19 April, 2018

In the last few weeks it’s been great seeing more discussion on recycling in flats. Throughout my time in the waste management industry flats have been overlooked, as the primary focus has been on providing services to kerbside properties and increasing recycling from these types of households.

However as 88% of new build properties in London are flats, and the percentage of people in London living in flats is likely to rise to almost 50% by 2030, we can’t ignore the challenges that householders and local authorities are facing in increasing recycling from these homes.

For me, the beginning of a project is always the data. This forms a good basis to start thinking about improvements or interventions. Data on the provision of recycling services often needs some work; it can be patchy and scattered across different spreadsheets and databases.

The collection data – that is, the number of containers and when they are collected – is often held by a particular team at the local authority, but the finer details such as exact locations and access to the containers is more difficult to uncover, and can sometimes seem almost like an urban legend guarded by the flats collection crew.

This experience has given me a new level of understanding and sympathy for these residents and especially those who try to do the right thing. I will never again say that recycling is easy. It is easy unless you live in a flat.

Fire hazards, chutes and dropped kerbs are also incredibly important to know about if any changes or improvements are to be made to the service provision safely.

However, I think that we need to go further in understanding the environments in which we are expecting residents to use recycling services. The look and feel of a block and estate, the lighting and the cleanliness of the site are all useful bits of information that will help us design improvements.

I would also carry out observational research to see how residents move around the site, and what facilities and businesses are available in the area where residents are likely to go in their daily lives.

Over the last few months, we’ve been doing this type of work as part of the baseline for the research that has recently been launched by Resource London to understand the barriers to recycling in these types of properties and to trial innovative and disruptive solutions.

We were keen to use the most up to date technology including geocoding the position of the containers and amenities as well as recording the paths the residents are likely to take. We’ve taken hundreds of photographs and left no stone unturned for the search of noticeboards and other details on how residents interact with the sites.

Throughout this research it struck me how much residents are actually asked to do to recycle. In many situations they need to walk down several flights of stairs, often to the back of the block which is nowhere near their usual route out and is often dark during the winter months and in the evenings.

Even if they make this effort they are sometimes faced with a less than pleasant bin store. Compare that to the kerbside resident experience where waste and recycling is picked up from the front of their house, the containers are often free to replace if they get broken and the information on how to use the services is plentiful.

This experience has given me a new level of understanding and sympathy for these residents and especially those who try to do the right thing. I will never again say that recycling is easy. It is easy unless you live in a flat.

As waste managers we really need to think about how we can help these residents and ensure that they are given every opportunity to recycle just like people who live in houses. But that is another phase of the project. I look forward to the innovative approaches that my colleagues at Resource London are cooking up and wish them and the residents every success with this important, solutions-focused work.

This article by Agnieszka Chruszcz, Senior Consultant at Resource Futures, appeared in the CIWM online journal

You can find out more about the Flats Recycling Project on the Resource London website.

Image source: CIWM Online Journal