AMDEA response to ‘To what extent can financial incentives boost recycling rates?’ - London Assembly, Environment Committee

13 October 2010

AMDEA is the UK trade association for large and small domestic appliances. We represent manufacturers at UK, European and international level; with government and EU political institutions; in standards and approvals; with non-governmental organisations; with consumers and in the media. AMDEA protects and promotes its members' interests in all these fields.

Our members include the world’s leading manufacturers of in-sink domestic food waste disposers, who draw on over 70 years of worldwide experience in the food waste disposal sector, the capture and recycling of municipal waste and the recovery of value from this waste stream.

Over the decades our members have accumulated (and continue to build) a formidable evidence base of scientific knowledge in the municipal waste management field - peer-reviewed research executed by academics and recognized experts around the world. In addition to these data, we count on the practical experience of their operations in over 80 countries including those societies, such as Sweden, considered to be at the forefront of sound environmental management.

We are grateful for this opportunity to share the scientific knowledge and practical experience gained as we firmly believe that any inquiry into boosting recycling rates should acknowledge the potentially crucial role of domestic food waste disposers (FWD) to capture and extract value from this waste stream, to remove it from contaminating dry recyclables and motivating citizens to participate in dry recyclable collection. We consider this is especially true in those areas with historically low recycling performance – high-rise flats and the most densely populated areas of London.

Do financial incentive schemes lead to individual behavioural change over the long term?

In AMDEA’s view the essence of successfully motivating citizens to recycle lies in making this task simple and achievable in practice. While financial incentives may induce behavioural change in the short term, and are certainly useful to encourage some people to try to do the right thing, continuity depends on simplifying what can be onerous and inconvenient tasks for some citizens; depending on their type of housing, state of health and “green” commitment.

The biggest challenge lies in high-rise buildings, multi-tenanted conversions and densely populated streets where terraced houses open straight onto the pavement.

Living space is small and waste-storage space non-existent; both inside homes and on the doorstep. Any frustration at managing the most difficult waste stream – food waste - can be expected to lead in the long run to a reluctance or impatience to deal with dry recyclables.

In-sink food waste disposers (FWDs) are a convenient and user friendly solution for householders, particularly in flatted properties. They can grind practically all food waste to minute particles that are easily carried away by the wastewater system, directly to wastewater treatment works, all of which in London have anaerobic digestion (AD) plants or will have reinstated them soon. Most of the sewage sludge in the UK is treated by AD. The ease with which FWDs manage this task, in the kitchen, has proved to encourage citizens in Sweden to adopt behaviours that have cut municipal waste to landfill by 60%.

Are there other approaches that could achieve the same result (i.e. sustained   behavioural change, leading to improved recycling performance) that should be considered first?

We suggest that removing food waste from the mix, by managing it when and where it is produced, at the kitchen sink, avoids contamination of other recyclables, reduces the burden for tenants and not least the weight, where other waste streams such as cans, cartons and newspapers need to be carried down flights of stairs. The ease with which they have managed their food waste is also more likely to create a positive attitude and along with this the necessary energy and enthusiasm for separating other recyclables.

In the context of the carbon footprint of FWDs, independent research (which we can make available) has demonstrated that this option is second to none and better than landfilling, incineration or centralised composting. They use minimal electricity, 2–3 kWh per year and via anaerobic digestion yield 25 times this amount of renewable electricity around 76 kWh per functioning unit per year. In addition to valuable biogas, fertiliser and soil improver can also be recovered from the output of FWDs, using existing anaerobic digestion infrastructure which is now used to treat most sewage sludge. The consensus from field studies is that additional water usage where FWD are installed is low - in the order of one lavatory flush (6 litres) per household per day.

Post-collection separation of dry-recyclables is a cost effective means of working towards a zero waste economy but the yield of reusable or recyclable materials is reduced/limited/compromised when wet, sticky, putrescible food waste contaminates the waste. FWDs remove this risk at the kitchen sink. When surveyed, users have consistently expressed high satisfaction rates (>90%).

Typically domestic FWDs last for 12 years and remain in the property when the tenants move on. In London with floating populations that move between boroughs and recycling regimes this continuity is an important long term benefit. FWDs are themselves 95% recyclable.

The best way to motivate most people to recycle more is to make it simple, convenient, odour-free and consistent with their household arrangements. The last might sound trivial but requiring people to have multiple bins inside and outside their homes can be resented, especially if they smell. Information that it is good for the planet and/or economy will motivate some people but not all.

Personal financial return is often a motivator as the following example from Surahammar, Sweden shows. In 1997 Surahammar introduced new waste charges which for kitchen food waste meant £0 per year for home-composters, £27 per year for an 8-year leasing contract for a FWD installed by the municipality and £209 per year for kerbside collection of kitchen waste. By late 1998 30% of households were using FWD, in 2008 this had increased to 50%, 30% were home composting and 20% had kerbside collection. There were drop-off bins for cardboard, glass, plastic and metal. Waste to landfill was cut from 3600 to 1400 tonnes/year. The wastewater treatment works’ biogas increased by 46% but the load [cost] to the wastewater treatment plant did not change; the hypothesis is that the dissolved load was biodegraded by biofilms in the sewers, whereas particulate food particles passed through to the anaerobic digester.

Surahammar shows, that when FWD are included in the mix of options for food waste, the overall waste strategy enabled residents to decrease the waste sent to landfill to 40% of the amount sent before the strategy was deployed. 50% of residents found using a FWD was a convenient and hygienic option, 30% did home composting and 20% used kerbside collection for their kitchen waste. The reduction in contamination of residual waste and the improvement in separation of recyclables accounted for this very impressive performance.

This Surahammar case study has passed peer review and is in print for publication in the December issue of Water & Environment Journal. We can supply an advance copy and if helpful can also check if one of the authors, Dr Tim Evans, might be available to attend your public session on the 4 November.

What are the key considerations for local authorities thinking of implementing financial incentive schemes?

One key consideration is whether the incentive is cost effective, another is whether it induces long-lasting behaviour change.

The cost of domestic FWDs purchased in bulk is about £50 each. The typical life expectancy of a domestic FWD is 12 years, i.e. £4.20 per year. The cost of food waste collection and disposal to landfill is rising to about £170/tonne, if the typical quantity of food waste is 180 kg/household per year, that is £30.60 per year. In addition there is the increase in dry recyclable yield that can reasonably be expected and the increase renewable energy production at London’s wastewater treatment works. These figures show that FWD satisfy the cost effectiveness criterion. At over 90% user satisfaction, FWD can be considered to satisfy the long-lasting behaviour change criterion as well.

For many householders, particularly those who are still unable or unwilling to recycle, managing waste and recycling are not compartmentalised issues. Negative or positive attitudes and enthusiasm to collaborate will be influenced by the hardest task set for them. Making food waste easy to manage and taking it off the kerbside in urban areas will give all other recycling policies a stronger chance of long term success.