FOGO bin waste piling up as WA council battles to save organics from landfill

Up to 25,000 tonnes of food and garden waste collected through Western Australia’s food organics and garden organics (FOGO) bin system is sitting unused in massive compost piles, despite households being urged to separate organic waste.

The City of Bunbury was the first WA council to introduce FOGO bins back in 2013, with the aim of turning the waste into compost.

But it has emerged the city’s waste facility is grappling with a large stockpile of partially processed compost that no-one will yet take off its hands — and it is fast approaching capacity.

The region’s waste authority said it was “absolutely” not the intent for the FOGO waste to go to landfill but said it has yet to attract expressions of interest from anyone who could recycle it.

The 25,000 tonnes of unused organic waste represents half of the total amount of FOGO waste processed in WA in the 2020-2021 financial year.

The WA government has been pushing for all local governments in Perth and Peel to provide three-bin collection systems by 2025.

People in Bunbury have been urged to use the FOGO system since 2013 when it was first introduced.(ABC South West: Gian De Poloni)

No solution yet for FOGO waste

Bunbury Harvey Regional Council chief executive Peter Keane said he was dealing with “legacy” issues at the local organic waste facility.

Mr Keane said waste was coming in faster than it could be processed by existing equipment.

“We’re trying to try to find a suitable group or person that will actually take the recycled product, and further process it so it can continue to be recycled as a FOGO product,” he said.

A pile of green organic food waste
Funding has been secured for a new organics compost processing facility in the region but that is still a while off.(ABC South West: Gian De Poloni)

“With the expression of interest, unfortunately, we didn’t have any submissions.”

Earlier this year the council agreed 10,000 tonnes of processed FOGO waste would instead be taken to the region’s main household rubbish tip – where it would be used to “cap” the subsoil, in a bid to rehabilitate it.

Then in April it resolved to call for expressions of interest to sell an additional 25,000 tonnes of part-processed waste.

Old salad sits inside an organics bin.
Despite the setbacks, the region’s waste authority remains adamant the organic waste will not go to landfill.(ABC South West: Gian De Poloni)

Mr Keane said he was adamant the waste would not go to landfill and was hopeful a solution would be found soon. He said he was in talks with potential users of the product. 

“Absolutely not that is not the intent,” he said.

“At the end of the day, our aim is to make sure it’s recycled product, and it’s consumed by the market, whether that be large farms or, or small consumers.

He said there was a strong demand for the final processed product as compost.

FOGO still WA’s waste plan

A spokesperson for the Department of Water and Environment Regulation said about 48,000 tonnes of FOGO waste was processed in WA in 2020-21.

The FOGO system was a central plank in the McGowan government’s 2030 waste avoidance strategy with 23 local government’s across WA having implemented or trialling the bins.

A mid shot of Reece Whitby standing at a media conference outdoors wearing a suit and tie.
Reece Whitby said councils that introduce FOGO can signficantly increase the amount of waste they recover.(ABC News: James Carmody)

The Town of Cottesloe in Perth was the latest council to sign up to the FOGO system in June.

At the time, Environment Minister Reece Whitby said organic waste recovery was a priority for the government.

“The disposal of organic materials to landfill is a waste of resources and a contributor to greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.

“[FOGO] helps ensure household food and garden waste is being turned into compost for farms, parks and gardens.”

a pile of compost in a hand
The partially processed FOGO compost is being held the Banksia Road organic facility in Dardanup, just outside Bunbury.(ABC Great Southern: Tom Edwards)

The Department also said it was investigating ongoing odour complaints at the region’s organics site where the 25,000 tonnes was being stored.

It said modelling indicated moving from a two-bin to three-bin FOGO system could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent in urban environments.

Household waste going to ‘undisclosed location’

The FOGO issues come as the region’s waste authority grapples with another big issue — the storage of household waste.

The Department has confirmed it had stopped general household waste from being stored at the council’s main household and commercial tip north of Bunbury – meaning it had to find another place to send rubbish from thousands of homes in the region.

That decision was due to an ongoing environmental compliance issue.

The Bunbury Harvey Regional Council came under investigation last year for failing to build lined cells at the site by a set deadline.

Three bins lined up on a porch
Household waste is no longer stored at Bunbury’s Stanley Road site due to a compliance issue.(ABC South West: Gian De Poloni)

Mr Keane said the region’s household waste was going to an undisclosed location.

“All I’ll say it’s going to an alternative location,” he said.

“Our landfill area expired in March. And we’re currently working with our member councils on looking at a lined cell business case.”

Mr Keane said he was confident issues at the both sites could be resolved.

“Stanley Road needs to cap its unlined cells to be far more environmentally friendly, and move to a more contemporary operation which is lined,” he said.

“The member councils are still yet to deliberate on that. However, I’m pretty on pretty upbeat as to the outcome of that deliberation.”

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