Ideal Home Food Waste Collections

With more than half of UK homes still not able to recycle kitchen waste at the kerbside, WRAP’s Food Waste Collections Manager, Chris Mills, describes best practice for designing an effective service 

Food waste collections have developed at different rates across the UK over the last six years. The number of UK households with kerbside collections of household food waste has grown from around three million in 2008 to more than 11 million in 2013.  

WRAP has been at the forefront of work to reduce food waste going to landfill and supporting local authorities with the introduction of services. Quite rightly, around the world, the UK is widely recognised as a leading example in the prevention and collection of household food waste.

However, four in 10 local authorities have not introduced food waste collections, so there’s still a long way to go, especially in terms of coverage of households. If the UK is to meet the EU’s challenging 50 per cent recycling target by 2020, increasing household food waste recycling throughout the country has an important part to play (see chart below right).

So, how can local authorities introduce effective separate food waste collection services that residents will support?

Factors such as design and delivery, and how the service is communicated, all play an important part in how residents buy into and then stay with a scheme. As with any waste management collection scheme, residents’ experiences of the service will ultimately determine its success. WRAP’s research has highlighted residents’ preference for a weekly kerbside collection of the food waste they are unable to prevent or reduce.  

Unsurprisingly, performance figures regularly demonstrate that weekly food waste collections significantly out-perform fortnightly collections of food waste (when combined with garden waste) by a factor of around three to one. Research has also revealed some specific barriers to participation.

The issue of hygiene, and the role that kitchen caddy liners play, is frequently mentioned in householder surveys. However, the perception of unhygienic use is most often cited by non-participating households in contrast to the experiences of the majority of users, particularly when they have
been provided with the appropriate containers.  

Partly due to budget constraints, some local authorities issue starter packs of liners and then encourage residents to purchase further supplies thereafter. However, WRAP’s review of the cost and benefits of various liner supply options with local authorities suggests that there does appear to be a good business case for a free supply, especially where participation is low. Research shows that local authorities operating a system of replenishing liner stocks free to residents on request experience higher collection yields over time.

Surveys and focus groups revealed householders are often sensitive to the colours of the containers provided to them by their local authority. Where residents are required to store counter-top caddies in their kitchens, it is understandable that there may be a reluctance to use caddies in bolder colours, which may be in contrast to their household decor. 

Other issues raised by residents include the importance of having their own container returned to them in the right location after collection.

Several WRAP-funded trials have gathered sufficient data to prove the correlation between performance and relative social deprivation of an area. In real terms, this means that yields per household are not dissimilar, but there are simply greater numbers of households participating in more affluent areas. Whilst there are many examples of good performing schemes in deprived areas, challenges such as high turnover of residents in rented accommodation, difficulties accessing properties and language barriers can affect overall service uptake. 

Whilst growth in separate household food waste collections is required to help meet the UK’s recycling targets, ensuring the effectiveness of existing services is also important. In some areas, we see services not operating as well as intended and not supported by residents as well as they could be.

To help ensure that new and existing services maximise take up, WRAP is working with a group of local authorities who have experienced a drop off in participation or reduced yields. We surveyed the residents to identify why they are not using the food waste collection service in their area.

Based on all these survey results, a series of approaches is being trialled to address barriers to participation. Performance is being monitored over the next few months and will give us valuable data on which approaches are more (or less) effective, their relative ‘value for money’, and how they could be rolled out to other local authorities around the UK.  

Data will be available in late summer and will also help inform further work with local authorities to design services that maximise customer service and householder participation whilst minimising cost. 

One of the characteristics of an effective service with high resident participation is good communications. Although messages around preventing food waste and separate food waste collections can be perceived as confusing to communicate to residents, tackling this issue prior to service introduction can have a positive effect on motivation to participate. Challenging residents’ preconceptions about how much food waste they actually produce can add incentive to separate it for recycling.

Early communication of how to prevent food waste, why food we can’t avoid wasting should be recycled, how the service will be delivered and what residents need to do is vital. A service will only be efficient and successful if residents are on board from day one, it is simple and convenient for them to use, and they understand the benefits of separating their food waste from general refuse.  

Top tips to deliver an effective service

Consider the business case

Consult WRAP for guidance when reviewing the overall costs and benefits of weekly food waste collections. Whilst set-up and running costs may be higher, an efficiently-operated service can bring financial gains. Thoroughly question all of your assumptions. Consider the differences of lower gate fees for recycling versus higher costs of landfill and incineration for disposing of food mixed with general refuse.

This article was taken from Issue 76

Adopt good practice service design
We know that participation and yields of food waste collection can decline over time in areas with weekly general refuse collections. We also know that residents have a lower tolerance for storing food waste compared with general refuse and dry recyclables. Therefore, a weekly collection of food waste alongside a less frequent refuse collection is considered good practice and has been shown to deliver the greatest yields.

Consider liner supply provision
Remember that whilst local authorities have a choice regarding liner supply options, residents have a choice of whether or not to use the service at all. Reviewing all the costs and benefits of different types of liner supply and improving access to these for residents will definitely improve householder experience of the service, and encourage greater participation. 

Have a good communications plan
Set out what you’re doing, why and when before introducing the service. Be clear on the importance of food recycling. Residents may be unaware of why they should use the service and what happens to the waste they have spent time separating. A range of tried and tested communication materials is available on the new Recycle Now partners’ website: Getting residents onboard right from the start is vital to success. Trying to re-recruit lapsed users is more difficult and expensive, so it literally pays to get it right first time. 

Information on the support WRAP can offer local authorities on setting up a household food waste collection is being updated and will be available online.