Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
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Weekly food waste collections can benefit the Environment and save money

Weekly food waste collections can benefit the Environment and save money

DEPARTMENT FOR ENVIRONMENT, FOOD AND RURAL AFFAIRS News Release (News Release ref : 90/08) issued by The Government News Network on 27 March 2008

Two thirds of households recycle their food waste when councils provide a weekly collection, along with fortnightly residual waste collection, research has found.

The reasons householders do or don't take part in food waste recycling are outlined in a Defra-funded study led by consultants Brook Lyndhurst. The full report, discussed at a conference for local authorities today, will be published later this spring.

Working with the Resource Recovery Forum and Waste Watch, Brook Lyndhurst's project Enhancing participation in kitchen waste collection schemes - household behaviour and motivations, highlights the real scope for environmental and economic benefits of separate weekly food waste collection services for householders.

It shows that there are complex factors shaping the enthusiasm and effectiveness of householders when it comes to food recycling. These factors include the type of collection scheme in operation, householder age and socio-demographic profile and local authority communications strategy.

This research, funded by Defra's Waste & Resources Evidence Programme (WREP) highlights a number of key findings:

* widespread support for separate food waste collection - 78% agree the environmental benefits are important to them; only 1 in 10 households don't see the point;

* Two in three households (65%) use their food collection regularly, but 23% have never tried it;

* Dedicated food-only systems capture more food waste than food waste mixed with garden waste. Overall, weekly food combined with fortnightly residual waste collection generates the highest kilogramme amount of food recovery per household;

* People take part because they think waste is bad and like to do their bit for the environment;

* People who don't do it tend to be the 'bad' recyclers and can be seen by others as letting everyone else down.

Environment Minister, Joan Ruddock, said:

"Food wastage is an increasingly important issue, on environmental, sustainability, climate change and equity grounds. There is also the real loss to the economy of so much potential value.

"This research shows that much more can be done cost effectively to prevent food wastage and to recover value from what is thrown away. Food waste recycling was targeted by our Waste Strategy, and current studies show how local authorities can make real advances.

"European and UK legislation to divert municipal biodegradable waste from landfill rightly imposes tough targets. Food waste recycling has an important role to play in helping Britain meet its international obligations.

"The most important lesson to learn is that householders do want to play their part. Government needs to provide support and guidance, and current research is helping to inform the debate."

Defra is also funding work by the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) to trial household food waste collection systems. WRAP is supporting 19 councils to conduct weekly food waste collection trials, to develop good practice guidance in the design and operation of food waste collection schemes.

These trials are testing last year's research which indicated that councils should consider collecting food waste separately as:

* this achieves the highest capture rates if collected weekly;

* benefits are pronounced when the refuse is collected less frequently;

* this minimises the processing costs, as the results show that cost burdens on local authorities can be higher when food waste is simply bulked in with existing garden waste schemes.

Building on the findings of this research the trials have been designed to assess the costs and performance of food only collections in a UK context. This has involved the provision of containers and liners, design and issue of communication materials to householders, and trying out different collection vehicles and crewing levels. Extensive monitoring of the trials include participation monitoring, capture rate analysis and customer feedback.

Early results are encouraging and suggest that the schemes have been well received and are acceptable to householders. Initial diversion estimates indicate that around 3kg of food waste per week is being collected from households taking part. Participation rates so far are in the range 50 per cent to 80 per cent. The final report on the trials is expected in early June.

Note to Editors

Brook Lyndhurst's study included a 4,431 household survey in six authority areas offering different food waste collections as well as extensive discussion groups with users and non-users of the food waste collections. The research investigated the behavioural determinants of participation and non-participation, whether and how these factors differ between socio-demographic groups and in different housing situations, and the effects of scheme design (e.g. weekly versus alternate weekly collections and communications).

The project addressed several important questions:

* how much, and why do/don't, households participate?

* what are the main variations across socio-demographic groups and housing types?

* how does service design impact on behaviour?

* what is the role of communications?

* in what ways can local authorities develop their services and communications on food waste to meet what the public wants?

The six local authorities were: Bexley, Cambridge, Fenland, Hackney, Taunton and Weymouth.

WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) reported on their research into trial food waste collections systems in 19 local authority areas: Newcastle, Calderdale, Preston, South Shropshire, Luton, Mid Bedfordshire, West Devon, Waveney, Broadland, Oldham, Hackney (flats), Newtonabbey, South London Waste Partnership(4), Surrey Waste Partnership(3).

WRAP studies issued in 2007 found that UK households create 6.7 million tonnes of food waste each year, some 19 per cent of municipal waste. This figure means that we are throwing away one third of the food we buy (16.5 kg\hh\wk bought - 5.2 kg\hh\wk thrown away. Research indicates that most could have been eaten, if it had been managed better (stored correctly, used in time and cooked in the correct quantities). WRAP's current Love Food Hate Waste campaign is designed to reduce this waste being created.

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