Recycling collections for flats - methods of improving performance

As discussed in the Understanding Flats section, residents in flats produce different waste to those in houses. Therefore recycling rates from flats may differ and will not be comparable to those for kerbside collections. There are additional barriers that can prevent people living in flats from easily recycling, such as limited storage space and the ease with which materials can be transported to a collection point.

You can read more on WRAP’s research on barriers to recycling at home.

To help local authorities identify low participation areas, ascertain why they are low performing and develop effective communications solutions WRAP has developed guidance at www.wrapengland.org.uk/lpa. This guidance can be used in conjunction with this section of the flats guidance to plan improvements to flats collection schemes.

In this section five methods of improving performance of flats recycling and food waste schemes are discussed:

  • Scheme improvements or changes
  • Communications
  • Reward schemes
  • Positive and negative feedback
  • Compulsory Recycling
  • Use of HMO Regulations

First steps

Before reward schemes or enforcement systems, such as compulsory recycling, are considered it is essential to ensure that the collection scheme is operating well and that effective communications are in place.

Monitoring the performance of a scheme is an essential first step for identifying ways to improve its performance. Monitoring and evaluation followed by benchmarking the results will identify if your service is low performing. If the service is the reason you will need to modify and communicate any changes if residents need to be made aware.

Scheme improvements or changes

Feedback obtained through monitoring and evaluating the existing recycling scheme will help identify if the service needs to be amended or improved. It may be that single sites need to be addressed or the entire service reconsidered.

A full service review using monitoring and evaluation methods could help identify:

  • Why some containers are constantly contaminated – e.g. the signage has worn off the containers. This can be remedied by refurbishing the containers
  • Why some sites are overflowing. This may be due to lack of capacity per property. This can be remedied by increasing capacity.
  • Low performing sites. There are a variety of reasons why a site could be low performing such as
  • Lack of communications - see below
  • Poorly located bins - consider repositioning, after consultation with residents
  • Unsuitable service for that block of flats. For example a high-rise block of flats with chutes may benefit from an enhanced service such as recycling containers in the chute room on the higher floors.
  • Poor collection frequency. If sites are often overflowing and need emptying in between scheduled collections, consider increasing collection frequency.

Review some common performance issues with flats recycling schemes and suggestions for how they might be addressed. Please be aware of any budgetary requirements as a result of a service review. For example if residents are put off recycling due to a messy site, you may need to increase the cleansing frequency. This will impact on your revenue budget (but should lead to a marked increase in participation and recycling rate).

Read this report on how authorities in the Western Riverside Waste Authority area in London improved recycling for flats above shops. They used a variety of methods to evaluate the existing scheme including:

  • Review of current refuse arrangements;
  • Review of current recycling arrangements;
  • Resident surveys;
  • Participation monitoring;
  • Review of communications materials and methods;
  • Benchmarking against other London boroughs;
  • Desk top research of other country’s collection services

From all of the above a list of recommendations and good practice methods were established.

Communications

Communication campaigns to improve the performance of a scheme are usually aimed at:

  • Increasing participation rates
  • Increasing the capture of accepted materials
  • Reducing contamination
  • As a result of the above three - increasing tonnages of materials collected

Communication campaigns and scheme improvements need to be intrinsically linked.  For example:

  • If a communications campaign to increase participation and capture of materials is launched the scheme must have the capacity to deal with an increase in tonnages.
  • A communications campaign to reduce contamination should be supported by scheme changes such as ensuring that lids of recycling containers are kept locked.

As with any communications campaigns it’s important to first set your objectives. This will help focus the campaign activities. When developing your communications plan it is advisable to set key performance indicators (KPIs) for each activity. Monitoring the impact of the various activities through the KPIs will help evaluate the success and impact of the campaign. Please see the chapter on monitoring communication campaigns in the WRAP guidance.

Reward scheme

Reward schemes can be a useful tool for authorities to raise the profile of recycling.  Before a reward scheme is developed careful consideration should be given to political and social implications (e.g. whether it will be seen as unfair to reward residents in flats for recycling and not reward those in kerbside properties) as well as logistics of delivering a scheme.

It is essential that the data used to inform the reward scheme is accurate and reliable so that there are no discrepancies which could result in negative publicity or other impacts to the scheme.

