Recycling collections for flats - food waste collections

This section provides guidance for local authorities that currently manage, or are considering launching food waste collections from flats. It draws upon WRAP research undertaken in 2011 into food waste collection schemes for flats. As part of this research, 13 local authorities across England and Wales provided information about their food waste collection scheme for flats. This report will be published later in the year.

All food waste collections must be compliant with the Animal By-Products Regulations (ABPR) introduced following the foot and mouth outbreak in 2003. This includes ensuring that food waste is collected in covered, leak-proof, containers and vehicles, and that the food waste is treated at an appropriate ABPR compliant site.

Any council installing a food waste bring collection must have clear policies and working practices for collection and cleansing of sites to ensure compliance with obligations under the regulations. This should include roles and responsibilities especially when dealing with private land, dealing with overspills and response times.

The trading standards/environmental health department of the local authority usually act as the local enforcement agency for ABPR so are an important stakeholder to consult with when food waste collection schemes are being planned. The Environment Agency as the regulators for storage of waste on land they will need to be informed if bins are placed on pavements.

Further ABPR information is available from Defra.

About food waste collection schemes

The research undertaken in 2011 indicates that there are three principle types of food waste collection schemes being provided for residents in blocks of flats:

  1. Bring bank collection scheme. Residents put their food waste into small kitchen caddies (5-10 litres) and periodically transfer their food waste to a larger communal collection container (see photo one of a food waste bring site within Hackney). The food waste tends to be transferred to the external bring bin in compostable liners. The survey undertaken as part of the 2011 research indicates that the majority of authorities collecting food waste from flats are using a bring bank collection scheme.
  2. Door to door collection scheme.  Residents use a small kitchen caddy in the home for separation and then present their food waste in a larger (e.g. 23 litre) caddy outside their front door (in the corridor of the block of flats) on a regular collection day (photo two door to door collection scheme for food waste and dry recycling, City of London). Of the 13 authorities that were surveyed only one, was collecting food waste door to door. Please note that new fire safety guidance produced by the Local Government Association recommends that recycling should not be placed in communal areas of buildings. Read more about this in the door to door collection section of this guidance.
  3. Collection from a communal area using larger caddies. Residents use a small kitchen caddy in the home and transfer the food waste to larger caddies which are presented in a communal area such as the bin store for collection. Of the 13 authorities that were surveyed only two, Swansea and Surrey Heath were using this collection method.
    Some considerations regarding each of these collection schemes are discussed in more detail throughout this section.

Equipment that may be needed

A full outline of equipment that can be considered for collection schemes from flats is provided in the equipment to support recycling collections section of this guidance. This section outlines some particular considerations for equipment that may be used for food waste collections.

Food waste containers

Guidance for storing food waste in the ABPO states that the waste needs to be secure and properly contained to prevent spillage and access to vermin. Therefore any food waste containers outside of bin stores should be secured.

Internal kitchen caddies: with each type of collection scheme residents should be provided with caddies to collect and store food waste within their flats. Most authorities surveyed during the 2011 WRAP research provide a 5 or 7 litre caddy except Merton which provides a 7.5 litre caddy and Hackney which provides a 10 litre caddy. Hackney decided to use 10 litre caddy as they knew that flats within the local authority area tend to have large families so wanted to allow for this in the capacity provided.

Swansea caddiesExternal caddies: Milton Keynes provides a 23 litre caddy to households on the doorstep scheme for residents to transfer food waste into and present outside their doors. Surrey Heath provides a 23 litre caddy for residents to empty their smaller five litre caddy into and to set out in the bin store. Swansea provides a number of 25 litre caddies for residents to share which are kept in the bin store.

External bring containers: All authorities surveyed during the WRAP research that provide a bring collection use wheeled bins as the external container, with the majority using 140 or 240 litre bins.  These can be standard wheeled bins or specialised food waste collection containers (for example SSI Shaefer provide a ventilated food waste collection container called a Compostainer. Where wheeled bins are used it is important to lock and secure the containers in place. Lids need to be restricted to ensure that non-target materials cannot be deposited and contaminate the contents.

