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Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Using Post-Kerbside Organics Treatment Systems to Engage Australian Communities with Pro-Environmental Household Food Waste Behaviours

Fight Food Waste Cooperative Research Centre, Adelaide 5064, Australia
School of Business and Law, CQ University, Sydney 2000, Australia
School of Health, Medical and Applied Sciences, CQ University, Adelaide 5034, Australia
Stop Food Waste Australia, Adelaide 5064, Australia
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Sustainability 2022, 14(14), 8699;
Submission received: 20 June 2022 / Revised: 10 July 2022 / Accepted: 13 July 2022 / Published: 15 July 2022
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Pro-environmental Behavior – Social and Cultural Aspects)


Dealing with the wicked problem of global food waste and loss is a complex and challenging area. In Australia, increased political will has landed the diversion of domestic food waste from landfill squarely at the feet of local government (councils), often requiring significant change to kerbside collections systems. This paper discusses how post-kerbside household food waste treatment systems can encourage pro-environmental behaviours. To achieve this, current food waste literature is examined against kerbside domestic waste collection measurable outcomes (diversion rates, system uptake and contamination rates). The hypothesis is that specific interventions can establish, or rebuild, community trust, responsibility and pro-environmental behaviours around food waste avoidance and diversion. Two post-kerbside systems—commercial composting and anaerobic digestion—provided the framework. Two themes emerged from the study: (1) the benefits of connecting the community with the interactions of household food waste inputs with post-treatment outputs (compost, soil conditioners, digestates and biogases); and (2) providing engaged communities with pathways for sustainable, pro-environmental actions whilst normalizing correct kerbside food waste recycling for the less engaged (habitual behaviours, knowledge and cooperation). The paper contributes to understanding how councils can connect their communities with the issues of household food waste.

1. Introduction

Rising Global concern around the significant environmental, social and economic impacts caused by food loss and waste has resulted in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, in particular UN SDG 12.3 that aims to halve food waste by 2030 and significantly reduce food loss. Indicators have been established to capture data on these targets (12.3.1a Food Loss Index, 12.3.1b Food Waste Index), but recent progress reports indicate a need for better data and urgent action to achieve the 2030 targets [1,2].
In the Australian context, there is increasing familiarity with the detrimental environmental and socio-economic impacts of sending 7.6 million tons of food waste (including 1.79 million tons from Australian households) to landfill per annum [3]. These negatives usually include: the production of greenhouse gasses (8% globally, 3% in Australia [3,4]); loss to soil health [5]; depletion of landfill space [6]; and the economic cost (AUD 36.6 billion wasted per annum [3,7]). Reports show that Australian household waste is made up of 30–40% food waste by weight [8]. As demonstrated in the Australian National Food Waste Strategy [9], and through funding incentives and targets, political will is pushing local governments (councils) in Australia to prioritise household food waste diversion from landfill. For many Australian councils, this requires a significant change in kerbside collection systems from linear (take-make-dispose) to circular (reduce-reuse-recycle) [10,11].
Examining the impacts on food production, consumption and disposal when moving from linear to circular economies exposes a number of benefits and barriers. The positives include market, infrastructure, and business growth [12], job creation [13], emissions reduction (17.5 million tons per annum of Co2 via organics recycling [3]), increased community awareness, and increased research into organics recovery and reuse [14]. There is also a growing appreciation of the potential for connecting with the community via the processes around waste management interventions [15] and using these to build a ‘pro-social image’ [16]. However, introducing a kerbside system change, even a well-compiled one, can have repercussions for councils, as demonstrated when loud minorities of disengaged or ill-informed communities unnerve their local councillors or feed into specific political agendas. Hobsons Bay Council in Victoria is a case in point. Having rolled out a 4-bin system in 2020 based with a weekly Food Organics Garden Organics (FOGO) and fortnightly general waste bin collection, in 2021 this council had to reverse its decision and return to weekly general waste collections [17]. The FOGO bin, with its food waste contents, will now be collected fortnightly, raising potential issues with odour and insects. With 79% of the organics collected by Australian councils still going to landfill in 2021 [18], and the community recognised as a key change maker, there is a rise in the development of FOGO ‘toolkits’ for council-community engagement [19,20,21,22]. These toolkits apply branches of current research to support and advise individual councils. These branches range from behaviour change [23,24,25,26] and community engagement methodologies [27,28,29], to analysis of governance [3,30], and system research and review [31,32,33]. With system selection at the discretion of the councils, these toolkits aim to provide adaptable situational analysis tools, methods, and implementation choices, with a strong emphasis on supporting pro-social/environmental behaviours [34,35,36]. Ideally, infrastructure and operational capacities, both current and future, provide the lens through which councils can define their choices and plan accordingly, with the fundamental importance of community buy-in to infrastructure development as a guiding principle [37].
Public education is recognised as a key factor in community engagement, yet the current lack of standardisation in Australian kerbside collection systems tends to produce community confusion rather than clarity [38]. Given the relatively low number of physical post-kerbside treatment options available, their use in community engagement offers opportunities both for community clarification and individual empowerment through providing people with system understandings and pathways to contribute to sustainability. However, achieving habitual pro-environmental behaviours through enhancing ‘cognitive consistency’ [39] is not new or easy [40,41]. This paper looks specifically at how current organics processing systems, namely commercial composting and aerobic/anaerobic digestion, and their outcomes (compost, energy and digestate), lend themselves to leveraging socially informed and connected consumer behaviours through extending responsibility and capacity.
From the literature review, post-kerbside organics treatment is most often written about from a technical or system choice perspective [5,42]. Drawing on social theories involving community practices and stakeholder engagement, this paper aims to contribute two key strategies to frame the use of organics processing for community connection. These are: (1) connecting the community with how inputs (household food waste) affect outputs (compost/digestate); and (2) empowering communities through providing explicit pathways for habitual individual contribution to green energy production and greenhouse gas mitigation via recycling of organics (empowerment and cooperation).

