Boosting recycling in flats for the communal good

A new report examining issues around waste recycling in blocks of flats in London has detailed the challenges facing these communities, resulting in new interventions being trialled.

Flats present not only a range of recycling opportunities but also considerable challenges, including storage space constraints in homes, the state and location of communal recycling bin storage, and confusion about what can and can’t be recycled. As a result, it is perhaps no surprise that people living in flats recycle around half as much on average as those who live in houses.

Traditionally, recycling schemes at flats have been implemented on a one-size-fits-all basis, with all blocks of flats within a local authority’s boundaries receiving the same service. However, blocks of flats can vary considerably – from the refuse disposal methods used to the communication opportunities available – meaning that a single type of scheme is unlikely to provide the most effective recycling solution for all flats. Increasingly, local authorities are recognising the value of assessing blocks of flats individually and introducing different schemes to best fit the needs of each block.

With purpose-built flats making up 37% – and rising – of London’s residential accommodation, encouraging greater recycling by flat dwellers is key to increasing the capital’s recycling rate. A report published in December 2017 by the London Assembly’s Environment Committee found that the recycling rate in London flats would have to increase by 40% in order to reach the Mayor of London’s target of 65% recycling by 2030.

Resource London, a partnership programme between London Waste & Recycling Board (LWARB) and the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP), has recently published research undertaken with residents in 2018, which reveals a range of issues that need to be addressed if recycling rates in flats are to improve.

The report highlights that three factors – motivation, ease and knowledge – are all necessary conditions for improving recycling rates but are not always fully addressed by waste services. The report shows that while many people living in flats and on estates are keen to recycle, they don’t always feel that it’s easy enough or that they have the right knowledge to recycle effectively. These concerns are not unique to people living in flats, however, as house dwellers sometimes voice similar worries.

Resource London has collaborated with the Peabody Housing Association over the past year to explore ways to improve recycling in flats. Several practical interventions were developed by the organisations after conducting estate inventories and research to understand the reality of people’s lives in flats. In order to understand which mechanisms will be the most successful at increasing recycling so that the best initiatives can be replicated at other locations in the UK, the project has chosen 12 case study estates across six inner London boroughs to test the resident-focused interventions listed below:

1. Tenant recycling packs – provided by landlords to explain what items can be recycled at the bin stores and what happens to the recycling. This aims to address the fact that many residents don’t feel responsible for recycling and properly disposing of their waste.
2. Emotive messaging around communal areas – large poster signage to help residents feel more responsibility and motivation for recycling.
3. More, smaller recycling bins – conveniently located smaller bins around the estate to make recycling more accessible and convenient.
4. Feedback mechanisms – to show residents that their recycling efforts are appreciated, that everyone has a contribution to make, and provide updates on recycling rates and what is being achieved.
5. In-home storage solutions – a space-saving hook and bag system to help residents store recycling and make it cleaner and easier to recycle.

The pilot scheme began in September 2018 and initial results are encouraging, with the overall recycling and capture rates appearing to improve and contamination of waste streams coming down. The organisations listed include Peabody, Camden, Hackney, Hammersmith and Fulham, Islington, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Lambeth, Tower Hamlets and City of Westminster. metroSTOR are actively working with many of the London Boroughs to implement innovative bin storage solutions that encourage people that live in flats to participate in recycling schemes.

These interventions are similar to some of the methods of improving the performance of recycling and food waste schemes at flats developed by WRAP. However, one notable difference is that WRAP considers reward schemes to potentially be a useful tool for authorities to raise the profile of recycling. The Resource London project is just one of a number of initiatives that have been launched across the UK in the last few years, with most focusing on educating residents and simplifying processes wherever possible.

metroSTOR embraces innovation and has developed expert knowledge of the issues around waste and recycling schemes at not only communal buildings but also other residential properties and business premises, offering a range of outdoor bin storage solutions including enclosed units, recycling centres and bin room buildings. Look out for exciting new ideas coming from metroSTOR to inspire everyone to recycle, regardless of where they live!