Taking a bite out of food waste in Bristol

Bristol has seen a remarkable increase in food waste collections since it implemented an attention-grabbing new communications campaign. Kate Dickinson reports

For many local authorities in England, food waste is the next big recycling frontier. But encouraging reluctant residents to tackle the messy, smelly waste stream can be quite a difficult prospect.

If councils are looking for inspiration, the results of Bristol’s food waste campaign provide plenty to get their teeth into. Called ‘Slim My Waste – Feed My Face’, the campaign was first trialled in Hartcliffe in October 2017 and rolled out across the entire city in June 2018. Since then, the most recent figures show that the amount of food waste collected has gone up by over 20 per cent, equivalent to 2,400 tonnes a year. These results have helped to bolster the city’s overall recycling rate, which stands at 44.9 per cent, while residual waste arisings have dropped by an annual 36 kilogrammes per household.

So how did Bristol do it? The campaign was created by Bristol Waste Company (BWC), the council-owned organisation responsible for waste and recycling collections, Household Waste Recycling Centre (HWRC) management and street cleansing across the city.

Bristol Waste Company Development and Sustainability Manager Gwen Frost and Bristol City Councillor Kye Dudd.
Bristol Waste Company Development and Sustainability Manager Gwen Frost and Bristol City Councillor Kye Dudd.

Bristol Waste Company Development and Sustainability Manager Gwen Frost and Bristol City Councillor Kye Dudd.A yearly waste composition analysis set the campaign in motion, revealing that over 20 per cent of material in residual waste bins was food waste. For a council looking to boost recycling rates, “it was an obvious thing to target first”, says Gwen Frost, BWC’s Development and Sustainability Manager, who developed the campaign with Marketing Officer Emma Williams.

What came next were the visuals for a bold and slightly wacky communications campaign that aimed to grab people’s attention. Bright yellow tape measure stickers were wrapped around people’s black residual waste bins (‘slim my waste’) while more stickers were provided for households to give their brown food waste caddies a personality (‘feed my face’).

It was a challenge, Williams admits, to come up with visuals that would appeal to all ages – but with ‘pester power’ an important consideration, the stickers helped to engage younger residents. In Hartcliffe, they were a conversation piece, something people engaged with whether they liked it or not. “It’s the like it or loathe it factor – people are talking regardless.”

Hartcliffe is one of the most deprived areas of Bristol, where engagement with recycling was lacking. “We wanted to trial something that really educated and
had a real visual presence,” says Williams. BWC took a multi-faceted approach; along with the stickers, leaflets were provided with information about how the food is recycled (at the GENeco anaerobic digestion facility in Avonmouth) and how to get hold of a food waste caddy.

This article was taken from Issue 96

This was accompanied by a physical presence in Hartcliffe, with a BWC shop where residents could ask questions and collect caddies, and visits by the team to local schools and supermarkets.

Scaling up from a small district to an entire city made for a “chaotic” start to the wider rollout in 2018, says Frost. “It is a service change, in effect.” But much of the groundwork had already been laid and just the sight of the teams out taping up bins created a “strong presence” that counterbalanced the need for any further interventions. A comprehensive website and social media campaign, where people shared pictures of their caddies, helped to maintain momentum.

Surprisingly, the results of the trial were achieved without any paid-for advertising. Bins and recycling vehicles provided free canvases, while the local and trade press quickly got on board. “Because it was visual, it really spoke for itself,” says Williams. In all, the trial cost around £3 a household, and the city-wide campaign only £1, meaning the costs will be paid back within a year thanks to avoided disposal costs.

BWC is keen to stress that similar results are possible across the country, and has offered to share its experience, and designs, with interested councils. One key takeaway from Williams: “Whatever you do, it needs to be fun, and it needs to be a bit playful. I think that’s the thing that captures people’s imaginations around campaigns, to try and steer away from the finger- wagging”. With the council set to roll out campaigns to focus on more specific waste streams in the future, we can be sure they will raise a smile.