2. Methodology

The research identified peer-reviewed studies written in English from 2015 to 2023 from reputable data sources (Scopus n = 29/20 post screening; EBSCOhost n = 4/1 post screening; Emerald 596/3 post screening; Google Scholar n = 2420/50 post screening). An ascending scale key word search was undertaken using the terms: 1. household food waste; 2. Australia; 3. local governments OR councils; 4. kerbside; and 5. FOGO. Grey literature (local government reports and case studies, EPA reports, consultancy reports and strategic planning documents) provided information and figures on kerbside systems, community engagement strategies and household food waste diversion rates. To further support the study, the research took a ‘snowball’ approach to the literature as each theme was identified in the study. This allowed for identification of the gaps in the literature and for development of two framing themes regarding engaging the community with household food waste via post-kerbside treatment systems.

3. Generating Pro-Environmental Connections: Connecting FOGO Inputs with FOGO Outputs

With its ability to explore cyclical interconnections between geographically located materials (resources), mechanics (infrastructure) and actions (behaviours), interest in applying social practice theory to household food waste pro-environmental behaviours are gaining traction [43,44]. Those such as Hargreaves [40] and Boulet et al. [45] have argued for a shift away from a focus on individual behaviour towards broader socio-cultural influences on practices. This step away from individual behaviour encompasses physically located resources that can impact change over time and familiarity [46]. In common with others, Keegan and Breadsell [18] expanded this approach in relation to household food waste, identifying a need for the testing of ‘multiple types of interventions’ to understand the influences on ‘pivotal practice’.
Whilst a standardised base would reduce consumer confusion with the kerbside system, councils’ geo-demographics require multiple, council-specific, approaches. There are common factors, such as the point at which householders’ sense of responsibility for their waste is lost, namely when the bins are emptied [47]. This level of responsibility can be measured in the tonnages of organics sent to landfill, and it can be argued that raising the visibility of post-collection outputs can extend individual responsibility further along the process. Extending this platform of responsibility to include post-kerbside outputs contributes to current research into waste-related behaviours and motivations [48]. It can apply understandings in the hard-to-influence bracket around the efficacies of certain household food waste interventions [45,49] and build on overcoming the gaps in awareness-action, or attitude-behaviour [44].
Given time, planning and capacity, the benefits of household food waste intervention co-design are recognised as reducing community concern around change and increasing engagement [50]. Increasing system familiarity levels pre-rollout is a key factor [51]. When it comes to FOGO implementations, councils leveraging mechanisms acting as community motivators are most commonly those requiring individuals to adapt to a new kerbside bin system, rather than their involvement in the planning and driving of system change. Learning from energy infrastructure projects [52] show there are distinct benefits in engaging the community with the ‘transformation journey’ [53] and developing a sense of community ownership. Although there is currently limited literature around this, anecdotal evidence indicates that FOGO processing sites, existing or developing, provide ideal backdrops for engaging communities with sustainability outcomes. Familiarity with messages around green energy combatting climate change can also apply to the outputs of FOGO processing.

