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Aiming high

With all the talk about the relative merits of anaerobic digestion (AD) and how to stimulate investment, it is easy to forget about the complexities of actually collecting food waste, particularly from hard to reach properties. Many councils have introduced domestic kerbside collections of food waste, but few have taken the next, and difficult, step of collecting food waste from flats.

Bristol City Council is one of the latter, recognising the potential to maximise diversion of this waste from landfill in its efforts to meet LATS obligations.

Bristol has long been at the forefront in terms of landfill diversion. In 1999 the first mini-recycling centres were installed to give residents living in flats the opportunity to recycle their paper, cans and glass. In 2006, following the roll-out of kerbside food waste collections to householders, the council also offered food waste collections to its flat-dwellers.

The first collections from flats took place in March this year, and also include collections of cardboard. Resource Futures has been involved since 2004, and is now contracted to support Bristol in canvassing residents and optimising the outputs of the service.

There are 30,000 flats in Bristol. They are spread throughout the city in 500 blocks, each with its own set of circumstances. It is these circumstances that result in the label ‘hard to reach’ being applied to flats. Complexities are common to many sites, whether it is finding a suitable place to locate bins, obtaining permissions from the owners, communicating with residents or servicing containers. But many of the practicalities of initiating food waste collections in flats mirror those of dry recycling. These can be grouped broadly as: obtaining permissions, storage and collection arrangements and resident liaison.

“As well as helping to improve the environment, I want to help bring down council tax bills”

Bristol’s method of food waste collection is to install near-entry containers and then issue residents with their own five-litre caddies. Starch liners are given free to residents of flats, either via designated liner boxes in bin stores or issued via local libraries. Great care is taken to recognise any particular restrictions that residents may face - for example, it would make no sense to expect those living in sheltered housing to walk up a difficult flight of steps to place their food waste in the correct container.

Anyone embarking on a recycling in flats scheme will soon realise that it involves hefty amounts of legwork. There is no one-size-fits-all scheme. Some inner city blocks have large populations of non-English speakers, who present challenges in terms of canvassing. Some blocks require considerable negotiation and problem-solving to gain the support of the landlord or agent, and to find the best location for the near-entrance containers. In other examples, residents might request the service themselves, and sometimes the landlords or developers do.

A good example is Bristol’s inner city, 13-storey, Kingsmarsh House, where the 109 flats have waste chutes and chute rooms on each floor, typical of high- rise blocks. The block is managed by Bristol council and has a resident caretaker, Jane Keepin. She has long been an advocate of recycling and actively encourages residents to recycle more. A near-entrance facility for dry waste has been located outside the block for many years, and Keepin has placed extra recycling containers in the chute rooms to increase participation. Keepin and her assistant then carry recyclables down for collection on a weekly basis.

Keepin retires at the end of the summer and requested that the food and cardboard service be installed before she left.

“I wanted to make sure the new system works properly. If residents are informed by someone they know and trust, they are likely to recycle more,” she says. “It is going well, but there is still more we can do; there are still residents who don’t recycle anything. As well as helping to improve the environment, I want to help bring down council tax bills.”

The block is home to residents of all ages and backgrounds including a high proportion of Somali households. English is new to some residents, so it has been important to enlist the help of Somali speakers to translate the information and then encourage and educate other residents.

Another example is Sunnymead Manor sheltered housing scheme, a private care home in north Bristol housing 76 elderly residents. Paper, cans, glass and clinical waste have been separated from the main waste stream for many years. But until organic recycling was introduced in May, all the cardboard and food waste had been sent straight to landfill.

Resource Futures visited the site to make an assessment for its suitability, followed by liaison with the home’s management and kitchen staff about the best way to separate the residents’ organic waste. Most of the waste came from the kitchen because meals were provided centrally. So containers have been provided to collect waste from the food preparation area and any leftovers from the canteen. The bins were sited as close to the kitchen door as possible.

Resource Futures flats recycling team manager Peter Hall firmly believes that maintaining good communication is key to the scheme’s success.

“Communication between all parties is essential, especially during the crucial roll-out phase,” he says. “Because we assess the sites and get to meet all [those involved], we act as a focal point between residents, caretakers, landlords and agents and various council departments and contractors. Email and IT systems are key communications tools, but are not the be all and end all. We get out to the sites and deal with issues as they arise, no matter who raises them.”

The Bristol scheme is reaping the benefits of the commitment and determination that have been put in to it by all parties. Early indications are that food waste yields are far exceeding those of similar collections elsewhere. Research by WRAP suggests an average yield per household served per week for multi-occupancy dwellings of 0.5kg. A system in Hackney similar to the Bristol scheme has resulted in a consistent output of 0.32kg per household per week.

Although it is early days - 5,000 properties are covered in Bristol - some sites are achieving rates of 1kg/hh/wk and more, including Sunnymead Manor, while 0.39kg/hh/wk is being collected from Kingsmarsh House. The average output of food waste for the Bristol scheme is currently a respectable 0.99kg kg/hh/wk. Including the cardboard that is also collected, the average output is 1.15kg/hh/wk.

So far the collection costs have been minimal, as spare capacity on the wider domestic food waste collections has been used to collect food and cardboard from the flats. Once this spare capacity is exceeded then another collection vehicle will be required. Other costs include the caddies and liners given to residents so, along with the near-entrance wheeled bins, the cost of containment and liners is expected to come to £186,000 following full roll-out. A similar amount will be spent on communication and the work involved in setting up each block with a service.

Once full roll out is achieved in Bristol, it is likely that the scheme will pay for itself in avoided disposal costs - and avoided LATS fines.
Paul Robert is a senior consultant at Resource Futures

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