By Stephanie Nestor, Assistant Editor, Council Magazine
As 2030 approaches, councils are working to make sure Australia halves the amount of food and organic waste sent to landfill, but with the same old challenges getting in the way, there is still a lot to learn.
Since the original release of the National Waste Policy Action Plan in 2019, councils around Australia have been trialling and setting up food organics and waste organics (FOGO) waste collection services for residents to halve the amount of organic waste being sent to landfill by 2030.
While many of these programs have been successful, councils have inevitably run into challenges and obstacles that have slowed down green bin roll-outs. Whether it’s navigating the unique requirements of highrise buildings or finding a waste processing facility, local governments have hit various roadblocks along the way. But all these challenges are proving to be learning opportunities on the journey to reducing waste.
Same challenges, new strategies
Nation-wide Australia has 537 councils, with 234 of them offering FOGO services as of May 2023. While the target has been set by the Federal Government, for local governments, that number will not approach 100 per cent unless cost and infrastructure problems are resolved.
Since Council Magazine’s previous FOGO update, councils are still tackling the same four challenges:
1. Providing services for high-rise apartments
2. Garnering community support and engagement
3. Accessing waste processing facilities
4. Reducing organic waste contamination
Despite these challenges, more councils are finding ways to set up FOGO waste collection services. For example, last year, the City of Port Phillip had not figured out a strategy for offering FOGO services to residents in highrise buildings, but as of January 2023, the City has adopted a hybrid approach – some residents will have kerbside pick-up bins, while others will have communal drop-off points.
Another example is Manningham City Council, which previously could not roll-out FOGO services because there were no available waste processing facilities, but Council has since announced it will be introducing services as of July 2023.
With the clock ticking closer to 2030, it’s not only important for more waste processing infrastructure to be built, or for more funding to help set up FOGO waste collection trials, it’s also vital that councils learn from each other’s successes and failures to understand what it takes to keep the green bins rolling.
Here are five councils from around the country that are tackling these challenges and providing successful FOGO roll-outs.
Lockyer Valley Regional Council
In Queensland, FOGO bin roll-outs have been slow, with only eight of the 78 local governments implementing services so far. However, the councils with services are making significant strides and setting an example for the whole state. One in particular, Lockyer Valley Regional Council, has managed to convert 400t of organic waste into soil conditioner.
With a $320,000 grant from the Queensland Government, Council was able to roll-out over 1,000 green bins to trial collection frequency, waste processing infrastructure and community engagement. As a result, Council set up its own temporary composting facility to process the organic waste using forced aeration, turning it into soil conditioner.
This not only meant Council diverted hundreds of tonnes of food and organic waste from landfill, saving on costs and emissions from landfill pits and sites, but also were able to recycle the waste. The soil conditioner went on to be used for community gardens, childcare centres and schools in the region.
This trial ended up saving Council 768t3 of carbon emissions. Additionally, visible results of the trial in local public spaces helped to promote community awareness and support for Council’s FOGO initiative. It initiated a behavioural change in the community to understand that FOGO collection services are about more than just diverting waste – it can also recycle and reuse waste to be used in the community.
City of Melbourne
In 2022, City of Melbourne was struggling to set up FOGO services for high-rise apartments, with many buildings inaccessible for trucks and waste disposal personnel, and concerns from residents about the odour from large food waste bins.
With over 80 per cent of residents living in high-rise buildings in the City of Melbourne and organic waste making up over 45 per cent of waste from apartments, it was important Council’s FOGO collection services made allowances for high-density housing.
As of February 2023, the City of Melbourne is running a pilot program to trial FOGO collection for six high-rise buildings for 12 months. These buildings were selected through expression of interest, with the six chosen eager to set up services. The pilot is designed to suit the unique needs of each building to test tailored approaches and understand what strategies work for which circumstances.
All the buildings selected were six or more storeys high, making this a leading pilot program that can offer insight for other councils around metropolitan areas. The pilot program is also trialling how Council can convert the organic waste into fertiliser to use in Melbourne’s parks and gardens, hopefully creating a circular economy.
Greater Bendigo City Council
Also striving to create a circular economy for its community, Greater Bendigo City Council is taking steps to ensure less of the city’s waste ends up in landfill and can actually be recycled.
In September 2022, Council entered into a service agreement to establish a FOGO processing and recirculation facility. With the Eaglehawk Landfill just outside of Bendigo expected to reach capacity later in 2023, Council is endeavouring to develop new circular economy solutions to manage its waste and resources.
In partnership with Western Composting Technology, a new facility will be established next to the Bendigo Livestock Exchange in Huntly on Council-owned land. The facility will be privately owned and operated by Western Composting Technology.