Housing units: Housing units are a lockable metal cover for a wheeled bin that have an aperture at the top for food waste. They tend to be fixed into the ground to prevent the bin being moved from its intended location and can improve the aesthetic appearance of the site. Within the housing unit the lid of the wheeled bin is left open so that residents can open the aperture and drop food waste into the bin and help prevent against flytipping bin (see the photo of a 240 litre bin inside a Matiussi housing unit in Swansea to the left). Unpublished research undertaken by WRAP has found bin housing units to be effective in reducing contamination and increasing capture of material

The following considerations should be made when deciding on the containers to use for flats food waste collections:

  • To meet ABPO requirements containers used for food waste need to be leak proof and securely covered.
  • Containers should be easy to cleanse to prevent issues with smells and odours and ensure that residents are not put off using the containers (Hackney provides bin cleaning operations twice per year). It is important to clean or replace containers to encourage residents to participate in the scheme and to prevent odours from the containers from becoming a nuisance.  Frequency of cleaning may vary depending on: 
    • The time of year – in the summer more frequent cleaning may be required
    • Whether liners are used to contain food waste – liners prevent food waste from sticking to the containers and reduce the need for cleaning
    • The location of the containers
    • The procedures for cleaning the containers e.g. whether they can be cleaned on site (possibly by the caretakers) or need to be collected and moved to another area for cleaning.

A key concern from residents in WRAP funded food waste collection trials was a reluctance to handle the external container into which other residents had deposited their food waste. The design of the bin and aperture is important in ensuring residents can easily and hygienically deposit their food waste thereby achieving a good level of participation.

When considering the size of an external container, local authorities should take into account whether it can be moved safely when full, particularly since food waste is dense and therefore containers can be heavy. Advice from an expert steering group convened by WRAP for a project to assess food waste collections from small businesses was that the container size should not exceed 180 litres in order to avoid health and safety issues associated with manual handling. Where this is not possible, the authority should ensure that the collection schedule allows for the containers to be emptied before they are more than 2/3 full.  Additionally, it is unlikely that the larger size bins will be necessary for the quantities of food waste arising from most blocks of flats.

During the 2011 WRAP research, two collections videoed used either bin housing or had the bins chained to a wall or other surface. This security increases the collection time per bin. However, there is evidence from previous WRAP funded trials that the housing units reduce contamination and therefore reduce loss of materials, and so the investment in this additional time for collection is likely to be worthwhile for particularly sensitive sites.

Compostable liners

Compostable liners are commonly used in local authority collection schemes to encourage residents to use within their kitchen caddies. For flats collections the use of liners may be more important than kerbside given that residents may use them to ferry food to the collection point. In Hackney householders are provided with kitchen caddies and compostable liners for food waste.  The liner enables residents to transport their food waste to the collection container on their way out instead of having to return the kitchen caddy back to their property.  The use of liners also helps to prevent food waste from sticking to the side of the communal bin reducing the need for cleaning and ensuring all the food waste is emptied. 50% of residents questioned about a food waste bring scheme in the London Borough of Bromley said the provision of liners for their caddies encouraged them to participate in the scheme.

Southend Council uses large compostable liners within their 140 litre communal collection bins to keep the bins clean and reduce odours.

It is likely that providing residents with liners helps to reduce contamination of food waste with plastic bags and encourage participation. During the research undertaken by WRAP in 2011, the main contamination noted for the authorities filmed was plastic bags. In one authority, this resulted in the rejection of bins at almost 50% of the sites visited on the filmed collection day. WRAP is undertaking research into the cost benefit of liner provision and further work will be undertaken on cost benefit of liners specifically for flats in due course.

The main differences in approaches to provision of biodegradable liners identified through the 2011 WRAP research were within the mechanisms used for charging and methods of distribution to residents.

The main methods identified for providing liners were to:

  • Provide liners free of charge to residents;
  • Provide residents with the option of purchasing them from the local authority or private supplier (e.g. supermarkets); or
  • Use alternate methods of lining caddies (such as newspaper).

The majority of flats schemes employing a bring site approach ensured that liners are made freely available to residents.

The main approaches used by authorities that provide liners to residents free of charge were to:

  • Undertake regular deliveries of liners to all households;
  • Deliver liners to residents on request; and
  • Require residents to collect liners from collection points such as libraries.

The choice made on the approach to charging and distributing liners is likely to be based on an assessment of cost (as purchase and delivery of liners can be costly), consideration of contamination (as provision of liners may reduce contamination caused by plastic bags) and participation and capture rates (as provision of liners can increase the ease of use of the scheme for residents and therefore lead to higher capture). 

Other supporting equipment

Other supporting equipment required might include personal protective equipment for crews, a trolley to move food waste collected over pedestrianised estates and hard standing for the bring site food waste containers. Crews should store cleaning equipment on board the vehicle to address any spillages that might occur. Particular site may need securing using chains and padlocks or be required to be fastened to walls.

Read more about this in the equipment to support recycling collections section of this guidance

Typical performance of food waste collection schemes

Capture

Eight of the 13 authorities that took part in the 2011 WRAP research reported estimated  or measured kilograms per household served per week for bring bank schemes. The amounts reported ranged from 0.26kg to 0.98kg per household week. The average (mean) was 0.63 kilograms per household served per week. Some local authorities could not provide actual figures due to the food waste from flats being collected with food waste from other sources.

