Recycling collections for flats - monitoring and evaluation

It is very important to regularly monitor the performance of flats recycling and food waste collection schemes in order to identify what is working well and how schemes can be improved.  It is also useful for reporting performance back to stakeholders such as Councillors and residents, and for justifying the continuation or expansion of collection schemes.

It is recommended that each local authority develops and implements a plan for monitoring flats recycling and food waste schemes.  Flats may need a different approach to monitoring than kerbside properties.  This section of the guidance provides advice on common issues that may be encountered when flats recycling and food waste collection schemes are monitored.

What can be monitored

Who is recycling?

It is difficult to monitor visually which households are participating in recycling if they use communal ‘bring’ sites, chutes or collection points on each floor.  Having a researcher standing by the recycling container or chute 24 hours a day isn’t practical and may put some residents off recycling (e.g. they may not understand what the researcher is doing there).  For these schemes, attitudinal surveys can be conducted to provide a measure of claimed participation rates.  Be aware though that people will claim they recycle more than they actually do, so real participation rates are likely to be lower than claimed.

Standard participation monitoring methodologies can be applied for door to door collection schemes but only if the team undertaking the monitoring can gain access to the building.

How much are they recycling?

Some local authorities collect food waste and recycling from flats on the same rounds as collections from other sources such as schools and on street bring banks.  This makes it difficult to identify how much material is being collected from flats.  

Options for overcoming this include:

  • Use of vehicle on-board weighing equipment to record the weights of communal (bring) containers as they are collected.
  • Visual assessment of the fill levels of recycling containers.  The collection crew in the London Borough of Ealing note down the fullness of each communal recycling bin before they are emptied.  This is then converted into weights using the known fullness of a bin and established conversion factors established from container weighing exercises. See WRAP’s report on Material bulk densities (141 kb)  to assist with weight conversions. Download a sample flats monitoring sheet (33 kb)  which you can adapt. This includes an example of how to calculate the fill rate using bulk density data.
  • Dedicated collections of recycling can be made from specific sites / areas using one vehicle.  After collecting material from the site the vehicle goes to the weighbridge and the tonnage for that specific site / area is recorded.  Be aware that it can be difficult to ensure that the material is from a single site only as collection crews can collect recycling from other sources outside the targeted area.
  • Use of scales to weigh containers. Some sets of scales can be heavy so may need two or more people to move them and a van to transport them.
  • Arranging waste audits to provide a snapshot of the waste and recycling stream.  These are a good way of understanding how much of each material is being recycled (capture rates) but can be costly depending on the extent and frequency of analysis (i.e. single season or four season survey).
  • If you intend to conduct a weighing and/or waste auditing exercise even as a one-off exercise you must inform residents and allow them the option of not taking part.

How well are the collections working?

In addition to tonnage, indicators of scheme performance include contamination levels, and feedback from residents including satisfaction ratings for the service.  These can assist with identifying opportunities for scheme improvement.

  • Contamination levels can be monitored through recording the number of containers that have been rejected for collection and through loads of material rejected from the sorting / reprocessing facility. The latter can only apply if the load has come solely from flats recycling collections.
  • Residents’ views can be monitored through complaints received and feedback (positive or negative) reported via caretakers, collection crews and from residents (if possible the information should be collated in a single database).  The information can be used to address issues such as missed collections, flytipping, vandalism, use of recycling banks by traders, arson etc.  Positive feedback indicates which elements of the scheme are working well and which could be continued or expanded.
  • The cost per tonne of the scheme can be used to measure and monitor the scheme’s performance. The cost per tonne of a scheme may be reduced by increasing the amount of material captured or reducing the cost of the scheme.  Care needs to be taken that costs have been reported in the same way e.g. local authorities may or may not include income from sale of recyclable material and depreciation in value of capital equipment when reporting collection costs.

How the data should be used

Data gathered on individual sites can be used to improve performance. For example, using the sample flats monitoring sheet (33 kb)  will help identify bins in need of repair. Damaged bins can be offputting for residents to use and could affect the recycling rate. It can also be useful for targeting communications i.e. if you find some blocks regularly contaminate you can target those individual households.

Reliability of data and information

As performance data is gathered it should be assessed on a regular basis to check and identify any inconsistencies.  Reliability should be judged against data previously collected and where available data from similar schemes operating in similar areas.  Any issues that may affect the monitoring and interpretation of the data obtained should be identified, for example where it is known that recycling sites and refuse bins are used by traders then the tonnages reported cannot be related to household performance only.  If issues do arise they should be addressed as soon as possible and, if necessary, monitoring should be repeated.

Assessment of the data

Outcomes of monitoring should be compared to previous monitoring conducted in the local area and where practical benchmarked against similar schemes operating in other local authority areas.  Local authorities could attain data for benchmarking by:

  • Forming relationships and sharing information with other local authorities running similar schemes. Although local authorities may not have separate tonnage data for flats, they may have data such as percentage of contaminated bins; feedback from crews or residents.
  • Attending conferences, reviewing information available from WRAP and joining local and national networks

When comparing data, officers should be careful to compare like for like.  For example, research suggests that the amount of materials captured through a flats recycling collection scheme should not be compared to a kerbside scheme, as residents living in flats tend to produce less recyclable materials and different types of materials than kerbside properties (you can download graphs demonstrating this: Graphs of waste audit from flats (50 kb).  In addition care needs to be taken that performance indicators have been reported in the same way e.g. kilograms collected per household per year excluding or including contamination.

If monitoring data is available from more than one source, then the outcomes could be compared, for example, tonnages measured by on-board vehicle weighing with those calculated through visual assessment of recycling containers.  If disparities are discovered the reasons for them should be investigated.

Top tips

The team that weighed recycling materials collected through flats collection schemes on behalf of WRAP suggest that regular communication with recycling collection crews is key to ensuring that recyclables are not removed from a site before they can be weighed.

If considering using on-board weighing equipment for communal containers make sure you fully understand its capabilities and check if additional supporting equipment is needed (e.g. software to allow weights to be downloaded into a database).  Seek feedback from local authorities/collection contractors with experience of using the equipment are sought and check purchase / lease contracts for the equipment for any costs that may be associated with rectifying faults with the equipment.

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