Food Cycle pilot showed less waste, plans to continue use

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer

A pilot project examining new ways of dealing with household organic waste in Fort Frances has concluded, and could result in untold metric tons of that waste being diverted from the local landfill in the future.

At Monday night’s meeting of Fort Frances town council, members heard a deputation from Food Cycle Science’s municipal program manager Jessica Taylor about the recently concluded FoodCycler pilot program in town. The pilot program, called the On-Site Organics Diversion Program and which ran from October to December 2022, saw 200 units of Food Cycle Science’s small device intended to take household organic waste like leftovers and vegetable peels, and turn them into a compost-like material that could then be applied to local gardens and flower beds. Fort Frances is one of 73 municipalities across Canada that had either taken part in the pilot program or have adopted use of the system.

Taylor explained that the participants of the pilot program were asked to use the device, purchased at a steep discount from its regular $499 price point, and to log their use in order to collect the data surrounding their household waste and food usage.

“Participants also completed a survey to provide data and feedback,” Taylor said.

“Out of the 200 participants, we received survey responses from 131 residents, so that’s 66 percent of participating residents. When asked how important the greenhouse gas reduction was to them, the average answer was 8.8 out of 10. When asked how important waste reduction was, the average answer was 9.2 out of 10. These first two questions allow the municipality to get a sense of how important reducing greenhouse gases and reducing waste are to your residents.”

Taylor presented a number of slides that compiled the answers received through the survey. One of the points made through the survey was that users of the Food Cycler device fell largely in line with other Canadians and survey respondents about their general use of composting before they began the pilot project. According to Taylor’s data, 24.43 percent of respondents said they composted during the spring to fall months, while only 9.16 percent said they composted year-round.

“For people who do not compost, about 63 percent of them choose not to because of concerns about animals like bears and raccoons,” Taylor said.

“Residents also reported concerns about odours, maintenance and knowledge. These answers are in line with a lot of the data we’ve collected in our municipal programs, and the Food Cycle is a really great solution for these problems because it’s easy to use, it’s odour free and the byproduct prevents wildlife and scavengers.”

Over the course of the pilot project, Taylor noted the average participant ran 4.1 cycles of the device per week, which she said works out to diverting roughly 213 kilograms of food waste per device per year. Among all 200 pilot project participants, that diversion amounts to roughly 42.6 metric tonnes of food waste that is being kept out of the town’s landfill.

“This is the equivalent of preventing about 55 metric tonnes of CO2 equivalents per year compared to disposing of that food waste in the landfill,” Taylor said.

The survey was also able to generate qualitative data that can help the town better understand the waste habits of residents, as well as a look at how being mindful of the waste they were putting into the Food Cycle device had a knock-on effect of helping people generate less waste overall.

“When we asked users if increased awareness of food waste motivated them to waste less food, the overwhelming majority said yes it did,” Taylor explained.

“When people are managing their food waste at home, they become more aware of how much food they’re wasting in the first place. We always say the most effective waste diversion strategy is not to generate any in the first place. So the awareness that comes with the program is very important. Even though it can be difficult to put that into numbers, it’s an added value that this solution provides.”

In a previous interview with the Fort Frances Times regarding the pilot project, Town of Fort Frances operations and facilities manager Travis Rob, currently serving as interim CAO, said that the Fort Frances landfill is nearing the end of its life, and while the town has started the costly and time-consuming process of expanding the landfill site, diversion programs like the Food Cycle could help to extend the current site’s life while the other work is ongoing.

Other qualitative data collected by the survey showed that a minority of respondents would be interested in additional capacity for their unit, or a larger unit overall, which Taylor said is now available. As well, 96 percent of respondents said they felt that, in the event the town began offering the Food Cycle units at low or no cost to residents, their friends and families would be interested in using a unit for their own household organic waste.

“An overwhelming 98 percent would recommend it based on their own experience,” she said.

“This really speaks to the success of this pilot program; 100 percent of the residents that responded to our survey reported that they will continue using the Food Cycler as a solution to their food waste moving forward. This level of participation far exceeds any other organic waste management solution out there today. For example, the green bin program here in Ottawa that has weekly curbside pickup only has a 57 percent participation rate. When we look at backyard composting, which is available to everyone with the space to use it, the rate of adoption has been stagnant for decades.”

The Food Cycler, seen here in a promotional YouTube video from Food Cycle Science, is a tabletop composting alternative that promises to take household organic waste like food scraps and peels, and turn it into a nutrient-rich by-product that can be used in ways similar to traditional compost. A 12-week pilot project that saw 200 of the devices sold to participants in Fort Frances concluded in late 2022, and council heard a summary of data collected from those users at Monday night’s meeting. – photo Food Cycle Science/YouTube

Rob backed up that finding during Monday nights’ meeting, noting that while the town does offer composting bins for sale at the public works facility in the north end of town, they sell “one or two a year, maybe” and that those sales are often to someone replacing their previous composting unit. He noted the town has a regulatory requirement to promote composting as part of the overall municipal waste program, making diversion programs like the Food Cycler a good way for the town to continue to meet that requirement in the future. He also said that now that the pilot has concluded and provided data on the Food Cycler’s usage, the town would be able to use that data to do further research into what benefits it could have for the landfill site and any cost benefits the municipality could seize upon.

“Is it something we’ve done yet? No,” Rob said.

“But now that we have the report and we have that data, it’s something we can definitely look at. Something that I’ve been looking forward to seeing is what sort of diversion truly came from a program like this.”

While there are currently no plans to continue into another Food Cycle or other diversion program or officially adopt the Food Cycler on a municipal level, Rob said the town will continue to keep an eye on public interest in the units and potentially return to the item at mid-year or in a future budget update, should the demand warrant it.