Recycling collections for flats - conducting a flats inventory

Every block of flats differs in terms of building features, management structures and types of residents. Therefore it is unlikely that a single recycling or food waste collection scheme will be suitable for all blocks of flats in your area.

This section provides a step-by-step guide for assessing blocks of flats and advice on specific features of the building that may affect the types of collection scheme that can be provided.

About flats inventories

A flats inventory is undertaken for each block of flats to determine the best methods of managing waste and communicating with residents.  An inventory usually comprises three main activities:

  • desk based data gathering and research;
  • site visit (survey) to each block; and
  • information analysis and decision making.

The inventory can be used to:     

  • design collection schemes that make recycling as easy as refuse disposal for residents – this is key to encouraging participation in recycling and increasing capture of materials;
  • assess the risks associated with recycling and food waste collection schemes and identify possible mitigation measures;
  • identify communication opportunities;
  • gather contact details of key stakeholders (such as the caretaker, tenants association and private landlord; and
  • update information already held by the local authority.

1. Background planning

Stage one: Decide what is needed from the inventory 

The first step should be to clarify the reasons for undertaking a flats inventory as this will determine how it is conducted.  The reason for undertaking an inventory will usually relate to the aims and objectives of a service.

Some of the common reasons why local authorities undertake an inventory are:  

  • to improve existing collection schemes and storage areas;
  • to inform new recycling and food waste collection schemes; and
  • to gather information about blocks of flats and their management to assist with service planning.

Both the short and long term objectives of a local authority should be considered during the planning stage as it will save time and money to gather all the information required in one single inventory. For example, in the short term the local authority may only be interested in collecting dry recyclables from flats, however in the long term options for collecting food waste and improving reuse of bulky waste may be considered. 

Stage two: Draw together existing information

You should have already compiled a list of the blocks of flats in the strategic planning stage of the process. There is likely to be a lot of information about blocks of flats that can be collected through desk based research and interviewing stakeholders.  Examples of stakeholders and the information they may have are outlined below:

Colleagues:

  • contact names and numbers of stakeholders such as managing agents and residents groups;
  • knowledge of previous schemes or trials that were undertaken in different blocks of flats; and
  • challenges and opportunities associated with certain blocks e.g. problems with fly-tipping or a managing agent that is particularly keen to improve recycling.

Council departments such as housing, planning and enforcement teams:

  • the number of residents and flats per block;
  • names and numbers of key contacts such as caretakers or housing area managers;
  • new blocks of flats; and
  • challenges and opportunities associated with certain blocks e.g. regeneration programmes being implemented in different blocks.

Refuse and recycling collection operatives and caretakers:

  • current collection procedures and refuse facilities;
  • operational issues associated with certain blocks of flats e.g. problems with vehicle access or vandalism of refuse bins;
  • ideas and suggestions for new schemes and methods of consultation and communication; and
  • access points for vehicles.

Managing organisations including private landlords:

  • accepted levels of risk and the status of risk assessments for each block;
  • challenges and opportunities associated with certain blocks; and
  • current collection procedures and refuse facilities.

Other stakeholder organisations:

  • including police and fire brigade who may have relevant information such as previous incidents of arson or anti social behaviour.

Find out what stakeholders need to know in order to be able to support recycling schemes. For example, the managing organisation is responsible for updating the fire risk assessment in each block. They may want to have some preliminary information (e.g. the number of exits or location of the fire doors) before making their own visits.  This information can be gathered as part of the inventory.

Once the information gathered through desk based research and interviews has been collated, assess the remaining information gaps.

View more information about stakeholder consultation.

2. Survey design and planning

Stage three: Plan the site survey

In order to gather all the information needed to design the best collection schemes and communications for each block site surveys will need to be conducted. During the site surveys information gaps identified during the previous stage can be filled and photographs can be taken to help plan how collection schemes will operate.  Site visits are also an ideal opportunity to meet key stakeholders to discuss particular opportunities and challenges associated with each site.

Planning the site surveys: Options include commissioning an external consultant or identifying available council staff to undertake the work.  If the former is chosen, an appropriate budget will need to be set. If the latter is chosen, it may be necessary to offer different levels of training depending on the experience levels of the staff (further details of training are provided below).  The team used may need support from specialists for certain aspects of the inventory e.g. to assess the feasibility of mechanical chute recycling systems for different blocks.