3.1. Kerbside Collection Systems in Australia (the Inputs)

To understand community interactions with kerbside systems requires a brief description of the current kerbside systems. As demonstrated in post-trial results shown in Figure 1, domestic kerbside collection systems and their anticipated overall diversion rates in Australia can be divided broadly into three types. These are: the 2-bin system (here a dark green lid represents general waste pre-transition to red lids) with no organics collection bin; the 3-bin ‘GO’ system with general waste, recycling and garden organics (GO—lime green lidded) bins; and the ‘FOGO’ system with general waste, recycling and food organics and garden organics (FOGO—also lime green lidded) bins. In general, FOGO systems depend on the capacity of their subsequent processing systems. Most allow for all domestic food waste, including bones, fish, diary and meat, with some councils also allowing excess dry recyclables such as paper and cardboard. Standardisation of bin lid colours is gradually progressing nationally with yellow lids for recycling, green lids for organics, and red lids for general waste/landfill. Standardisation of messaging is also evident in the efforts of individual State groups, such as Local Government Associations and Regional Organisations of Councils, to provide consistent messages. As of October 2021, 121 of 563 (21.49%) Australian councils provide FOGO kerbside collections, with another 102 (18.12%) opting to collect garden organics (GO) [54]. This will change as mandated diversion of household food waste from landfill impacts on councils’ systems.
Currently, reports show the 3-bin system based on General Waste, Recycling and FOGO achieves the best diversion results [42] with an optimum bin configuration of a 240 L FOGO weekly collection and 120 L general waste fortnightly alternating with the recycling collection [55]. A recent report showed a weekly FOGO bin (240 L) and small general waste bin (80 L), collected fortnightly, resulted in an average of 57% organics diversion in New South Wales [55]. However, when the general waste bin was collected weekly along with the FOGO bin, organics diversion dropped as low as 14% [55], suggesting that organics continued to be disposed of in the general waste when collected weekly. This low rate of organics diversion makes it difficult to achieve national targets and indicates that a fortnightly general waste and weekly FOGO are most effective.
Typically, research into establishing organics diversion system efficiencies in Australia follows in the footsteps of other countries seeking to address their own household food waste issues [42,56,57]. Along with the growing body of work on household food waste avoidance, prevention and redistribution [58], there is a rise in research into cost effective and environmentally friendly post-kerbside collection systems [32]. This system choice is highlighting local, national and international political and societal diversities. Sweden, for example, sends 85% of its collected organics to biogas production via anaerobic digestion [59] whereas in Australia, anaerobic digestion is still somewhat vestigial (242 in 2016, half of which are capped landfills that frequently flare rather than use the biogas) although increasingly of interest, as in other parts of the world [60,61].

3.2. Kerbside System Choice

Whilst regulations and targets contribute to change, councils have an extensive range of factors and key stakeholders that influence their waste management decisions and system choices. Not least amongst these are their geographic locations (e.g., rural, regional, urban) and the availability and location of post-collection treatment infrastructure, or the funding and capacity to develop it. Influencing these are the socioeconomic make-up of the community, the attitude of upper-level management towards waste, and even the impact of councillors on operations. The resulting system choices made by councils have been used to behaviourally define them [62], and whilst terminologies vary, the view of councils as ‘minimalist, optimalist or maximalist’ [63] provides a useful analytical framework for understanding their specific paradigms through their outcomes. For example, when looking at household food waste management:
A minimalist council may be identified through its:
  • Lack of investment in community engagement with household food waste management;
  • High kerbside bin contamination rates with organics;
  • Council and community preference for business as usual and reluctance to implement kerbside system change to divert household food waste from landfill;
  • Failure to meet household food waste reduction, avoidance and diversion targets;
  • Failure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and landfill tonnages.
An optimalist council may be identified through its:
  • Partial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions;
  • Continued dependence on landfill and subsequent loss of landfill space [64];
  • Partial loss of household food waste to the circular economy and its contribution to soil health [9].
A maximalist council may be identified through its:
  • Extensive community engagement and cooperative planning utilizing all available avenues;
  • Aim to meet or exceed the national food waste strategy targets of reducing food waste by 50% by 2030 [9];
  • Significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and leachate [65];
  • Extension of landfill life through decreased tonnages and increased avoidance and diversion;
  • Contribution to the circular economy: food waste as a resource [64].
Geographic location is a fixed constant that impacts on waste collection and transport costs, but the points above aim to indicate how council perspectives can significantly influence outcomes.

