Recycling collections for flats - door to door collection

During door to door collections, recyclable materials or food waste are collected from residents’ doorsteps in communal corridors and transported to ground level. This is different to kerbside collections that might be provided for flats where residents set out containers at ground level for collection from the street.

Please be aware of new fire safety guidance produced by the Local Government Association (LGA - previously the Local Government Group): Fire Safety in Purpose built flats. The guidance is aimed at housing providers and fire safety enforcing authorities, but is also useful for local authorities planning and operating waste and recycling collection schemes for flats.

The guidance is intended to provide more comprehensive and applicable information  on fire safety for blocks of flats than the previous guidance on ‘Fire Safety Risk assessment: Sleeping Accommodation’ published by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) in 2006.

While recognising the importantance of recycling schemes for residents within blocks of flats it provides definitve guidance regarding the placement of recyclable materials in corridors. Section 45 states that:

"Recycling initiatives encourage residents to avoid waste and use resources sustainably. However, collection schemes often involve materials being set out in corridors, lobbies and stairways within the common parts, giving rise to a potentially serious fire hazard... While only transitory, such material is nevertheless wholly inappropriate. It cannot be considered acceptable even where ‘managed use’ policies apply. Landlords should put in place alternative arrangements for recycling that do not rely on collection from within the common parts."

‘Common parts’ refers to all internal communal areas including chute rooms, stairwells and corridors.

Local authorities are strongly recommended to have regard to this guidance. Key stakeholders that should be engaged with regarding fire risk are:

  • The Regulatory Reform Order identifies that a responsible person (usually the person in control of the premises such as the owner or managing organisation) has a duty to take fire precautions and ensure that an up to date fire risk assessment is in place for the buildings they are responsible for. The local authority, should engage with this person regarding the waste and recycling  service to ensure that the schemes can be operated safely and do not contribute to fire risk. 
  • The local fire authority  who can advise on the risks posed by different types of collection schemes.
  • The council’s health and safety officers (who may sit within the Environmental Health Department)

About door to door collections

Door to door collections can be carried out in a number of different ways but the most common processes that are implemented are:

Step one: Materials are collected from resident’s doorsteps and transported to a central collection point on the ground floor.  The materials can be transported in various ways: 

  • materials can be emptied into bulk sacks and carried downstairs;
  • in the City of London dry materials are transported in a caged part of a trolley and food waste is put into sliding drawers at the bottom of the trolley;
  • collection crews could put recycling down the refuse chute which leads into a recycling bank, having previously exchanged the refuse bin for a recycling bin; and
  • on the Clapham Park Estate in the London Borough of Lambeth bags of recyclables were manually carried downstairs or taken down by lift.

Step two: Materials are bulked up ready for transportation for onward processing or treatment.  Different methods of bulking material are used: 

  • Materials may be loaded or sorted directly into a collection vehicle.  Local authorities should assess the efficiencies of the vehicle waiting outside the block while collections take place
  • Materials may be put into bring banks; potentially with some on site sorting if materials are not collected fully co-mingled
  • Food waste can be treated on site using in-vessel composting units

Equipment that may be needed

  • Personal protective equipment for collection crews and/or caretakers
  • Containers for residents to store and set out materials (single use bags are removed from corridors on collection so can help to reduce risks associated with containers being left in corridors)
  • Large containers to bulk store materials (if not loaded directly onto a vehicle) 
  • Trolley to move materials 
  • Information packs for the crew, caretakers and call centre staff
  • Communication materials for residents such as leaflets informing residents how and why to use the scheme and notes, stickers or letters to communicate if containers are contaminated or set out on the wrong day
  • Collection vehicle

See more details of equipment used for flats collection schemes.

Typical performance of door to door collection schemes

The performance of door to door collection schemes can vary significantly.  In general dry recycling schemes that have more frequent collections from the doorstep and use single use recycling sacks capture the most material. 