Capturing information: Decide how information will be captured by those conducting the site surveys, for example in a database that is completed on personal digital assistants or paper forms to be completed by hand. 

Data capture forms usually contain a mixture of open questions, closed questions and “thought” prompts:  

  • An open question allows a greater amount of detail to be recorded and can be used where the answer cannot be reliably anticipated.  An example of an open question might be ‘what does the caretaker think are the main issues with waste management at this block of flats?’
  • A closed question will have set answers such as ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or ‘numbers’.  An example of a closed question may be ‘is there a lift in the building?’

A “thought prompt” will remind the team to do something e.g. to take a photo of the refuse bins or measure a potential recycling site

The form should be laid out in an order that makes it easy to complete when on site, for example, starting with observations that the team may notice as they approach the block of flats.  Guidance notes may be required to support data capture forms e.g. photographs of potential recycling containers with their measurements. 

Presenting information: Decide how the information gathered should be presented based on what it will be used for and who will use it.  For example if information is to be presented to residents at focus groups it can be formatted in a word document with photographs.  If it is to be used by recycling officers a database will allow all the information to be collated in one place and numerical data to be quickly analysed.

Setting procedures: Develop procedures for conducting the site survey.  These could include how often the information gathered will be collated, what process the team should follow when talking to caretakers and how consistency in the information captured can be assured if different staff are to be used.  A risk assessment for the work should also be completed.

3. Conducting the site survey

Stage four: Training and preparation

Provide the team with the equipment required to undertake the site survey e.g.:

  • maps;
  • a list of properties to visit;
  • cameras;
  • clipboards;
  • high visibility jackets;
  • a tape measure;
  • information/leaflets to show to interested residents or caretakers; and
  • identification to show they are working for/on behalf of the council.

Provide a training session for the team covering:

  • the purpose of the inventory and the site survey;
  • exactly how the data capture form should be completed and what information should be recorded against each question, including the importance of consistency and reliability of the information captured;
  • health and safety issues;
  • site visits to demonstrate how the form should be completed;
  • how to respond to queries from interested residents and caretakers; and
  • which blocks to visit.

Notify relevant stakeholders that the site survey will be taking place.  This could include informing caretakers; estate managers; housing departments; housing associations; resident associations; registered social landlords; council call centres; and collection crews.

Start the site survey visits and make sure that data collected is collated frequently.  This will allow any issues to be identified from the outset.  It is recommended that the project manager reviews the first few blocks that are surveyed by comparing the information that has been gathered on the data base with a revisit to those blocks.

4. Completing the flats inventory

Stage five: Using the information gathered

Once the information gathered through the site survey and desk based research has been collated the information can be assessed.

The gathered information will provide you with data such as where the bins can be located at each block; capacity requirements for each block; available poster sites for communication materials; managing agent etc. All this information will help you make an informed decision of the optimum recycling system for each block.

In many cases further site visits by a specialist may be required after the initial inventory has been completed e.g. fire risk assessors or composting experts may visit the site to collect more details and make an expert assessment of the feasibility of schemes.

As further information is gathered by specialists or improvements and / or changes to collections schemes are made at each block, the information contained in the inventory should be updated.  Other council departments and stakeholders can also be involved in keeping the information up to date.  For example private landlords and the housing department could be encouraged to update tenant association details and caretaker contact information.

Top tips

Identifying which blocks to visit can be an issue and new developments may not be located on maps that are being used.  To overcome this review lists of properties on bulk refuse collection rounds or send a member of the team out with the refuse collections crews to make a list of blocks that should be visited.  The survey team can also be asked to visit any unlisted blocks they come across whilst undertaking the inventory.

Identifying managing agents can be difficult.  Thurrock Council had problems identifying the managing agents responsible for blocks of flats.  As a result, the council set up an account with the Land Registry and this has made it easier to find out who the managing agents are.

Before finalising the data capture form circulate it to stakeholders for comment and test out a draft version of the form on a few different types of blocks to identify and address any issues with the questions, wording or layout.

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