Enhancing participation in kitchen waste collections

Start date:
October 2006
March 2008

Two out of three households with a kitchen waste collection use it regularly

In October 2006, Defra’s Waste and Resources Evidence Programme (WREP) funded a multi-partner research team led by Brook Lyndhurst to explore consumer behaviour with respect to food waste collections. 

The overarching objective of this project was to build evidence on:

  • How householders respond to the provision of food waste collections;
  • How their response varies across socio-demographic groups and housing situations;
  • How service design affects behaviour;
  • Which participation barriers need to be addressed through communications; and
  • Lessons from existing practice in the UK and overseas.

The results should help local authorities, Defra and agencies to identify actions to maximise public engagement in food waste recycling.

The methodology of this project consisted of seven key phases including:
(1) A background ‘issues’ paper reviewing existing data on food waste collections;

(2) Over 30 telephone interviews with local authority officers highlighting key success factors and barriers to implementing food waste recycling schemes;

(3) Six in-depth site visits to authorities operating collection schemes in order to capture information on scheme design, operational issues and factors affecting public engagement. The case study areas were: Bexley, Cambridge, Fenland, Hackney, Taunton Deane and Weymouth & Portland;

(4) Twelve focus groups (one with users and one with lapsed/non-users of the food waste scheme for each of the six areas) generating insights on motivations, barriers and language used by residents to describe food waste collections. Waste capture analysis was undertaken for 32 households;

(5) 4,431 face-to-face interviews with households in the six study areas in order to test findings from the focus groups and identify attitudinal and behavioural differences based on household type and service provision. A national omnibus survey was also run in order to provide a benchmark for findings from the six study areas;

(6) Analysis, synthesis and reporting drew together findings from all components into a final report and developed suggestions  on practical steps to maximise participation in food waste collection schemes; and

(7) Dissemination at three national waste conferences and two regional conferences (see link on the right).

At the same time as this study was underway, WRAP (funded by Defra) was supporting 21 authorities in trials of food waste collections. The WRAP study monitored participation and material capture but focused less on consumer perspectives. The two studies are therefore complementary and readers would be advised to consider the results from the WRAP study alongside our work.

The top-line findings from our study showed that:

  • Participation is highest where food waste is collected weekly and refuse fortnightly;
  • Households are generally more aware that fruit & vegetables can be recycled than ‘meat and mush’ (e.g. plate scrapings, sauces), and this is reflected in a hierarchy of actual behaviour;
  • The main reasons people give for taking part in kitchen waste collections are a dislike of producing waste and wanting to act in a pro-environmental manner. People also report feeling they should participate simply because the service is provided;
  • The main barriers to participation are  fears about mess, smells and ‘yuck', using food in other ways (e.g. home compost or pet food), not having enough food to recycle, and not wanting to make the effort. Significantly, those who have never tried a service are more concerned about the ‘yuck’ factor than those who actually use it;
  • Having a low interest in recycling generally was also identified as an important barrier amongst non-users;
  • Home composting households need further clearer messages that food collection complements, rather than replaces, what they are already doing to reduce food waste; and
  • Participation tends to be lower amongst young people, students, unemployed people, very small or very large households, some minority ethnic households and those living in conversion flats and private rented property. Places with concentrations of private rented property and high residential mobility are identified as areas where it will be especially difficult to achieve high participation in food recycling.

Research suggestions for local authorities

  • There is a need to target ‘missing’ foods that can be collected (e.g. meat and mush);
  • Many authorities could learn from best practice on using pictorial information and non-technical language;
  • Councils should give feedback to participants on how well they are doing and provide robust facts and guidance to balance underlying fears; and
  • It may be necessary to devote extra resources to areas with ‘transient’ populations.

Principal implications for policy
There is a need to:

  • Support additional research to increase and strengthen the performance data on food waste collections;
  • Recognise the special problems that inner city areas and those with youthful populations will face; and
  • Continue to provide leadership on supporting the development of a widespread social norm on sustainable food behaviour, including national level communications work.

Full findings are available in our executive summary and summary reports on the links to the right.

Brook Lyndhurst was supported by Waste Watch and the Resourced Recovery Forum (RRF). Other contributions were made by consultant Jennie Rogers (data on coverage of collections), ICM (survey fieldwork), Viewpoint Field (recruitment for focus groups) and an expert sounding board who acted as ‘a critical friend’ to the research team.

Brook Lyndhurst Blog

  • Energy efficiency: behaviour, rationality, economics and politics

    I had the pleasure of joining some 300 researchers and academics from around the world a couple of weeks ago to discuss the latest thinking on persuading consumers to use less energy.  The BEHAVE2014 conference took place in Oxford at a time when it is increasingly appreciated, by businesses, governments and civic society, that any [...] 

  • Herd behaviour amongst sports fans

    We had a conversation in the office the other day about herd behaviour and the difference between football and cricket crowds. Why is it that spectators at a football match can occasionally get aggressive and abusive, but spectators at a cricket match tend to act more like naughty schoolboys: boisterous but essentially good-natured? It’s a [...]