From a recent exercise comparing kilograms of recycling collected per household per week (kg/hh/wk) from a variety of recycling collections from flats, it is evident that:

  • The average (median) performance of a weekly door to door collection was 1.83 kg/hh/wk
  • Average collections were lower where a bring site was provided near to the block of flats i.e. it appeared that residents were using the bring site in between collection days
  • High-rise properties (over five floors) recycled more (1.8 kg/hh/wk) on door to door collections than low-rise properties (1.5kg/hh/wk) in the same borough. This could be attributed to perceptions of ease of participation in door to door collection systems by residents in high rise properties when compared to participating in near entry systems.

What’s good about door to door collections?

  • Usually seen to provide an ‘equal’ service to residents receiving kerbside collections 
  • It is often easier for residents to recycle than to dispose of refuse via bulk bins or chutes
  • Easy to explain to residents 
  • Easy for residents to use – particularly elderly and disabled residents
  • Low capital costs
  • Monitoring can identify the performance of particular households.  Households setting out recycling and contaminating containers can be identified and communications can be targeted
  • Can achieve high participation and capture rates
  • Opportunities for on-site staff to be involved in recycling (e.g. by removing containers set out on the wrong day or championing recycling)

What problems could there be?

  • Containers need to be set out in corridors, which can cause the following: Fire risk can be increased (as containers may be targeted in arson and can block fire escape routes); Containers or materials may be used for antisocial activities (e.g. kicked around or thrown from balconies); Requesting residents to put containers in the corridors may contravene management policies of keeping corridors clear
  • Residents are likely to have limited space within their homes to store recycling internally between collections.  This can be an issue if recycling is collected only once a week from the doorstep, and if there are no nearby bring sites for them to use between collections
  • Manual handling of materials and containers is needed during collection, particularly if there are no lifts or lifts are out of order
  • The impact of missed collections is high and procedures need to be put in place to cover sickness / absence of collection operatives
  • Relatively high operation costs and potentially low capture
  • Collection operatives may have difficulty accessing buildings 
  • Ongoing co-operation from the manager of the block is needed

How could different building types affect collections?

  • Mansion blocks and converted houses are likely to have enclosed corridors - a factor that contributes to fire risk of door to door collections
  • Suitable parking locations for the vehicle can be an issue for flats above shops 
  • In high rise blocks the manual handling of material down stairwells may cause problems
  • Privately managed blocks do not always have trade entry or fire access arrangements which may make them more difficult for collection crews to access than other blocks
  • In blocks with a high proportion of holiday lets turnover can be high and the door to door collection scheme may not be properly used.  This may contribute to the risk of the scheme if containers are set out in corridors at incorrect times
  • In sheltered accommodation blocks particular care should be taken that containers set out at the doorstep will not inhibit wheelchair access.

Top tips

Door to door collections of food waste provided by Newtonabbey Borough Council and the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames were found to have lower participation rates and capture less material than food waste collections provided to kerbside properties.  This was thought to be due to several factors including:

  • Logistical problems in engaging with residents in flats
  • Transient segments of the population which can be particularly difficult to consult and communicate with
  • Lifestyle of some residents, with reliance on ready meals rather than home prepared meals

On Clapham Park Estate in Lambeth around half the materials collected from flats on the estate were being put in the recycling bring banks.  Participation rates were high which suggests residents were using the weekly doorstep collections but were also using recycling banks in between collections.  This suggests it may be useful for local authorities to support door to door collections with recycling bring banks

Several authorities are using caretakers, who are regularly on site, to provide door to door collections.  Having someone regularly on site means they can play a more active role in championing the scheme and problems can be quickly identified and addressed e.g. containers set out on the wrong day can be removed.  This can reduce the risks associated with the collection scheme

A report commissioned by Westminster City Council and the London Borough of Hackney assessed different aspects of fire risk related to door to door collections.  The type of materials collected and containers used were found to contribute to fire risk.  Partly as a result of this report Hackney Council decided to withdraw door to door collections.  Read Hackney's cabinet report which informed the decision.

Following fire safety inspections, the City of London concluded that in blocks of flats where there is only one means of escape and where sacks would be placed in a communal escape route leading to the escape staircase, door to door collections of dry recyclables need to be discontinued.  Residents will instead leave their recycling in chute rooms or outside the main entrance to the block on collection days.

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