Innovative Bristol engagement campaign increases food waste collected by 87 per cent

January is the month for getting in shape, but in South Bristol it’s the wheelie bins that have been put on a diet. A campaign by Bristol Waste Company, in partnership with waste management firm GENeco, has been encouraging residents to divert food waste away from black refuse bins and into food waste caddies.

The campaign, titled ‘Slim My Waste - Feed My Face’, has been trialling visual engagement techniques to increase people’s awareness and understanding of food waste recycling. Residents were reminded of the ‘no food diet’ for black bins with tape measure stickers placed on every receptacle in the Hartcliffe area of the city (‘Slim My Waste’), while more stickers were handed out for households to turn their food waste caddies into different playful characters (‘Feed My Face’).

According to Bristol Waste, the company responsible for waste collection and recycling across the city, the average family in Bristol wastes £60 of food per month. And this is by no means a local problem; the most recent figures from the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) show that nationally, UK households produce 7.3 million tonnes of food waste every year, and up to 5.7 megatonnes (Mt) of that is preventable waste.

Innovative Bristol engagement campaign increases food waste collected by 87 per cent
Bristol Waste's fun campaign has seen a significant rise in food waste collected from caddies

Reducing the amount of food we waste as a country is one thing, but ensuring the waste we do create goes to the right place is also crucial. WRAP has stated that only 1.1 Mt of household food waste (HHFW) is recycled - 3.5 Mt ends up unnecessarily in sewers or landfill.

Alongside the stickers, the ‘Slim My Waste’ campaign communicated with residents via social media, where people could share their caddy characters to win prizes. The team also used leaflets, educational workshops and school assemblies to encourage residents to avoid food waste and to better utilise their food waste caddies.

Results from the project, which ran for a month in October 2017 across 2,786 households, have been impressive. Hartcliffe, an area among the most deprived 10 per cent in England, has seen a nine per cent increase in the use of food caddies (almost 1000 of which were handed out during the campaign), and an 87 per cent increase in the amount of food collected from them, from 10.5 tonnes pre-trial to 19.6 tonnes in the month after the trial. In addition, there was a 10 per cent decrease in the amount of general waste in black refuse bins over that time.

Tracey Morgan, Managing Director of Bristol Waste, said the measures have had a positive effect on the area: “We are very encouraged by the findings of our ‘Slim My Waste’ campaign. We will continue to monitor activity in the area but results clearly indicate a sizeable uplift of food waste collected at the kerbside. This might mean rolling elements of ‘Slim My Waste’ out in other parts of the city.”

As well as improving residents’ engagement on the kerbside, the campaign sought to raise awareness of what happens to food waste along the line, providing information from GENeco about its anaerobic digestion plant in Avonmouth. There, the waste is transformed into fertiliser and biogas used in part to fuel Bristol’s ‘Bio-Bus’, which is also powered by sewage waste and produces up to 84 per cent less CO2 than a diesel equivalent.

From GENeco, Solid Bioresources Manager Richard McCluskey commented: “It’s great to see so many households recycling their food waste. By doing so, residents are recycling their waste in the most sustainable way and actually creating renewable energy that can power homes and even power transport.”

Statistics from the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) show that from January to December 2016, there was a 15 per cent increase in separately collected HHFW sent for composting and anaerobic digestion. However, there remains huge variation in how much different areas recycle. Although Bristol Waste’s campaign only lasted a month, it is hoped that the results in Hartcliffe may lead to similar projects emerging in other parts of the city.