Bega Valley Shire, located in south-east NSW, has one of the most successful Food Organics & Garden Organics (FOGO) bin collection and composting programs in Australia. Since launching in October 2018, the volume of food waste, garden waste and certified compostable packaging collected via the FOGO service has more than tripled.
Thanks to Bega Valley Shire Council’s FOGO For Business (FFB) program, a growing number of businesses in Bega Valley are recognising the commercial, environmental and social benefits of becoming FOGO-Friendly. Merimbula McDonald’s became the first McDonald's restaurant in NSW to adopt the FOGO collection scheme in late 2020.
Much of the program’s success can be attributed to Rechelle Fisher, Bega Valley Shire Council’s Waste Project Officer and FOGO For Business Project Officer. Below, Rechelle speaks to Compost Connect about the incredible success of the FFB program, why more businesses are deciding to become FOGO-Friendly, and how the FOGO became a source of pride for the Bega Valley community.
Did you ever expect the FOGO collection program to experience this level of success in the Bega Valley Shire?
The success of the program was largely due to the extensive planning and the targeted, innovative communication and education program. Our team ensured they understood community needs and concerns and utilised behaviour change principles to support people through the transition. We focused on clear consistent messaging and showing our community 'how'. The majority of our community have embraced FOGO and to saying, "yes to compost and no to landfill".
We are optimistic about the future of the FOGO program. As the FOGO program matures, so does our community's understanding and acceptance of the new 'norms' around separating food and compostable materials. We actively continue to reinforce messaging around choosing the right bin to keep the momentum going.
For example, we still have challenges with the large seasonal influx of visitors to our region, and work with real estate agents and accommodation managers to provide improved signage and information that makes it easier for visitors to choose the right bin.
Have you noticed an increase in the number of businesses that are looking to be FOGO-Friendly, and why?
A strong and successful FOGO campaign launch in 2018 and ongoing engagement with the Bega Valley Shire community has created a solid platform to work with businesses and help them to see the benefit of implementing FOGO in their commercial setting. Our business community, as an extension of the wider community which has well and truly embraced FOGO, has generally viewed having FOGO for Business (FFB) as the next logical step.
We have worked to identify and overcome the barriers preventing businesses utilising FOGO and made it easier to sign up and use the service for our commercial customers. The number of businesses becoming FOGO friendly is increasing as the service improves to meet the needs of businesses. Some of the ways this has happened include:
- A 'how to' section for FFB was developed on Council's website. This page contains links to application forms, a brochure, FAQs, and a guide to compostable FOGO friendly products.
- Business managers and their staff were provided with training, front and back of house signage, 20L lidded buckets and caddies, bin odour pads (where needed) and given access to FOGO friendly packaging to trial, like compostable coffee knock tube liners.
- We have worked with local packaging suppliers to ensure they were aware that businesses signing up for FFB would be looking for FOGO friendly products. Training was provided to explain the difference between compostable versus biodegradable and other greenwashing. This made it easy for businesses to move away from single use products and helped reduce the chance of contamination by making sure they are supplied with certified compostable products. Our biggest local supplier has embraced the change and now has an entire aisle of FOGO friendly packaging, is phasing out all single use plastic, and directs new businesses to sign up for FFB.
- The council now allows businesses to open a commercial tenant waste account, removing the barrier of landlord approval. Many businesses reported that as tenants, landlords would often not consent to additional bin charges being added to their rates. Now account customers can pay a per-lift fee which is invoiced monthly or annually as required and has a minimum commitment of 4 months to allow business to have more bins over the busier holiday periods and reduce bins over the quiet winter low season. The per-lift price is now available for 80L, 140L and 240L bins.
- The council introduced new commercial rate charges to allow for 80L commercial FOGO bins. We now provide a range of sizes for FOGO bins: 80L, 140L and 240L (80kg lift limit for kerbside trucks prevents larger sizing). Feedback from offices and other non-food businesses was that they did not want or need the larger 140L or 240L commercial FOGO bin. This size would also cater for butchers who produce heavy waste and when using FOGO 140L or 240L bins would exceed weight restrictions for bin lifts. The smaller bins could be wheeled into their cool rooms and waste meat stored until bin day reducing odour issues.
- Promotion of the new service happened across traditional and digital media channels, with social media being particularly effective in utilising early adopters from the business community to champion the project's benefits.
- FFB branding was developed, and FOGO businesses were provided with 'Fogo friendly' window bubbles to identify them to the community as a responsible business. This allowed their 'green credentials' to be demonstrated to their customers and promoted the service.
