Australia, News, Opinion, Waste & Resource Recovery

FOGO is driving real reform in Australia

Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne have now all adopted FOGO (Food Organics, Garden Organics) collection from households, as a means of achieving the National 80 per cent diversion from landfill target (by 2030) and real greenhouse gas reductions. NSW regional Councils have been early adopters along with Penrith in Sydney.

The NSW Department Planning Industry and Environment (DPIE) with industry consultant Mark Rawson has conducted an excellent review of FOGO performance across 34 Councils in NSW. The report provides some useful insights into FOGO performance.

I re-analysed the data to look at individual Council performance (rather than average performance) because averages don’t tell the true story of who is performing well. I thought it would be instructive to summarise it for readers.

The Councils were anonymised by DPIE so I don’t know who they are. (But readers from Councils will be able to identify themselves from the codes below.)

Average performance is a poor indicator of the trends in FOGO

  • There is a wide range of performance in FOGO diversion from landfill and contamination rates. FOGO is new – with 15 of the 34 Councils having had FOGO for less than 1 year or were still in a trial period.
  •  The best performers have all had FOGO in place for more than a year and have had time to bed in the system with education and engagement.

The Capture rate

  • The best performing Councils are achieving 98 per cent + GO and 70 per cent + FO capture effectiveness. The three “best performing Councils” U, N, L and G (refer Figure 1).
  • These have aveFood (FO) capture rates 78, 50, 57 and 61 per cent respectively
  • Overall efficiency of the best performers including other organics is above 85 per cent and as high as 89 per cent.

Fig #1  FOGO collection efficiency (FO, GO and other eligible organics)

  • Many Councils accept material other than Food (FO) and Garden (GO) in the service. More than 25 per cent of the material captured was “other organics” (such as wood, cardboard and newsprint) but still accepted in the FOGO service.
  • All Councils are achieving over 90 per cent GO capture rates.
  • 25 Councils are capturing less than 50 per cent of the FO. These are mainly new services (less than 1 year) or trial services.

Generally, councils which have installed FOGO services but are capturing less than 50 per cent of the food are missing a huge opportunity to save money. They are bearing the costs already of collecting weekly FOGO but are sending more than 50 per cent of the food to landfill and still paying landfill fees (and levies) on this. A community engagement program of the sort run by Albury Halve Waste would lift the food capture rates.

Ranking the above data for food (FO) efficiency specifically, provides a clearer picture on the opportunity to improve performance.

Specifically, Councils on the left hand side of Figure 2 (T, F, C, E, O – through to N) would benefit from more extensive community engagement programs. They are all collecting FOGO bins at higher costs, yet recovering less than 40 per cent of the available food (FO). This is mainly because the services are new andpeople are getting used to them. On the positive they are recovering 90 per cent+ of GO.

Figure #2 FO efficiency by Council

  • 6 Councils are capturingabove 60 per cent FO which is excellent. The top 3 are Councils Y, K and U. U is achieving 78 per cent FO capture, the best in NSW. (I will be fascinated to find out who these Councils are. Knowing the recovery rates I suspect a couple are our existing clients. Let me know!)

The contamination rates

  •  The best performers all have contamination levels below 2 per cent and as low as 0.04 per cent.
  •  The average contamination across all Councils is only 2.2 per cent

“Average contamination 2.2 per cent FOGO is compared to 10 per cent average contamination rate in kerbside recycling. I often hear people say that FOGO will be heavily contaminated. It isn’t. It is one fifth of the kerbside recycling contamination rate. I suspect the reason for this is it is simple. People know what organics is and what it isn’t. That is not true for kerbside container recycling. There are so many different arrangements, labels etc that people get confused with yellow top bin systems. FOGO on the other hand is simple and people seem to care.

The best performers

  • If you are Councils Y, K, U, N, L or G you have bragging rights. Let me know who you are and I will write a follow-up article on the reasons for your successes. Then we can all learn.
  • If you are at the lower end of the pack there is help available. DPIE is developing an education campaign and MRA has worked with many of the top performers.

The conclusions

  •  Three bin FOGO is rapidly changing our recycling performance. Nationally we recycle 56 per cent of materials generated. The target is 80 per cent by 2030. That has been endorsed by the federal, state, territory governments and local councils.
  • 60 per cent of what a household generates is FOGO material.
  • Introducing FOGO is the single most important action a council can take to contribute to the 80 per cent target. (Followed by EfW).
  • Organics currently going to landfill generate 9 MT/yr of landfill greenhouse gas emissions. That is 2.7 per cent of our national GHG emissions.
  • Our farmers need the compost more than our landfills do.

Mike Ritchie is the managing director of MRA Consulting Group.