Recycling collections for flats - collection vehicles

When choosing the most suitable type of vehicle for a new recycling or food waste collection scheme, it is important to make a full assessment of what is required from the vehicle.  It is also important to take into account some of the features that distinguish flats from kerbside properties. 

The following section of this guidance provides information on some of the issues that should be taken into account when selecting appropriate collection vehicles to service blocks of flats.

Assessing issues

Before any decisions are made on the type of vehicle needed it is worthwhile taking time to understand the local issues that may affect how collections take place.  For example:

  • Talk to collection operatives and caretakers to understand what issues are associated with different sites or areas.  There may be unreported issues related to refuse vehicle movements that could be exacerbated by additional vehicle movements associated with the new recycling scheme e.g. tight vehicle turning circles may be causing damage to kerbstones.   
  • Conduct site visits to assess the feasibility of vehicle access (e.g. marking potential servicing points on maps, noting where parked cars may cause an issue and assessing how far the vehicle may need to reverse).  Look for evidence of damage by vehicles such as tyre rut marks on tarmac and grass verges; damage to posts; kerbs and bollards; signs of damage at narrow entrances or gateways.  This damage may not have been caused by refuse collection vehicles but it may highlight potential ‘hot spots’ which other vehicles have had difficulties negotiating.  This information can be obtained as part of a flats inventory or as part of an on-site risk assessment.
  • Review incident reports from refuse collection rounds to identify problem locations and broader issues e.g. issues related to the type of vehicle used
  • If there is a particular block or area that has been identified as having potential access issues a site visit could be conducted with an experienced driver

Establish and maintain a good working relationship with housing, highways, planning and enforcement departments as their input can assist and improve your assessments.

Access issues

Vehicle access to blocks of flats may be restricted by security arrangements such as barriers and bollards.  In addition, access roads can be narrow and recycling containers may be located in difficult to reach locations such as underground car parks with low headroom.

Before new recycling or food waste collection schemes are launched arrangements should be made for collection vehicles to access the site.  Refuse collection crews may have a key or access code for a site that can be used by the recycling crews.  At some sites the caretakers may need to arrange for containers to be presented in a certain area, possibly using a small buggy or cart to pull them to an agreed collection point.

Unadopted land

For privately managed blocks, check that the access road is adopted (i.e. that the council has a legal obligation to maintain it rather than the landowner).  If it is unadopted land it may not conform to Highway Agency standards and may not be able to withstand heavy vehicles. 

One way to minimise issues or liabilities associated with damage caused by collection vehicles is to ask the relevant management organisation to sign a letter of dispensation.  However, irrespective of whether or not they sign this letter the local authority still has a legal duty to collect household waste.   The local authority can also arrange with the managing organisation to have the waste and recycling moved to a suitable collection point off the unadopted land.

Parked cars on adopted highways within housing blocks

Residents in flats usually will not have individual driveways meaning that cars may be parked in communal car parks or access roads.  Designated car parking spaces may not be sufficient and access roads to flats, which are often narrow to begin with, will be restricted further with parked cars. 

Officers can review issues caused by parked cars and work with the parking enforcement team to assess the feasibility of introducing further parking restrictions at any such hot spots or increasing enforcement of current restrictions.  Bear in mind that enforcement action or parking restrictions cannot be carried out or enforced by the local authority on privately maintained highways.

Minimising vehicle movements

Multiple vehicle movements in densely populated areas have the potential to cause a noise nuisance, inconvenience and the increased risk of damage to infrastructure and private property.  Where materials are collected separately, vehicle movements could be reduced by using multi compartment vehicles.

Flexibility of collection vehicles

Flexibility of collection vehicles is important.  As blocks of flats are of varying design it may be necessary to provide recycling in slightly different ways at different blocks.  For example if space is limited a 240 litre container could be used rather than an 1100 litre container, but the vehicle will need the capabilities to lift both sizes. 

The suitability of vehicles to accommodate additional materials such as food waste or other dry recyclables at some point in the future should be taken into account.

You may also need to use this vehicle for other operations if you do not have enough flats in the borough to justify an extra vehicle. For example Kerbsiders can be used to lift 240 litre bins or vehicles could be used to collect from “recycling on the go” points 

Top tips

Ensure that any problems encountered and lessons learned from existing blocks of flats are avoided in future developments.  Include criteria that developers will need to adhere to as part of planning conditions. Consider turning circles, maximum pulling out distances, minimum widths and heights for refuse and recycling vehicles.

New vehicles are usually a significant investment so review whether vehicles from the existing fleet would be suitable for collections from flats.  If new vehicles are needed investigate opportunities to trial vehicles. Discuss financing options available (e.g. leasing) with internal procurement and finance teams before deciding on a procurement direction. 

The vehicle is a highly visible element of a recycling collection scheme, and can assist with communicating to residents how the recycling service works. 

  • Use vehicle livery as a communication tool.  Magnetic signage, wrapping and tabards can be used to carry messages encouraging residents to recycle.  Consider carrying messages on the roof of the vehicle which could be seen by residents in high rise blocks. 
  • It is important that the collection crews operate the vehicle in accordance with the correct collection method e.g. if using a split back vehicle to collect recycling and general waste on the same round there is potential for serious public relations issues if waste and recyclables are not placed in the correct compartments.

Technology is available to assist management of collections.  For example:

  • On-board weighing equipment to monitor the amount of recycling and refuse collected from different locations
  • Tracker systems to monitor the location and collection efficiency of vehicles
  • Using Geographical Information Systems to plan and route refuse and recycling collection rounds (e.g. can be useful to re-plan rounds where residual waste tonnage has reduced due to increased recycling services)
  • Electronic events and incidents logs

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