Performance of other schemes, e.g. where caddies are set out in communal areas and the doorstep scheme was not provided.

Participation

It is difficult to monitor visually which households are participating in recycling if they use communal bring sites, or use caddies in a communal area. Since the majority of schemes in operation by the authorities involved in the 2011 WRAP project use a bring scheme for the collection of food waste, the participation rates provided were based on the outcomes of resident surveys undertaken by the authorities, or were estimated. Only three local authorities were able to provide data for bring schemes. Based on resident survey responses, the claimed participation rates were 97% for Merton and 74% for Camden. In Lambeth a resident survey identified that 74% of residents claimed to use the scheme frequently with another 7% using it occasionally. It should be noted that these are claimed rates based on resident surveys and likely to be higher than the actual rates, as residents may ‘over claim’ the amount that they recycle. As the scheme in Merton only covers 418 households, the sample size for this is relatively small. 

The Evaluation of the WRAP Separate Food Waste Collection Trials report identifies that in trials undertaken between 2007 and 2009 participation rates for two doorstep food waste schemes from blocks of flats were 21.3% (Kingston) and 28.3% (Newtownabbey). These rates are significantly lower than the claimed rates for the bring schemes. However, these rates do tally with the yields generated at the sites.

Communal bring bank schemes for food waste would be expected to have a lower participation rate due to the additional effort required by residents and transiency issues in some blocks. This suggests that there could be a large amount of over claim in the surveys undertaken mentioned above.

Hackney has estimated that their bring scheme has a 14% participation rate. This estimation was made based on a calculation on the amount of food waste being collected through the scheme.

On average 67% of residents in Swansea reported always using the bring or the caddy scheme for food waste collection with a further 14% saying that they sometimes use it.

In summary actual participation in communal food waste schemes might be expected to be low at around 30%.  Participation in bring style schemes would be expected to be lower than kerbside collections when considering the additional movements required of residents to dispose of their waste. Good design, careful siting and also high density of collection points to improve access seem key to achieving good levels of participation.

The performance of different types of collection scheme are provided in a performance summary table.

Contamination

Contamination of food waste needs to be managed properly in order to maximise the amount of food waste collected for recycling and minimise cost and inefficiency in having crews or staff to deal with problems.

Addressing contamination affects the service in a number of ways from creating arrangements for crews to carefully assess a container, prior to collection, to avoid the risk of a load being rejected; clearing contaminated materials from communal bins quickly to allow residents to continue to use the containers; and also targeting communications and enforcement policies to particular problem areas. Prevention of contamination is also important for maintaining operational efficiency. The WRAP 2011 research identified that walking to and from the collection vehicles forms a significant part of the operational timings and therefore a contaminated container results in a wasted trip for the crew with an additional collection required by another vehicle and crew to empty the contaminated container.

Contamination issues need to be addressed both at the operational level via the collection crews and through communication with residents.  In Hackney where food waste is contaminated with recyclable materials the crew place it in the recycling bin next to the food waste bin. Litter bins have been placed next to many food waste bins which the crew use for non-recyclable contamination. Several authorities use tags, bin hangers or stickers on contaminated bins to explain to residents that the container has been contaminated. This is a mechanism of feeding back to residents what materials are accepted through the food waste collection scheme and may also be used to indicate when the contaminated bin will be emptied. 

It is important to clear the contamination quickly in order to ensure the greatest capture of material (e.g. that residents do not continue to place significant amounts of food waste into the container which then have to be disposed of due to the existing contamination and are not put off using the scheme if they believe their efforts are being wasted).   Local authorities considering using a split-bodied vehicle to undertake alternate week collections of materials (e.g. food waste and residual waste in one week and food waste and recycling the next week) should consider how contaminated food waste will be cleared during the recycling collection week (when it cannot be loaded directly into the vehicle).


What is good about food waste collections from flats?

  • Food waste tends to be one of the highest arisings in the residual waste stream from flats and significant opportunity for recycling. A collection scheme provides an opportunity for this to be diverted for composting and there is a strong suggestion that as residents become more aware of the amount of food wasted they amend their behaviour to reduce food waste.
  • It improves social inclusion by providing residents in flats with the same service to residents living in kerbside properties.
  • Can help to meet resident demand for improved services.
  • Provides a high frequency option for the removal of food waste from flats which in turn improves hygiene and cleanliness. This is particularly evident where refuse is collected in large open containers. Residents in Hackney noticed a reduction in birds attacking refuse once a food waste scheme was introduced at their block of flats.
  • Since food waste is dense a significant weight of materials can be collected in a small footprint (particularly for food waste bring schemes) which is good where space is limited as there is unlikely to be a need for multiple containers.
  • The scheme can engage a wide range of the community e.g. with support from resident champions, caretakers and housing organisations e.g. through assistance with distribution of liners and communications.
  • There are opportunities to incentivise use of the food waste scheme through use of compost on communal areas or allotments close to the flats (particularly since some flats have gardening clubs or allotment societies associated with them). For example Islington ran a Spring Compost giveaway of 10 bags of compost to 12 estates with labels that read: ‘Thank you. The compost used on this flower bed was produced from your recycled food waste’.