In 2005/06 Defra evaluated the effectiveness of 51 pilot reward schemes that aimed to encourage householders to reduce, recycle and compost their waste. Some of the studies were conducted on householders living in flats.  The overall conclusion from the study was that there is no “one size fits all” solution to rewarding residents.  Reward schemes need to be designed to overcome specific barriers to recycling and targeted at the intended audience and demographics.

From these trials Defra developed a six-step action plan for local authorities that want to offer a reward scheme:

  1. Identify the barriers to improved performance
  2. Define measurable targets and objectives
  3. Develop key messages for the reward scheme
  4. Engage stakeholders and partners
  5. Implement reward scheme and supporting infrastructure
  6. Review and feedback success

Cash, vouchers, prizes and grants have all been used by local authorities to try to increase participation rates and encourage residents to recycle more. Some examples of local authority reward schemes are outlined below:

North Fulham New Deal for Communities and Hammersmith and Fulham Council organised a prize draw for blocks of flats that had different methods of recycling.  All residents used single use recycling bags for recycling to set out at the doorstep, take to a communal container or put into a chute.  Residents were provided with stickers to “tag their bag” with their address.  Bags with the stickers were selected at random from each of the different recycling schemes and the winning residents rewarded with a prize donated by local businesses.  The impact of the reward schemes scheme on fill levels of recycling containers was found to be minimal.  During face to face surveys residents reported that the improved, easy to use recycling schemes were encouragement enough to recycle, meaning that the reward schemes scheme did not have a great impact on their behaviour.

The Recycling in Flats Everyday (RIFE) run by Resource Futures for Bristol City Council used flats league tables to increase competition between blocks of flats and encourage residents to recycle more.

One of the Defra Household Waste Pilot schemes carried out in 2006 was with the West of England Partnership made up of Bath and North East Somerset, South Gloucestershire Council, North Somerset Council, Bristol City Council and the Recycling Consortium.  The aim of the pilot was to encourage people living in both kerbside and flat properties to improve their recycling behaviour through the use of pledges and a prize draw scheme. Residents were encouraged to make a pledge to recycle and their details were recorded on a confidential list.  One ‘pledger’ was selected at random from the block with the greatest increase in recycling material for that particular month.  Pilot flats in one area increased recycling from 3.6 to 5.4 kg/hh/wk. A copy of the full report is available on Defra’s website.

Feedback to residents

It has been shown that providing residents with feedback about their recycling performance can encourage them to recycle more.  In Guildford, Surrey, different types of feedback were given to residents using a kerbside collection scheme to tell them that their performance was better or worse than:

  • Their previous performance
  • The performance of residents in another area
  • A target set by the Council

The research showed that feedback encouraged non-recyclers to recycle more. This methodology could be applied to flats.  Full details of the research are available here

Compulsory Recycling

Compulsory recycling has been introduced by a number of authorities in England with the aim of increasing capture of recycling and participation in recycling schemes.  In most cases this applies to kerbside properties due to the difficulties associated with monitoring and enforcing recycling schemes on households that share refuse and recycling containers.  WRAP would support the view that compulsory recycling is not suited to recycling schemes that operate on the basis of communal facilities used by several properties.

Read more about information shared by London boroughs on compulsory recycling here.

Use of HMO Regulations

Preston City Council has a high proportion of houses in multiple-occupation (HMOs). Adequate storage for residual waste was not being provided at many of these properties and the Council was finding it difficult to encourage residents to recycle. It felt landlords should become more involved and so decided to take action.

The Council wrote to every landlord informing them of requirements under the Licensing and Management of Houses in Multiple Occupation (Additional Provisions) (England) Regulations 2007. The letter contained information on waste management arrangements and a copy of the Regulations they intended to enforce.

The key requirements of the Regulations are:

  • Regulation 4 – Landlord must have contact details clearly displayed in the property
  • Regulation 8 – Cleanliness of the yards, outbuildings and gardens
  • Regulation 10 – Requirement to arrange adequate waste disposal methods

More information can be found in a copy of the letter distributed to landlords.

The Council is following a four-step procedure of enforcement:

  1. Advisory letter sent to all landlords
  2. Failure to comply = Yellow Card issued. The landlord then has 7 days to comply
  3. Second failure to comply = Red Card issued. The landlord then has 48 hours to respond
  4. Failure to comply = legal action as a last resort

The scheme launched in January 2009 and this has led to requests from landlords for extra recycling containers to be provided. As of May 2009 no red cards had been issued. The Council’s view is that landlords are now encouraging their tenants to recycle more as this reduces payments for excess waste collections. 

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