3.3. Household Food Waste Processing Systems (the Outputs)

Commercial composting is generally a familiar process (with around 187 sites taking 81,000 tons of food waste from households in 2019 [3]) within popular understanding, whereas anaerobic digestion (taking a contestable 0 tons of food waste from households in 2019 [3]) is less established and takes a little more explanation. As Figure 2 outlines, the basics of anaerobic digestion involve organic materials being bacterially ‘digested’ in an airtight vessel. In this diagram, a co-digestion process is shown where feedstocks come from various sources, including household food waste. As the microbes work on the organic matter, they produce biogas that is collected and can be used for energy (electricity, fuel), plus liquid and solid digestates that can be returned to agriculture or other outlets such as animal bedding materials.
Outputs may vary according to the processing system [66] and research-led system improvement continues to build capacity and add value to household food waste both at policy and practical levels [67,68,69,70]. For example, industrial waste management is looking at how household food waste can be used to deal with biological sludge from oil refineries [71], or sewage [72,73] or in bioproduct development [74]. In 2016/17, biogas provided around 0.5% of Australia’s electricity with an estimated 9% capacity at that time [75].
In common with anaerobic digestion, commercial composting requires kerbside collection and drop off. There are a number of different treatment systems for household food waste—in vessel, indoors, outdoors, windrow, forced air—and it is increasingly mechanised (e.g., Figure 3). Most processes involve screening to remove contaminants, chipping to reduce size, aeration, watering, turning, and maturation machinery which result in soil conditioners up to specific Australian Standards [12,76]. Both anaerobic digestion and composting are infrastructure heavy and, in seeking to engage councils with organics processing options, the government has allocated several rounds of grant funding [77,78]. Anaerobic digestion installation and maintenance expenses currently bring a dependence on grant funding and a requirement for ongoing financially supportive, sustainable and collaborative policy [79,80], but it is proving itself environmentally cost effective. It is worth noting that constructing the infrastructure with future practices and valorisation in mind [81] can re-contextualise household food waste as a resource rather than a waste, as well as draw explicit connections between correct inputs and constructive outputs [82]. This should not detract from an emphasis on avoiding food waste, but both compliment intervention initiatives whilst providing a remediation for unavoidable organic waste.
Wherever household food waste is diverted via the kerbside bin, there are concerns about ‘feedstock purity’ [83]. Research argues for stronger community education [84] and increased regulatory measures [85]. Whereas some countries have avoided increasing ‘coercive’ mechanisms, such as the UK [86], others such as France have implemented stringent food waste laws [87]. Along with the funding streams mentioned, Australia has opted for a National Food Waste Strategy [9] with targets defined in the National Waste Policy [88] and the National Waste Policy Action Plan [89].

4. Engagement and Empowerment: Generating Pro-Environmental Pathways via FOGO

The following sections build on research into improving household food waste avoidance and diversion via processing system visibility and increased familiarity. A lack of community awareness of waste handling processes, including what happens to FOGO post-kerbside, is known as a national phenomenon in Australia [14]. Other than the most basic messages, waste and recycling continues to struggle to find a consistent and sustainable level of understanding in the community [90]. This perhaps highlights how information reaches the interested and informed audiences but misses those who are not. However, action such as changing a kerbside bin system reaches everyone who has a domestic bin service. To use the service, residents need to make specific changes to their behaviour, and this provides councils with an engagement opportunity.
Where FOGO has been introduced, a lack of effective community engagement is most often demonstrated by misused, empty or not-presented FOGO bins, high contamination rates, and loss of faith in a FOGO system by community and councillors [91]. These factors perhaps highlight how challenging awareness raising can be as a means of engaging individuals with household food waste related behaviours. The tempting belief is that the higher the awareness, in this case of food wastage, the greater the likelihood of action such as food waste avoidance, reduction and diversion from landfill. Yet there is considerable debate as to whether raising awareness achieves results, and if so, which methods of awareness raising are proving effective [92,93,94]. For example, in a recent study [95], 81% of survey participants responded that they knew about FOGO yet the EPA’s subsequent analysis [96] showed that 27% to 70% did not use their FOGO bins at all.
Recent research has used audience segmenting to identify specific community engagement strategies [24,25,26,97,98]. This runs alongside studies into use of social media marketing and messaging, with the latter showing better results in raising household food waste awareness than the more traditional methods [23,33,99]. It also corroborates other evidence that awareness-generated behaviour change proves most effective when combined with a range of other factors such as convenience, resources, understanding, and carefully worded messaging that makes connections to individual values and environmental benefits [95,100]. This complex field shifts rapidly from community enablement and motivation to disengagement and disempowerment.