What problems could there be?

  • Food waste is dense and heavy which can cause manual handling issues, particularly if large containers are used and not emptied frequently. Advice from an expert steering group convened by WRAP was that the container size should not exceed 180 litres in order to avoid health and safety issues associated with manual handling. Appropriate sizes for caddies also need to be considered.
  • Different mechanisms of providing compostable liners to residents have considerations associated with them.
  • During the 2011 WRAP research only two local authorities reported any incidences of problems or complaints related to maggots and flies. These problems appeared to be limited as one of these authorities reported this as an issue only in summer and both indicated it was only an issue for a limited number of sites. This suggests that flies and maggots are not common problems in flats food waste collections.  Frequent collections, prompt removal of contaminated material and arrangements for bin cleansing can help to avoid these issues. All but one of the authorities that took part in the WRAP 2011 research were collecting food waste weekly or more frequently.
  • Collection schemes can be costly and capture and participation can be low relative to dry recycling schemes, therefore it is important to encourage maximum participation and capture and plan efficient operations

How could different building types affect collections?

  • One of the food waste collection schemes in use for flats is collection from a communal area where  caddies are presented. This type of scheme would be unlikely to be feasible in blocks of flats with a large number of households due to the space and loading times associated with a large number of small containers. However, it could integrate well with a kerbside collection scheme and allow a local authority that had vehicles without a bin-lift to provide a collection scheme for low rise blocks of flats with a small number of households, providing space was suitable for a communal storage point.
  • If there is a high turnover of residents (e.g. in blocks with a high number of holiday lets) the food waste may be more likely to be contaminated by residents that do not understand what they can and can’t place in the food bin. In order to address this, Southend undertakes continued communications in blocks with a high turnover of residents to ensure new residents understand how to use the scheme.
  • Due to the weight of food waste, it is important that food waste containers are of a suitable size and are not overfilled. When assessing capacity requirements the number of households within a block of flats, as well as the typical number of resident (or bedrooms) per property, should be considered. The weight of containers is particularly important where the vehicle collection point is not close to the containers or they need to be manoeuvred up or down an incline.
  • In blocks with food waste disposal units, the capture of food waste through the collection scheme may be reduced 

Top tips

  • An authority may not have sufficient sites to collect from with a dedicated resource and sharing services should be considered where possible. Woking has worked in partnership with Guildford to help share the cost of operating a food waste collection scheme from flats. They share the hire of a collection vehicle and collection crew, with Woking using the vehicle three days per week and Guildford using it one day per week.  Woking feels that this has been a positive experience and has reduced their scheme costs. Other authorities have reduced costs through joint procurement exercises for equipment.
  • Engaging with stakeholders (including residents) prior to the scheme roll out is essential to encourage them to champion and use the scheme. Swansea offered a training workshop to housing associations for their caretakers when the food waste scheme was rolled out. This helped to gain caretaker support and build strong working relationships.  Camden recommends that residents in each block of flats are consulted before food waste facilities are introduced. Hackney commented that training for call centre staff is essential
  • It is important when selecting communication methods to consider the aims and objectives for the campaign and the target audience. For example, if the food waste scheme is only being rolled out to some households within the local authority, targeted communications such as local posters and leaflets might be more appropriate than radio advertising (which would be heard by residents that do not have the scheme).
  • Consider the number of sites for collection; the location within the borough; the required frequency of collection; and the likely resource needs. You will then be able to assess whether a dedicated or shared (i.e. along with schools or kerbside) collection round is needed. There can be advantages and disadvantages to each approach that need to be considered against local circumstances. Vehicle movements can be reduced if material from all sources is collected together. However there are a number of additional considerations e.g. if a driver plus two loaders are used for the collection of food waste from the kerbside, can they be efficiently deployed to undertake collections from flats? (E.g. are there enough bins on an estate/per block of flats to justify the use of two loaders or is the density of the kerbside collection on the round greater than the flats collection?)
  • When considering rolling out a new scheme Woking suggests introducing collections at flats one day at a time (e.g. filling up a day’s worth of collections before moving onto the next phase) and Islington suggest planning ahead and rolling out clusters of blocks helps with grouping collections geographically

Want to know more?