bin.

Of course, as with any rollout, there have been ‘issues’ to address. Hinds continues: “The roll-out went relatively well, but we have had some issues that have been addressed along the way.” Hygiene is one of the main concerns, but the customised design by Taylor ensured this was partly addressed even before rollout. The design features a pull-out, hinged flap with a shelf attached at an angle. As the flap is opened, the shelf raises up to the opening, ensuring that the bin remains sealed and the user does not come into contact with its contents. The hinged flap only opens enough to fit small food items, preventing bulkier, unwanted items from being put inside, and also helping to protect against unpleasant odours, something that was a concern among residents.

This article was taken from Issue 77

One local resident said that people have “perceived barriers” when it comes to food recycling, but that when she started doing it she realised it was “straightforward”. It also “makes you more aware about the amount of good food you’re throwing away, and that motivates you to try to avoid it as much as possible”, she said. 

Hinds admits, though, that at first people were “putting food packaging and loose food into the bins, which makes the bin lids dirty”. To educate residents, the council put in place community engagement programmes, and any issues that came up were sorted out “mainly by stepping up communication with residents with direct mailing and signage on the bins”. So far, the scheme has been “quite the success”, Hinds says. 

To accommodate the new boost to figures, Scottish Water Horizons has constructed a new anaerobic digestion (AD) plant, which will use the waste to produce biogas to generate power, as well as fertiliser for local farmers. Currently, the waste goes to an AD facility in Deerdykes, which will provide a backup to the new plant to ‘ensure a continuity of service’ for the council.

Following the trials, the council plans to install communal food waste bins all over the city, including the Edinburgh Old and New Towns World Heritage Site, and “will continue to evaluate the service and make improvements where [it] can”, Hinds says, concluding that the council wants Edinburgh to be a “great place to live in and visit, and these pilots are part of that”.