Campaign: Public sector - Recycling drive gives food for thought

Campaign: Food Waste Recycling Roll-Out
Client: Oxfordshire Waste Partnership
PR team: Cherwell District Council
Timescale: March 2009-October 2010
Budget: £26,000

In 2003, Cherwell District Council started an alternate-week kerbside recycling and waste collection scheme that increased the recycling rate from ten per cent to nearly 50 per cent in 2009/10. Householders can recycle paper, card, tins, cans, aerosols, plastic bottles and containers in a blue bin, and garden waste in a brown bin.

In March 2009 the council decided to develop the scheme by introducing food waste to the brown bin collections. This coincided with Oxfordshire County Council's plans for a composting facility near Bicester. Each home was to be given a kitchen caddy and a roll of liners to help them collect food waste for the brown bins.


- To roll out food waste collections to 58,000 households

- To encourage residents to recycle food waste

- To drive down the amount of waste going to landfill

- To create compost from food waste.

Strategy and plan

The PR team began by informing the media of the introduction of food waste collections, using press releases and follow-up calls. Posters were designed to go alongside the roll-out and displayed in leisure centres, libraries, parish councils, town halls, village notice boards, council buildings, post offices and village shops.

Households were given a leaflet four weeks before their first mixed food and garden waste collection. This explained that they would receive a kitchen caddy and liners, and more information.

Two weeks before the first collection, households were given a booklet outlining the scheme, a list of shops selling caddy liners and a fridge magnet.

Staff went door-to-door in the first month of the scheme answering queries.

Press coverage was generated through regular releases, updates on food waste recycling levels and answers to frequently asked questions. A humorous release based on the 12 days of Christmas also generated local and national interest.

The PR team gave 30 presentations to parish councils and community groups. Two clowns were employed to help spread the message to primary schools.

Dedicated pages were created on the council's website, with news releases and information about the scheme.

The PR team also used Twitter to get the message out.

Measurement and evaluation

The story was featured in local and regional press, radio and TV including the Oxford Mail, BBC Oxford and the Banbury Guardian. Online hits included Recycle., and the Oxford Mail online.


Recycling rates have increased by eight per cent, with more than 2,300 tonnes of food waste being diverted from landfill in the first half of the year.

The council is on track to hit a recycling rate of between 58 and 60 per cent this year, which puts it in a good position to hit the Government's 60 per cent target for 2020.

SECOND OPINION - Peter Gilheany, Director, Forster

Food waste is not a sexy subject. It is not something many people spend a lot of time thinking about; it is not something the media get very excited about. Everyone involved in this campaign put a lot of effort into promoting a new service and they have been rewarded with a pretty decent uplift in recycling rates.

They have done it by very sensibly exploiting local comms and engagement channels, ratcheting up some pester power through primary schools, doing a lot of face-to-face marketing and rewarding householders by giving away some the tangible benefits of their efforts - the compost.

In short, it is a lovely, well-executed and thoughtful campaign, but for me it is also a missed opportunity.

Recycling is only one part of the three 'R's of encouraging us to be more sustainable - reduce and reuse tend to get overlooked because they are that bit harder. However, recycling doesn't really make sense without the other two. Considering the effort that went into this campaign, it is a shame that it didn't position recycling as part of that bigger picture, and encourage reduction and reuse as well.

Food retail is still dominated by the BOGOF mentality - buy less, buy better remains a marginal message, which is why we currently throw away £10.2bn of avoidable food waste every year. But in our current age of austerity the momentum is building. Forward-thinking councils and retailers who are a bit braver and tackle the three 'R's will reap the benefits.

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