Education pilot in Ireland doubles amount of food waste collected

Households in the Irish town of Sligo have more than doubled the amount of organic waste collected for recycling following a year-long consumer awareness programme, according to a new report released last Friday (1 February).

The report, launched by the Irish Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Richard Bruton TD, presents the results of the national pilot scheme of the brown bin education programme carried out in Sligo.

The aim of the pilot, designed by bio-plastics company Novamont, was to see how the implementation of an education programme could improve the amount and quality of food waste in the brown bin. The programme involved waste advisors going door to door, providing kitchen caddies and Novamont’s Mater-Bi compostable liners to householders.

Education pilot doubles amount of food waste collected in Ireland
L to R: Tony Breton (Novamont), Richard Bruton TD, Siobhan Gillen (Sligo County Council) and Percy Foster (Cré)
The pilot scheme was jointly funded by Novamont, Sligo County Council, Cré (the Composting and Anaerobic Digestion Association of Ireland) and the Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment. Carried out between July 2014 and March 2015, the scheme saw waste advisors visit some 6,000 householders to provide information, including national information leaflets tailored to the town of Sligo.

The waste collection routes in the town were divided into three areas, two of which were provided with different types of kitchen caddies and compostable liners, while the third was provided with neither, in order to assess the impact of the provision of caddies and compostable liners on the food waste capture rate.

The trial produced encouraging results, with the overall capture of organic waste from participating households increasing by 59 per cent, while the level of contamination in brown bins fell from 18 per cent to 2.5 per cent. The average level of organic waste found in residual bins fell from 39 per cent to 29 per cent.

The areas provided with caddies and compostable liners achieved the best results, with the overall capture of organic waste increasing by 76 per cent in the area provided with solid caddies and compostable liners in addition to information provided by waste advisors, while participation in food waste recycling increased by 51 per cent.

‘Practical steps’ to improving food waste capture

Launching the report, Richard Bruton, Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment, said: “The results of this initiative show that if we want to help people properly manage their food waste and indeed cut down on their food waste, we need to be doing more to support people in understanding and using their bins. This pilot project confirms that there are real gains to be made in using the brown bin correctly and has identified some really practical steps which could be useful for other towns to adopt.”

The report makes several recommendations on how to increase participation in local authority food waste collection services. It acknowledges that a door-to-door education programme may not be feasible for all waste collectors, but that the provision of kitchen caddies, compostable liners and information leaflets alone significantly boost participation rates. If an education programme were to be introduced by a local authority, however, this should be done in conjunction with all waste collectors.

The report also recommends that the pilot scheme in Sligo should act as the model for other brown bin education schemes across Ireland, while presentation and tonnage trends in areas implementing such schemes should be continually monitored.

Siobhan Gillen of Sligo County Council commented: “We welcomed the opportunity to be involved in this pilot; the uptake of using brown bins correctly increased dramatically and we are still seeing the positive effects today. Provision of ‘door-to-door’ education not only showed positive results for diversion of food waste material from the general waste bin, but it also showed that educating households on correct waste management practice as a whole, allows for better quality recycling and a reduction in disposal of waste to landfill which in turn has a financial gain for the householder.”

Commenting on Novamont’s involvement in the scheme, Tony Breton, UK and Ireland Market Specialist at Novamont, said: “Novamont has always supported organic recycling organisations and we were asked by Cré to be part of the brown bin pilot in Sligo due to our experience in helping developing some of the world’s most effective food waste collection systems. So we helped to design a project looking at ways to address the problems of low public participation in the brown bin schemes, low collection rates for food waste and high levels of contamination which causes significant problems for compost site operators.

“The project involved intensive before and after monitoring of participation, waste analyses, door-to-door householder education as well as the provision of solid-sided and vented kitchen caddies and supplies of Mater-Bi compostable liners. The results, which in summary saw a doubling of participation, significant reductions in the food waste being sent to landfill in the black bin and contamination almost eliminated, demonstrate how these relatively simple and low-cost tools can dramatically improve an organic waste service.”

The full report on the Sligo pilot scheme can be found on the Cré website.