4.1. FOGO Attitudes and Interventions: Overcoming Avoidance and Extending Responsibility

There are concerns that providing a FOGO system may facilitate an abdication of individual responsibility around the real issue of food waste avoidance [50,96]. Avoidance research [50,100] contributes increasingly to understanding household food waste causal relationships, as does work on disposal and diversion [5,101]. In justifying FOGO as a disposal and diversion from landfill methodology, associated research looks at, and responds to, the realities of waste generation in Australia today. Whilst avoidance and diversion have used a variety of theoretical frameworks, both establish similar ranges of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators and barriers relating to household food waste behaviours, with attitude, partially informed by awareness, as a primary force [102]. Seeking better understanding of subliminal relationships with household food waste behaviours continues to draw together a range of concepts, such as ‘nudging’ towards behaviour [103], spillover from other interventions [24], or creating cognitive dissonance [94,96]. It can be argued that diversion via FOGO can utilize these same understandings by extending consumer responsibility beyond the kerbside and connecting inputs with outputs.
Engagement resources for councils introducing or promoting FOGO, such as the recent NSW EPA Scrap Together, recognise that time and familiarity with the FOGO processes may impact avoidance and diversion rates [96]. This aligns with an early UK report [104] which states that ‘increased awareness’ correlates with improved ‘waste prevention behaviour’ over time. Data gathered from self-reported findings also asserts that exposure to household food waste avoidance messages could result in increased household food waste avoidance itself [102,105]. With time and familiarity as factors, the combined effect of a well-resourced system, plus quality education with multiple leverage points, appears to be the most beneficial [55]. As previously argued, it is also evident that working with the community prior to introducing system change helps to increase understanding and improves FOGO usage by residents.
How best to influence and inform diverse demographics through education and messaging remains at the heart of most household food waste communications. Research shows that the overwhelming nature of environmental messaging, especially in relation to climate change, is traditionally poorly received and often disengaging [100]. Indeed, connecting values and attitudes with household food waste behaviours is tricky and has demonstrated variable results [18]. The second theme focuses on empowerment by engaging individuals with methods to easily contribute to green energy production and greenhouse gas mitigation via recycling of organics. This is possibly the most stratified and staged theme and lends itself to differentiated messaging.
Audience segmentation is one means of categorising levels of community response and defining potential approaches [24,96,100]. These categories orientate mostly around sociodemographic factors such as age, family/home composition, gender, and income levels [97,100,106], together with the external influences of culture, location and country [107,108]. In seeking effective leveraging tools, householder surveys contribute much-needed insights into community waste-related behaviours [24,100,102] and interventions [102]. These build on consumer education, meal planning, food storing, cooking, and use of leftovers across the segments. By setting these alongside bin audits and waste tonnages it is possible to gain a deeper understanding of system usage, with diversion and contamination rates drawn from the data and used to assess the effect of interventions on householder behaviours and visa-versa [55,90]. Further analysis of the results determines that reducing household food waste relies fundamentally on ‘…routinised food-related behaviours and initiatives on improving overall food management skills’ [24] (Abstract). It could be argued that these same skills for avoidance are also required when it comes to correctly disposing of household food waste for recycling via the FOGO bin.
Having extrapolated connections between low knowledge/awareness/understanding/interest and low FOGO uptake, the NSW Scrap Together education project determined that a whole-of-the-community approach is of more benefit than audience-specific messaging [96]. This report goes on to determine that the most effective communications move from blanket to more explicit statements about the environment, namely that:
  • The green lidded bin is a ‘comprehensive compost service’ and that it can take all food scraps including meat, bones, dairy etc.;
  • The materials are turned into compost;
  • Landfills are running out of space [96].
Results from Benyam et al. [15] structured focus-group-based investigation of waste-related community perspectives determined four policy preferences going from: (1) home composting; (2) awareness raising education; (3) a FOGO system; and lastly (4) community composting. Perhaps most importantly, they also found that ‘there was a strong belief amongst the participants that the councils would continue to make their own policy choice irrespective of the rankings preferred by the participants’ [15]. Analysis of how to overcome this conception is coming to the fore [45] and connecting the community with post-kerbside FOGO treatment options would better explain decisions around system selection.

