Malmö -Communication at the heart of food recycling

Updated January 2018

Malmö is a Swedish city with an impressive food waste recycling program underpinned by an award-winning communications campaign. With a migrant population of one third and about 150 different languages spoken in Malmö, the city faces some extra challenges when it comes to educating its residents about food waste. So how did they do it? I had the pleasure of speaking with the project leader, Ingela Morfeldt at VA SYD to find out.
Ingela Morfeldt, Project Manager at VA SYD.
Photograph supplied by VA SYD

What results have you achieved through the program? 

In Malmö there are 335,000 inhabitants and the potential total amount of food waste is 36,515 tonnes. This is equivalent to 109 kg per person and year. Last year we collected approximately 42 percent of all food waste or an average of 46kg/inh/year. Today we have reached 47 percent.

Can you describe how the food waste system works?

VA SYD collects food waste from households and businesses in Malmö. We provide 140-litre food waste bins to customers. Each household receives a 9-litre kitchen basket and two packages of paper bags (80 bags per bundle) for food waste free of charge.

Single-family properties are under a subscription model where they pay to have their residual waste collected, while the collection of food waste is free. Food and waste bins are collected at the same time and the most common collection frequency is every second week. Out of the 26,000 single-family properties in Malmö, 93% participate in food waste recycling.

On the other hand businesses and multi-family properties pay for food waste collections, but it is three times cheaper to have a food waste container than throwing the food in a waste bin, so this still provides a financial incentive to recycle food waste. The participation rate across multi-family properties is slightly lower than single family properties with 90 % having a food waste collection. The collection frequency varies depending on how many people live in the property and how much space there is in the garbage room. 73% of 2,580 businesses have food waste collection. Businesses can order a costly 45-litre bag to put in a trolley or 140-litre bags to put directly in the bin.

The collected food waste is then transported to a plant in Malmö where it undergoes anaerobic treatment. The food waste is converted into biogas and bio fertilizer. The biogas is then used as fuel for the city buses and the city’s garbage trucks.

No food waste is sent to landfill. The residual waste (58 percent of remaining food waste) is sent to a combustion plant, where the garbage is turned into electricity and heat in the plant.

Food waste (Matavfall) container and bin inside residency

Image supplied by VA SYD

Does Malmo have any legislation in place to support food waste recycling? If so, how is it practically enforced?

Our elected politicians in the city council decided that everyone in the city should sort out their food waste from 2012. We have no punishments but have ongoing communication with, for example, property owners and businesses. We keep contacting customers two times a year who have not started collecting their food waste until they start sorting.

In 2014 VA SYD received an International prize for its “Thank you for the food” campaign, which has resulted in high participation in food waste recycling program. Can you describe how you designed and implemented this campaign?

When it comes to making effective campaigns, first of all, we need to analyse the target audience, who are they and how do we reach them in the best possible way. Our target groups for “Thanks for Food” campaign are homeowners, multi-family property owners, apartment owners, businesses, teachers and students in schools, and not least our own employees. It is important to consider informing internally so that all staff know what we are working with so they can act as ambassadors.

“Thanks for the food” was our main campaign message. That means we thank every individual who chooses a sustainable future by the simple effort to sort their food waste. The campaign has had a humble, playful and positive spirit to make customers to sort their food waste.

We chose a broad market mix and made targeted messages to each target audience. We showed our messages on buses, big outside picture boards, cinema and ads in local newspapers to reach as many as possible. In terms of activities and owners of multi-family properties, several of them were given a personal visit and got personal advice.

We continually remind our customers in a positive and playful tone of voice that they should sort their food waste. We have worked extensively with personal contacts to meet customers in their own arena.

Example of positive messaging thanking customers for their contributions for sorting food waste

Supplied by VA SYD

How many people worked on the campaign?

During the campaign period, we were five people working on the project including a project leader, a communication officer, and two people who worked to contact businesses and multi-family properties to start up food waste subscriptions. Of course, we also had the help of our customer service, who answered questions from our customers.

“We continually remind our customers in a positive and playful tone of voice that they should sort their food waste.”

– Ingela Morfeldt, Project Manager, VA SYD

What challenges did you face communicating to your residents about the food waste program?

It has been a great challenge to find ways to communicate with non-Swedish people. We have therefore chosen to have some printed material in four other different languages. Before having events in residential areas where many citizens do not speak Swedish, we have first engaged with local associations with young citizens living in the area and who speak several languages. This has been a successful way of meeting the local citizens.

It has also been a challenge to get those who work to collect the waste to see the benefits of their work. We trained the drivers who run the trucks so that they could also be ambassadors for the food waste campaign.

The challenge ahead is to ensure that everyone continues in the same good spirit to sort out their food waste. It is important to constantly remind the importance of sorting so that we keep the interest up. 

Do you have advice for other cities on how they might achieve something similar?

Work with one customer group at a time. Start with the easiest; single-family properties and then owners of multi-family properties and apartments to finally work with the businesses. It becomes easier internally as well; customer service only needs to focus on answering questions from one customer group at a time.

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