Separate food waste collection in Merthyr Tydfil
The Collections Blueprint Collecting suggests that collecting food waste separately from garden waste encourages residents to waste less food and recycle any they do generate.
Since becoming one of the first councils to take such an approach, Merthyr Tydfil has found that it can also lead to savings and turn waste into a resource for councils.
From kitchen to the kerbside
Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council has been collecting food waste separately since becoming one of the first authorities to introduce the service in 2006. This service now covers all 25,000 households in the county.
A Welsh Government-funded analysis of municipal waste conducted in 2009 found that approximately 26 per cent (by weight) of the residual household waste being collected in the county was food waste.
Residents in Merthyr Tydfil are provided with a blue 5-litre caddy for the kitchen and blue 23-litre lockable outdoor container, to empty the scraps into. This is emptied weekly as part of a doorstep service that at the same time also collects dry recyclables, such as paper, plastic, glass and metal, from households.
This comprehensive service can collect approximately 90 per cent of materials that Merthyr Tydfil’s residents discard.
As a result, Merthyr is on course to meet the 2015/16 recycling target of 58 per cent.
Engagement and participation
Prior to April 2015, residents had been asked to either use newspaper to wrap items of food or to purchase biodegradable caddy liners from local authority buildings.
Door-knocking exercises and the analysis of data coming back from surveys indicated that a major barrier for public to use the food waste service had been an expectation that residents have to purchase their own caddy liners.
After a cost analysis carried out with the Collaborative Change Programme, it was decided to provide bags for free, at an initial cost of £65,000 for the first two years. The result has been that participation in using the service has risen from 36 per cent to 60 per cent.
Since the distribution of free compostable liners, the amount of residual waste has fallen by approximately 13.5 per cent, compared with the previous year. This has been also assisted by the decision to reduce the size of the residual waste bin.
Collection with all other recycling
The impact of separate food waste recycling depends on changes to the whole waste management service.
In January 2015, Merthyr Tydfil Council reduced the size of the residual bin from 240 litres to 140 litres. As part of this switch, the new bins have ‘No food waste’ printed on their lids, which was found to be e ective encouraging people to stop throwing food out with general waste.
In June 2015, the council upgraded its collection infrastructure, changing its dry recycling from a co-mingled system to sorting materials at the kerbside. As part of this service change, it procured a new fleet of Romaquip vehicles that could collect food waste at the same time as recycling (it was previously taken along with garden waste).
The new single-pass vehicles have five compartments, accessible from either side. It means card and paper, glass, cans and plastic can be sorted onto the truck, as well as compartments or ‘pods’ on either side for the 23-litre food caddies to be emptied into.
Cutting the cost of waste
The new one-pass collection reduces the number of recycling vehicles on the road, in the process reducing carbon dioxide emissions and the fuel costs. Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council estimates that, between 2015 and 2018, it will save approximately £370,000 on its recycling and waste transport costs due to these new measures.
Overall, improving capture and participation of food waste, alongside reducing the residual waste bin and collecting all recycling weekly on a single-pass vehicle, is expected to save the council £1.038 million in 2015/16.
A key aspect of the savings from the new service configuration is the reduction in waste disposal costs, both direct costs and the landfill tax. The council currently predicts that this saving will be £296,000 in 2016/17 and £290,000 in 2017/18.
In terms of waste, the impact of these measures has also been a quarterly reduction of approximately 600 tonnes.
Energy from anaerobic digestion
After the kerbside sort recycling vehicle arrives at the recycling depot, a forklift truck then unloads food waste pods. These are tipped into a large skip for transporting on for reprocessing.
Alongside neighbouring authorities Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council and Newport City Council, Merthyr is part of the Tomorrow’s Valley hub, which has strategically helped to develop infrastructure for the councils.
In 2013, the group announced that it had procured a contract to treat food waste at an anaerobic digestion facility run by Biogen in Bryn Pica, a 15-minute drive from Merthyr council’s depot in Pentrebach. The waste collected from the authorities is converted into renewable energy and a biofertiliser rich in nutrients.
Methane produced from the food waste is used to power a 1.2-megawatt combined heat and power engine at the site. The electricity generated is then sent to the national grid and is capable of powering 3,000 homes a year.