4.2. FOGO Engagement: Combining Theory with Practice

In general, case studies of FOGO rollouts show that despite covering all known avenues for information dissemination, kerbside bin system change will create confusion and complaints [109]. Fear of negative responses can influence a council’s approaches and may encourage inaction or a lack of transparency. Whether for or against FOGO, a well-constructed, well-delivered communication framework with simple, clear messaging from ‘trusted voices’ [110] that engage a broad audience can assist in creating trust in the system. The concept of the circular economy lends itself particularly well to this and shifts emphasis towards the reprocessing of organics that have been correctly disposed of, without losing the initial avoidance and reduction messaging. Availability of infrastructure for public viewing, whether physically or online, provides a level of transparency that overcomes scepticism as to how the materials are managed post kerbside collection. The time taken to construct infrastructure also lends itself to an integrated community engagement process, such as that demonstrated by Campbell-Arvai and Lindguist [111] when using community workshops and a virtual platform to capture and visually represent feedback.
Current literature [42,77,112] outlines several generic factors that situate stakeholder engagement as a consistent component. In line with research into stakeholder engagement [28,113], councils that put effort into ensuring ongoing system promotion, within both the organisation and the community, reap the rewards regarding correct system usage [109]. Evidence shows that consistent engagement of key internal stakeholders through a team-style approach ensures consistent, well-informed, standardised information provision across, and from, the organisation. This eventuates in better system uptake and lower contamination outcomes by the community [114]. To this end, taking staff on site visits to the processing facilities provides system insight and understanding at a visceral level. To further support site visits, research also shows that carefully planned social media promotions, including videos and clips, are an effective means of expanding stakeholder relationships with FOGO [28,115].
Market reports indicate that landfill diversion rates benefit most from a weekly FOGO collection and fortnightly general waste [55,116]. A key learning point around kerbside bin change has been the intensity of community responses, especially where a council opts to simultaneously change its kerbside collection frequency and bin sizes. Penrith City Council’s 2009 FOGO introduction provided a useful base for learning about FOGO introductions. In applying what [117] have defined as a ‘persistent policy entrepreneur’ approach and implementing a range of community engagement strategies over time, Penrith’s initial high contamination rate continues to be addressed. Research shows a considerable shift in community engagement towards empowerment and familiarisation [118] This form of messaging is increasingly visible, especially in the more progressive approaches, such as the City of Townsville’s Have Your Say community consultation page and its use of a FOGO trial (, accessed on 9 May 2022).
An emphasis on community stakeholders as influencers still requires time, easily accessible information, ongoing monitoring and feedback [119]. Other rollout variables, such as offering a range of service options (bin sizes), online resources (FAQs, website information and research links) and physical resources (kitchen caddys, compostable liners, information stickers and fridge magnets) have been used as a means of ameliorating potential community discontent. For example, in common with an increasing number of councils across Australia, when rolling out its FOGO system the City of Melville in Western Australia moved the general waste bin from a weekly to a fortnightly collection, as well as reducing its size from 240 L to 140 L. Residents were able to apply to upsize their 140 L back to a 240 L general waste bin, although remaining on a fortnightly collection. Each upsize was subject to an individual kerbside bin audit carried out by the waste education officer to establish whether any of the materials in the general waste could be diverted from landfill (such as recyclables or organics). The resident would be provided with an immediate outcome—either an upsized bin or an explanation of how to use the bins correctly. Melville received 3389 audit requests (~3.5% of the population). Of these, 64% (2169) were shown to genuinely need a larger general waste bin, whilst 31% (1052) were refused due to recyclables and/or organics found in the general waste bin during the bin top audit. A small percent cancelled the audit (less than 2%) or did not put the bin out for inspection. At time of writing, FOGO contamination rates were 3% with market reporting indicating an average of 2.2% [120].
In common with research showing the effectiveness of door stepping [28,44], the face-to-face visits by the waste education officer assisted with overcoming community confusion and resistance. By offering a potential upsized general waste bin, waste education was disseminated more broadly to hard-to-reach audiences. Additionally, the focus on the new FOGO bin was reduced, allowing residents time to become familiar with the system. The opportunity to talk to residents not only impacted on the individuals, but was evident in a ‘ripple effect’ of understanding shown through residents’ responses to questions raised by others on social media. It also provided an opportunity to gauge community perspectives and integrate their views into future planning, something that behaviour change research has found to be beneficial [15].
Given the number of calls received by councils when changing a bin system, in-house preparation of staff and community-facing information (such as websites) for the system change are clearly important, as residents unaware of the impending changes may react adversely when suddenly confronted with an unexpected change to their bins. This partly explains why those who have missed the information may view system change as imposed upon them, rather than developed collaboratively with the community. The value of pre-empting system changes and ‘embedding community perspectives in policy instruments’ [15] is clear. However, the challenge for councils remains how to connect with diverse communities and create these connection pathways before implementing system changes.
Traditionally, councils’ face-to-face community engagement involves workshops, community information sessions [121] and, where possible, tours of processing facilities. As previously discussed, involving the community with project progress has proven benefits [37]. In common with other councils, Melville provided a number of community engagement sessions (19) in conjunction with recycling facility site visits plus the usual promotions and a high-level social media campaign. This not only pre-empted questions and provided information but also allowed residents to express opinions that the council could publicly respond to as appropriate. Social media used correctly is clearly an effective tool, but as stated previously, it works best in conjunction with a range of other strategies. On the other hand, post-rollout FOGO contamination was below 3%, which may be used as an indicator of the efficacy of the community engagement strategy. In line with current research, this project utilised a FOGO trial and implemented an engaging communication program well ahead of time in order to increase community familiarity with the change process [18]. Use of social media and real-world influencers from community leaders to well-known personalities (e.g., Shoalhaven City Council’s use of ‘Wombat’, Clint Price from The Block) also demonstrated traction. Research on household food waste social media influencers, whilst most often marketing and consumer-based, supports the creation of familiarity with FOGO [122]. Moreover, creative pre-empting and consistent responding to consumers’ views on the efficacy of household food waste campaigns increases transparency and lowers resistance [50], whilst using a wide range of ‘trusted voices’ [110] reduces confusion post-rollout. These factors can extend understandings of post-kerbside waste handling in Australia and the requirements around food waste collection [101].