It is expected this recirculation facility will process 20,000t of FOGO waste each year initially, with a maximum capacity of 30,000t and capacity to increase demand if necessary. At maximum capacity, the facility will help reduce Bendigo’s emissions by 16.3 per cent.
Additionally, the facility will mean Council doesn’t need to transport its organic waste out of the region to be processed, saving costs while allowing Council to reuse the waste as compost. This is a particular problem for regional areas, with councils often being forced to move waste facilities closer to metropolitan areas for processing, which becomes too costly in the long-run.
With a local processing facility, Council can ensure there will be more than enough capacity for the city to not only process FOGO waste but also see it reused in the community.
City of Launceston
In Tasmania, the City of Launceston offers a voluntary kerbside FOGO collection service for residents, but has temporarily suspended collecting compostable packaging from events in the local area, with concerns about contamination.
Many events around Australia, including in Launceston, have begun using compostable packaging for food items, yet this packaging often cannot be processed at recycling facilities because it’s made of mixed materials.
Compostable packaging may contain per-fluorinated and poly-flourinated alkyl substances (PFAS). PFAS are not biodegradable and don’t dissolve in water, so while the rest of the packaging might disappear, these synthetic materials still remain – meaning they contaminate water and soil, and are toxic to wildlife.
As a result, compostable packaging processed alongside organic waste will contaminate recycled material and it will no longer be safe to use. With the long-term effects of PFAS exposure on humans still being studied, many countries have already elected to reduce the use of these substances in manufacturing.
In order for the compost material produced from recycled FOGO waste to be safe for humans and the environment, the City of Launceston will wait until new national standards regarding PFAS are established before processing compostable packaging at events.
While it may seem like a step backwards by removing FOGO bins from events in Launceston, this decision by Council will ensure the recycled compost material is uncontaminated and FOGO waste collected from public events can be reused alongside organics collected from households.
City of Victor Harbor
In South Australia, 59 per cent of local governments have introduced FOGO waste collection services. With many residents eager for their councils to offer more recycling options, one South Australian Council is listening to the community to know when is the best time for bin collections.
The City of Victor Harbor on the Fleurieu Peninsula trialled weekly kerbside collection for green and yellow bins during the peak Summer holiday period. From December 2022 to January 2023, Council doubled the collection of green and yellow bins, while moving general waste bin collection to every fortnight, to encourage more recycling during Summer.
Prior to the change, the extra collection was expected to recycle almost 75 per cent of all waste collected from households. As of February 2023, the change in bin collections meant Council’s waste diversion rate improved from 56 to 70 per cent.
Compared to the 2021/22 Summer period, this change meant that landfill was reduced by 23 per cent, with FOGO waste increasing by 60 per cent and general recycling by 16 per cent. There were similar results for neighbouring councils, District Council of Yankalilla, Alexandria Council and Kangaroo Island Council, with over 20 per cent reduction in waste being sent to landfill.
While some residents found the temporary change confusing, the community had a positive reaction to the collection schedule, with some residents requesting FOGO collection for rural properties in a desire to recycle more. Bin collections have since returned to the regular schedule, with the green and yellow bins being collected every alternating fortnight.
Even though many councils around Australia have already introduced weekly green bin collections, for some areas, bin collection schedules can be tailored to account for peak periods, which will encourage recycling without putting a strain on local government resources.
With more councils implementing FOGO waste collection services, many local governments are considering the next steps to reaching the 2030 target.
On top of halving the amount of organic waste sent to landfill, the National Waste Policy Action Plan 2019 also includes targets to recover 80 per cent of waste and significantly increase the use of recycled material in industry and government.
To meet these targets, it will take more than just setting up FOGO waste collection services. For Victoria, councils will be required to set up a four-bin system, with the fourth bin being for glass recyclables.
While some regions already have glass recycling, the Victorian Government has decided to separate glass from regular recyclables in order to be able to recycle glass bottles and other items, which often interfere with recycling other materials such as paper, cardboard and cans.
Another project for councils are waste drop-off points for residents who don’t have kerbside collections for FOGO waste or glass. From 1 November 2023, Victorians will be able to get back 10 cents on glass bottles and drink cans if they drop-off these recyclables at collection points. These collection points will be spread across metropolitan and regional areas.
This container deposit scheme is already being offered in other states, with billions of drink containers returned each year in New South Wales alone. Additionally there is also the problem of dealing with soft plastics, which are not easy to recycle because they are often contaminated with food or are made up of mixed plastics that cannot be separated.
While organisations have collected soft plastics from supermarkets in the past, these soft plastics were often stockpiled in warehouses or ended up in landfill.
There are many more avenues to consider as the clock ticks closer to 2030. Councils are in a unique position to trial methods, make mistakes, learn from the community and discover better strategies that will lead the country into a more circular future.