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To bag or not to bag
That is the question. Leonie Butler spoke to a number of local authorities with different attitudes to food waste liners
Food waste is an emotive issue. So, it seems, is the use of liners. There are those that swear by them and will only use a food waste collection service if they are provided. There are others that think they are a waste of resources and money and prefer to line their caddy with paper already destined for recycling. Ours has been a liner household ever since I returned from a waste trade show with some rolls of (free) liners and my husband exclaimed “how much more civilised” it was. Similarly, my 83-year-old father who’s always refused to collect his food waste, is now putting it out with the best of them ever since Monmouthshire County Council started providing free liners to his door.
But these are just my immediate experiences and my Dad’s house had been conspicuous in its abstention come collection day, suggesting that the majority of the other householders had bought into the scheme already. Equally, if my household runs out of liners, we don’t suddenly stop using the food waste bin. So, do liners really make that much of a difference? And why are there such different attitudes amongst councils?
During 2007-2008, WRAP supported 19 local authorities to carry out food waste collection trials. With the exception of two rounds in Surrey, all trial areas were provided with compostable cornstarch or potato starch liners. Various methods of replenishment were employed: blanket drops; distribution through community centres; upon request; token systems; and through approved stockists. It was calculated that, on average, each household used 2-3 liners per week.
A report written alongside, ‘Food Waste Collection Trials – use of liners for kerbside containers and kitchen caddies’, revealed that the yields per household were lower for the rounds where the liners had not been provided, although ‘the difference in yields were fairly small and these lower yields might be attributable to other factors so these results are only indicative’. Attitudinal surveys, however, showed that the vast majority of residents and collection crews found the liners helpful: ‘Feedback from the collection crews was that they much preferred the collection rounds where liners were provided, as they considered that collections were easier and cleaner.’
Yet, contamination and costs can be barriers to introducing liners. WRAP noted that through providing clear communications, “treatment facilities receiving food waste from the trial areas reported very low levels of contamination”, but contamination stemming from the belief that if you can use compostable liners then surely a carrier bag is OK can be a problem. As Trelawney Dampney from Eco Composting has pointed out: “It doesn’t make much of a difference whether the food waste arrives bagged or unbagged from an operational point of view, but if it is not bagged then this reduces the chances of getting rogue plastic bags into the compostable product.”
Indeed, Gloucester City Council, since introducing food waste collections in February 2009, has never offered compostable liners and, in fact, insists that residents line caddies with only paper bags, newspaper or paper towels because of the chance of contamination. Sinead Tunney, Neighbourhood Services Manager at Gloucester City Council, says the decision was made after visiting the plant in Dymock where the waste was to be reprocessed and seeing workers hauling out plastic bag after plastic bag: “The problem is that it’s very difficult to differentiate between different types of bags, between degradable, biodegradable and compostable. So we decided from the off to get people using paper or kitchen towels, rather than risk the possibility of our loads of food waste being rejected and sent to landfill.”
If collection crews spot a liner, the household is contacted by the council. Tunney reports that apart from a ‘few grumbles’ from a couple who had recently moved from another area where liners were provided, residents have been accepting of the no-liner policy and participation is ‘good’.
Meanwhile, in West Devon, using liners as part of a pilot in 2007 “helped with participation but also brought their own problems”, according to Jane Savage, Waste Reduction and Recycling Officer. “Residents requested [the liners] by a note on their food caddies and these were not always responded to by crews.”
When the council rolled out the service across the borough, to combat replenishment issues it decided to provide only an initial supply of liners. Reports from its food waste outlet that it “prefers the food loose, wrapped in paper or in liners as a last alternative” was also a deciding factor.
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