Rethinking the apple core: councils give food waste a second life

Published: 26 May 2020

Warrnambool City Council and Yarra City Council have increased the amount of food waste they collect and repurpose, funded by our Resource Recovery Infrastructure Fund.

Food is a resource-intensive product. It needs water, soil and energy to be grown, prepared and transported to you. These resources are lost when it goes into your garbage bin.

Research shows that Victoria produces over two million tonnes of food waste each year. Half of this – generated in homes, hospitality and retail businesses – ends up in landfill.

When food scraps – or organic waste – end up in landfill, they break down, emitting greenhouse gases which affect air quality, public health and the environment. Food waste accounts for more than 5% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Apartment living is a food waste dilemma

Many apartments lack the infrastructure, space and dedicated kerbside collection for food and garden waste.

Yarra City Council embraced this challenge by trialling on-site food waste dehydrators at two apartment buildings and two commercial buildings. Once dehydrated, the material is used as a fuel source for a new waste-to-energy facility in Melbourne. While food dehydration technology is not new, its use in apartment and commercial buildings could fill a gap in organic waste collection.

They also trialled a new kerbside collection service where they collected food and garden waste and glass separately. This trial was across 1300 households, including apartments.

Read about the Holistic Waste Management Service.

During the kerbside collection trial, 185 tonnes of organic waste was collected and diverted from landfill, saving 33 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. The organic waste was matured to create compost that can be used to grow food and support agriculture activities – unlocking its full potential.

A new kerbside system will be progressively rolling out in 2021, providing inner-city households access to an organics service. Dehydrators could address the organic waste collection gap in apartment buildings and commercial properties which generate a large amount of food waste.

Read about the new kerbside system >

How can you reduce your food waste?

Whether you’re a home composting expert or eagerly waiting for the new kerbside system to arrive, there are several simple steps you can take to make the most of your food. Follow our steps to plan, shop and cook to save food.

The best way to deal with food waste is to not create it in the first place. In doing so, you can also save money by buying only what you need and using what you have.

For unavoidable food waste like peels and offcuts, there are a range of ways you can put their nutrients to good use:

  • Set up your own compost, bokashi bin or worm farm. There's an option for every household type.
  • Find a compost near you. Some councils offer community composting sites or you can sign up to sharing apps like Share Waste.
  • Freeze vegetable peelings, stalks and leaves, and when you have a few cups’ worth, make a stock or broth.

Find more tips on Love Food Hate Waste.

Managing waste contamination through community

Warrnambool City Council used a collaborative, community approach for its new organic waste service and achieved a significantly lower contamination rate.

Contamination is caused by putting materials in the organics bin that don’t belong like plastics, electronics and glass. If there is a high contamination rate, organic waste can’t be reused.

Follow your council’s advice to see what can go into your organics bin.

Before the trial, household garbage bins were made up of 42% food waste, but within the first six months of the organic waste service, about 50% of organic material – food and garden waste – was collected and diverted from landfill. The organic waste was then transformed into compost and used for agriculture and land regeneration.

The secret to their success was a targeted education program. Schools and kindergartens embraced the new organic bins by educating school communities, staff, students and parents about the benefits and correct use.

Resources, presentations and community ambassadors showed the community what could go into the organics bin and how to stop waste contamination.

On average, there was a reduction of 100 tonnes per month of material to landfill and the contamination levels remained below 1%.

What can you put in your organics bin?

We all have a part to play to make sure organic waste can be processed and reused. So, it’s important to know what can and can’t go into your organic waste bin.

Only a small number of Victorian councils accept food waste in their garden waste bins. Check with your council. Consider composting as an alternative.

Victoria’s transition to a circular economy

Upgrading local recycling facilities and providing opportunities to use different recycling technologies supports the transition to a circular economy in Victoria. The aim is to minimise waste and make the most of the resources we have.

The Victorian Government’s circular economy policy, Recycling Victoria, will invest more than $300 million to continue to:

  • transform our recycling sector
  • reduce waste
  • create jobs
  • set Victoria up for a more sustainable future.

Read about Recycling Victoria.