The Oldham Green Carrier Project

In 2013 Oldham Council was facing some significant problems with its residential food waste programme and participation rates had begun to fall. The distribution of ‘free’ kitchen caddy-liners was something the council could not sustain, but the availability of cheap, properly certified liners for residents to buy was becoming an issue.

The second problem the council faced was that the most prolific contributors of food waste were also contributing the greatest amount of waste contaminated with plastic. The council wanted to engage with these residents because they clearly understood the value of food waste, they just instinctively chose ‘free’ plastic carrier bags to put the waste into.

Every rejected batch of waste was costing £211.00 per tonne to dispose of and it was estimated that the problem would cost the council over £400,000 during 2013/14.

The Solution

Oldham’s waste management team ultimately implemented a 3-part solution that proved to be extremely effective.

Part 1) The Co-operative

The first breakthrough came in 2014 when The Co-operative announced a new compostable carrier bag that could be reused as a food waste kitchen caddy-liner. This was exactly what the council needed so they reached an agreement with the Co-op to ensure that their new ‘Compostable Carrier’ would be available in all of the Co-op stores in the borough.

Part 2) Roll-liner Stockists

The next task was to ensure that caddy-liners sold on a roll also met the council’s standards, so they systematically secured liner quality and availability assurances from local convenience stores and supermarkets. The council published the addresses of these stockists in their communications with residents.

Part 3) The Green Carrier Scheme

It was clear that Oldham’s quality control project needed to cover a much wider area than that served by The Co-op and mainstream supermarkets. A solution was needed to cover those communities where residents prefer to shop locally. To resolve this, the council commissioned the production of a dual-use compostable carrier bag which was identical to The Co-op bag, but was printed with the Oldham Council logo. This bag was offered to retailers as a council-approved product.

To reinforce the environmental credentials of the bags they were marketed as ‘Green Carriers’ and selling the bags was presented as an opportunity for shopkeepers to become members of the ‘Green Carrier Scheme’ (GCS). Participating retailers were allocated a unique GCS membership number and given a free business listing on the GCS website which also featured a searchable location map. This ‘join the club’ approach added an aspirational dimension to the sales campaign and it also afforded the council a degree of control over which shops were ordering the bags.

The Project Trial

To trial the GCS, two members of Oldham’s waste management team recruited ‘Green Carrier’ stockists in the target areas. In total, 25 small food shops agreed to take part, covering an area of around 10,000 households. Local community leaders and participating shopkeepers were invited to an official launch event and a door-to-door campaign was undertaken to educate residents about food waste issues in the target area.

The trial was conducted over 20 weeks in 3 key areas and was monitored by 6 collection rounds. In week 1 any bins contaminated with plastic bags were collected, but they were also ‘Green Tagged’ as a final warning to the householder. In weeks 2 and 3, any bins contaminated with plastic were ‘Red Tagged’ and the collection was refused.

The initial results

The initial results confirmed that the scheme was having a significant impact. Before the trial, of the 1,486 total properties within the Westwood area, 614 households (41%) were participating in the food recycling service. Of those 614 households only 89 households (14%) were using suitable compostable caddy-liners. By the end of the trial, 565 households were still participating in the service, which is a slight reduction. However, 540 of those households are now using compostable film liners of acceptable quality, which equates to 96%.

The final results

The final results of the trial were excellent. At the start, 19% were using compostable liners and 81% were using plastic bags. At the end of the trial 96% were using compostable liners and only 4% using plastic bags. The total number of households participating in food waste recycling has slightly increased from 3,061 to 3,117 properties within the target area.

Moving forwards

The projected figures for 2014/15 were that within the targeted area, over 486,252 Green Carriers would be consumed. The cost to maintain the introductory 3p bag subsidy was £19,450, although the subsidy ended in October 2015 with the introduction of the English bag levy. The total cost saving would be £282,029 (based on 2014/15 disposal costs).

The council now has over 100 registered Green Carrier stockists and is expanding the scheme to encompass the whole borough. Shops are now selling the bags at the new post-levy price of 6p and they are as popular as ever.

A copy of the Oldham Council report is available on request.