5. Conclusions, Discussion and Future Research: Using Tangibles to Extend Individual Responsibility

In conclusion, as councils are increasingly required to apply household food waste interventions, the social, economic and physical factors around food loss and waste will change considerably; this is essential to achieve the National Food Waste Strategy goals [123]. The sense of urgency is driving publications advising on how to achieve this [7], including holistic community engagement programs that seek to pro-actively apply the tenets of a circular economy. Drawing attention to organics processing infrastructure contributes to a holistic approach to community engagement and education, and good community engagement supports increased pro-environmental behaviours and understandings, extends individual responsibility, and contributes to sustainable and effective household food waste interventions.
In using post-kerbside FOGO treatment systems as tangible assets, this paper has sought to contribute to the discussion on food waste avoidance and diversion as well as fill a literature gap and validate increasing the visibility of food waste treatment systems. It has situated both councils and their communities as integral parts of the process for achieving pro-environmental outcomes. It has also looked at how both the process and the outputs of two examples, composting and anaerobic digestion, can be used to draw explicit connections between community behaviours and means of combatting climate change at a household level.
In summary, the following tables suggest actions derived from the two themes of connection and empowerment. Table 1 looks at a community of connections that strongly influence FOGO efficacy and Table 2 looks at community and staff empowerment to the same end.
This paper examines the pro-environmental opportunities presented by changes to a council kerbside system. It has surmised that a mandated system such as FOGO in Australia can move beyond a ‘post-truth’ [130] attempt to convince people to act, or change habits, into a space where actions are required for the system to function effectively. The paper has filled a gap in the literature relating to how FOGO infrastructure and post-kerbside treatment of organics can provide visible, transparent connections to the community and a backbone for consistent and standardised messaging across all stakeholders. The importance of time in building trust has been discussed, as has the impact of system familiarity. An overview of current Australian kerbside collection systems was used to set household food waste diversion from landfill in the context of current community understandings. Using kerbside system change as the mechanism, the opportunities for councils to extend community responsibility beyond kerbside disposal of their waste has been explored. The behaviour-change opportunities presented when re-organising a kerbside system are unique, albeit challenging. As discussed, there is a growing body of evidence supporting clear and visible community involvement and engagement as a means of extending individual responsibility and achieving community cooperation.
Further research is needed into the impact of FOGO processing systems on household food waste avoidance and diversion, to complement and support avoidance and reduction messaging and how to extend consumer responsibility. As FOGO increases, the learning from its implementations, -along with those of research and other sectors such as the green energy sector, need to be assessed and reach beyond council-required behaviours into:
  • Connecting the community with how inputs affect outputs (i.e., what goes in the organics bin ends up in the compost/digestate);
  • Providing explicit pathways for easy contribution to green energy production and greenhouse gas mitigation via recycling of organics (empowerment and cooperation) and establishing the social norms of food waste management (individual responsibilities to group expectations).
This paper is limited by its discursive nature that informs its design and analysis; application of a more rigorous methodology would provide a more robust and targeted study. Additionally, the authors involvement with FOGO implementations provides unavoidable familiarity with the area. These factors have been acknowledged and the paper has been recognised as a discursive contribution to the ongoing need to change our approach to food waste and loss.

Author Contributions

Conceptualisation, E.L.; methodology, E.L.; Writing—original draft, E.L. -Review and editing, D.H.P., A.N., G.G.K. and S.O.; supervision, D.H.P., A.N., G.G.K. and S.O. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.


