Why Bristol is becoming a leading light in waste management

Written by: Jo Gallacher | Published:
The Slim My Waste – Feed My Face playfully puts black bins on a 'no food diet'

Awareness of global environmental issues and evaluation of our own environmental impact has been long embedded into the ethos of Bristol.

Long before the city was awarded the European Green Capital Award in 2015, our green roots had been firmly planted among the old stonework that once encased Bristol’s Old City and still exists in part today. This included leading the way in community recycling, which humbly started as Bristol Friends of the Earth in 1971, a group who later established the first kerbside collections system.

More recently, Bristol and its residents have become leaders in pioneering innovative ways to think about waste, recycling and reuse. City to Sea’s refill campaign, born and bred in Bristol, has sky-rocketed to success with over 60 cities across the UK tapping into the campaign that connects thirsty individuals with businesses that refill water bottles for free.

The city has also seen a rise in zero-waste businesses taking up shop on the local high street, offering for the first time to residents the chance to do an entire shop packaging-free.

Aligned with the community

Bristol Waste Company, the city’s recycling, waste collection and street cleansing company, is committed to working in partnership with the people of Bristol to help all communities recycle more and waste nothing.

This began with the establishment of their Community Engagement team, who work with everyone from residents’ groups to schools, the city’s universities and students, to landlords and tenants and even businesses, to provide valuable education and help to resolve any localised waste issues.

“We’re nothing without our residents and community groups,” says Jessica Tulit, community engagement officer serving the east side of Bristol. “These groups are vital champions for the street scene in local neighbourhoods as they report waste issues to us daily.”

Tulit’s patch includes the multicultural Stapleton Road, an area known for challenging waste management. She led a community engagement project which removed troublesome communal bins that incessantly attracted fly-tipping, and began a community-based multi-lingual approach to improving the street scene.

Residents of the Stapleton Road area are continuing the good work through Tulit and several local initiatives which act as watchdogs for illegal dumping, encouraging good waste management through Good Garden Awards and assisting the local shops with their waste management to improve the streets and pavements they all share.

Community awareness, like those on Stapleton Road, and keen involvement in keeping our streets, paths and green spaces tidy has encouraged Bristol Waste to involve residents in their campaigns, on top of their community engagement work.

Giving residents the power to create change

Community participation isn’t only relevant and relied upon for keeping streets tidy, it’s also imperative when it comes to improving recycling rates.

Bristol Waste Company’s marketing officer, Emma Williams, spent some time in early 2017 considering how best to address the recent revelation that nearly 25% of the average black refuse bin in Bristol was comprised of food waste.

“We have an innovative and successful recycling system in place for Bristol’s food waste, where it is processed in an anaerobic digestor to create methane gas that then powers the city,” says Williams.

“Coupling that with reducing the amount of refuse being treated, you’re saving money on processing and reducing the impact we have on the environment as a whole.”

And so spawned the idea for Slim My Waste – Feed My Face, a campaign that playfully puts black bins on a ‘no-food diet’ and encourages residents to get up close and personal with their food waste. Stickers of facial features were delivered to each household and residents were encouraged to give their food waste bins a personality.

The multi-award-winning campaign wants to change the attitudes of residents to food waste and for them to consider the impact it has at its final destination. Ultimately, it wants to divert the 25% of food waste that exists in Bristol’s refuse bins to their happy, smiley food waste recycling bins, where it does far better.

Making leaps and bounds

Their trial campaign, which rolled out in the Hartcliffe area in autumn 2017, resulted in a 9% increase in households choosing to recycle their food. Further, 10.5 tonnes of food waste was collected in the month before the trial, compared with 19.6 tonnes collected in the month after the trial. That is a staggering 87% increase and could be used to charge an iPad more than 75,000 times. Finally, they saw a 10% decrease of general waste in wheelie bins.

The success of the trial campaign resulted in a city-wide roll-out in the summer of 2018. Targeting 145,000 homes, Bristol Waste Company endeavoured to show the rest of the city how beneficial food recycling is for the city and the environment.

In the few months following the release of the city-wide campaign, the results are already tremendously positive. Bristol Waste Company’s initial results show a 16% increase in food waste collected, a 405% increase in requests for food waste bins and a 15% decrease in refuse collected in the 10 weeks since the campaign launched.

“It’s fantastic to see this campaign really changing attitudes and behaviours across this city and the wonderful impact it is having; saving money, creating energy and helping the planet too,” says Gwen Frost, development and sustainability manager at Bristol Waste.

“I am incredibly proud that we are helping take Bristol one step closer to becoming a zero-waste city and keeping it a clean, green, resourceful place to live.”

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