- Lack of bin space, perceived issues around odour and nuisance insects were a key barrier for many businesses wanting to sign up for FOGO particularly in the warm and busy summer months. A trial to provide a second weekly bin collection service for Merimbula and Pambula which will help us develop the next waste collections contract is currently underway. Businesses who signed up for this trial are identified as 'extra FOGO Friendly' by a sticker on their bin lid. The trial has been highly successful so far and includes the area's biggest Club getting on board along with other businesses who would not have been able to use FOGO if it was only a weekly service.
What are your targets or strategies to increase the number of FOGO-Friendly businesses in Bega Valley?
- Expand the second weekly pick up service. Using the results of the trial to inform the rollout of an additional service throughout the Bega Valley is a key strategy to increasing FFB uptake.
- FOGO for Council project. We are improving the capture of organic waste across all council operations. This project includes a reconciliation of bins and ensuring a FOGO bin, caddies, signage and training have been provided at all sites where possible. Knowing that we must lead by example as an organisation, this project also serves to demonstrate how easy it is to go FOGO.
- The council will continue to work with local groups such as Chambers of Commerce and Business (e.g. Our Merimbula, Our Eden, Pambula Business Chamber) in all major centres as well as local initiatives like Plastic Free Pambula to support business adoption of plastic alternatives and interest in FFB. We will also continue to support any initiatives such as the (former) BinTrim program that assist businesses to increase landfill diversion.
- Improve signage to help businesses in their transition to FOGO. A café, an office, or a hairdresser will all have very different waste streams and require tailored signage to prevent contamination. Developing business specific signage (front of house and back of house) and cheat sheets will make choosing the right bin much easier, whatever the setting.
- Consider making FFB a compulsory service. Council currently has a three-bin kerbside residential system for most towns and villages in the shire. Making FOGO an opt out rather than opt in system would capture the remaining non-FOGO businesses and overcome the barrier of businesses being too busy or committed to the status quo.
Does Bega Valley Shire Council have any strategies to increase residential FOGO recycling levels?
FOGO has been an important step in diverting waste from our landfill as identified in Bega Valley Shire Council's 10-year Waste Management and Resource Recovery Strategy (2018-2028) 'Recycling the Future'. Implementing a FOGO service has generated more opportunities to support organics diversion by identifying new strategies using pre-processing technologies along with the FOGO. Council is also looking into expanding its residential FOGO service to outlying villages not currently serviced by FOGO.
Council is about to launch a front of house or public-place FOGO bin trial — This is in direct response to feedback from local cafes already adopting the switch to fully certified compostable takeaway packaging and there being no suitable disposal options for them in public places other than to landfill. This will feed into a more complex target of having FOGO in public spaces in the long term and the issues around managing that. Using FOGO bins in selected public places to trial and highlight the good work of local businesses is an opportunity to move in the right direction and to raise the profile of FOGO in spaces outside of the home environment.
Nourish & Flourish — This project is a Bega Valley Shire Council initiative that aims to keep surplus food away from landfill sites as well as address food scarcity and affordability. It's about redirecting surplus food from producers, supermarkets, community gardens, even your pantry, and distributing it to anyone who wants to buy affordable produce from registered Community Pantries in Bega, Merimbula or Eden.
Bournda Schools Program — Waste education was identified as a necessary component to support the success of the strategy. The Bournda Environmental Education Centre (Bournda EEC) have been providing the delivery of a syllabus-led Waste Education Program 'Let's get it Sorted'. The current program comprises waste education activities including school waste audits and visits to the BVSC landfill and organics processing facility.
Waste Wise Grants and Waste Wise Events — Waste Wise Events Grants aim to help event organisers reduce what goes to landfill by providing funds towards waste-reducing products or services at the event. We aim to further develop and stream our Waste Wise Events information to make it as easy as possible for vendors, organisers and event goers to maximise waste avoidance, choose compostable products and to use the right bin.
Overall, are residents embracing the idea of composting and understanding the environmental benefits?
Behaviour change and helping the community to say 'yes' to compost and 'no' to landfill is an ongoing process. FOGO is now very much a part of the lives and a point of pride to many Bega Valley residents. The issue of bin contamination highlights the need for ongoing education and dedicated resources, particularly for the holiday sector.
The success of the program is evidenced by our low contamination rates and strong positive community feedback. Our 'Waste the Facts' Facebook page now has over 1,600 followers and continues to be a useful interface with our community along with Council's main Facebook page which has 25,000 followers.
Take a look at our Compost Club Members Map to see if your council is composting — plus, you can show your support for your local Compost Club Members by dropping in for a coffee or a bite to eat.
By supporting Compost Club Members and venues that use certified compostable packaging instead of single-use plastics, you’re helping to create a sustainable, waste-free foodservice industry!