This work was supported by the Fight Food Waste Cooperative Research Centre, whose activities are funded by the Australian Government’s Cooperative Research Centre Program, and by CQ University.

Informed Consent Statement

Not applicable.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Reference Number

FFW CRC Publication 2022_009.


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Figure 1. Kerbside bin systems demonstrating their actual and anticipated diversion from landfill rates of the current domestic bin systems. Bulk verge/hard waste collection are represented by green piles for the organics and e-waste. Councils vary this according to their capacity. (Reproduced with permission of the Southern Metropolitan Regional Council, WA from City of Melville’s FOGO trial results, 2018).
Figure 1. Kerbside bin systems demonstrating their actual and anticipated diversion from landfill rates of the current domestic bin systems. Bulk verge/hard waste collection are represented by green piles for the organics and e-waste. Councils vary this according to their capacity. (Reproduced with permission of the Southern Metropolitan Regional Council, WA from City of Melville’s FOGO trial results, 2018).
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Figure 2. The Anaerobic Digestion process (graphic by Sara Tanigawa, EESI) showing a simplification of inputs and outputs.
Figure 2. The Anaerobic Digestion process (graphic by Sara Tanigawa, EESI) showing a simplification of inputs and outputs.
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Figure 3. Compost watering of windrows at a commercial level. (Photo by Unknown Author licensed under CC BY-SA).
Figure 3. Compost watering of windrows at a commercial level. (Photo by Unknown Author licensed under CC BY-SA).
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Table 1. Means of connecting the community with inputs (household food waste) and outputs (compost/digestate).
Table 1. Means of connecting the community with inputs (household food waste) and outputs (compost/digestate).
Connecting and CommunicatingAim/Rationale
With your communityTo use inclusive and extensive consultation to pre-empts future issues [124]—face to face is best but time consuming and costly.
With their valuesConnecting with the community’s values is a means of overcoming barriers in understanding and depends most often on connected and tailored communications [125].
With key staff and stakeholdersTo build in collaborative planning [126] with the aim of standardising knowledge and empowering stakeholders through understanding and involvement.
With good communicatorsTo overcoming barriers in understanding across the community. This depends most often on connected and tailored communications [125].
Individual health/food/environmental choices To work holistically and include health related messages. The ‘nudge’ approach is proving effective [102,108,127].
The contents of the FOGO bins and their subsequent usageTo extend connections between post-kerbside FOGO treatment in Australia and its environmental connotations [95,96].
Table 2. Engagement and empowerment of staff and community through creating social norms and pro-environmental pathways around household food waste management (habits and practices).
Table 2. Engagement and empowerment of staff and community through creating social norms and pro-environmental pathways around household food waste management (habits and practices).
Creating and ConsideringAim/Rationale
Extensive high-level social media engagementTo pre-empt and respond to consumers’ views via household food waste campaigns [50] e.g., ‘trusted voices’ [110], FAQs, have-your-say sites, infrastructure promotions, films and videos.
Spending time consistently monitoring all stages of the processTonnages of household food waste diverted from landfill and contamination rates change over time with reports showing the longer it is in place, the more familiar and efficient it is [55].
Early pre-rollout engagement implementingTo increase familiarity, consistently re-enforced with good information [128].
The key ‘power players’To engage those who can promote the system change and those who will give it ongoing support.
What is workingTo promote local infrastructure to grow knowledge, clarity and capacity around your approach [129]
Councillors, customer services and council staffTo support and educate public facing roles. These can turn the tide and move the project from success to failure.
Using a trial firstThis is proven to increase community familiarity with FOGO and ease whole of community rollouts.
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MDPI and ACS Style

Landells, E.; Naweed, A.; Pearson, D.H.; Karunasena, G.G.; Oakden, S. Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Using Post-Kerbside Organics Treatment Systems to Engage Australian Communities with Pro-Environmental Household Food Waste Behaviours. Sustainability 2022, 14, 8699.

AMA Style

Landells E, Naweed A, Pearson DH, Karunasena GG, Oakden S. Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Using Post-Kerbside Organics Treatment Systems to Engage Australian Communities with Pro-Environmental Household Food Waste Behaviours. Sustainability. 2022; 14(14):8699.

Chicago/Turabian Style

Landells, Esther, Anjum Naweed, David H. Pearson, Gamithri G. Karunasena, and Samuel Oakden. 2022. "Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Using Post-Kerbside Organics Treatment Systems to Engage Australian Communities with Pro-Environmental Household Food Waste Behaviours" Sustainability 14, no. 14: 8699.

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