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Feature: Flat conversion

Some people go through the motions of everyday life, content to go with the flow and see where it takes them. Others are prepared to question, challenge and try to make a difference in this world. Within a few minutes of walking into the grand mansion block in Kensington & Chelsea where senior team porter Martin Laheen works, I realise that he falls into the latter category.

As residents come and go through the foyer, Laheen jovially chirps hello and has a friendly chat. He’s warm, animated and energetic, so it’s no surprise that he is the force behind the mansion block’s recycling system.

Laheen decided to convert his residents into recyclers a few years ago, when Kensington & Chelsea started collecting recyclables from his building and provided households with literature on recycling. He ensured that each flat received a letter from the local council about the scheme along with leaflets detailing what could and could not be recycled.

The rubbish produced by the 30-odd flats in the block is stored in vaults beneath the pavement before collection. At the start of the scheme, one vault was allocated for recyclable material and another for general household waste. But over the years, Laheen has closely monitored his residents’ waste habits, and came up with the idea of having only one vault for all household waste. With this system, when residents go down to the vaults to put their rubbish out, they are confronted with a clear visualisation of the amount of waste that can easily be separated for recycling.

At the moment, the left side of the vault has several black bins into which residents can place glass and plastic bottles, cans, paper and card into as well as orange sacks filled with recyclables. On the right-hand side are black bin bags of non-recyclable waste. The two sides are separated using a simple system that consists of a couple of upturned pallets, which helps emphasise how much waste is on either side of the divide.

Laheen thinks that his residents are now recycling a remarkable 40% of their rubbish, but he is still striving for more. “You can always do better,” he explains. He feels his efforts are well worthwhile if he is getting the message across. Going beyond the call of duty, Laheen admits that he does quickly check through the black bin bags put out by residents to ensure that as much recyclable material as possible is separated from the other household waste.

He is passionate about recycling, and says he started doing so because it was “the right thing to do”. He explains: “People need to understand why they are recycling. You can reduce, reuse and recycle, but you have to understand why. People must buy recycled pro-ducts – there are some very good ones out there. It’s about closing the loop.”

To highlight the point, Laheen shows me a promotional leaflet from McDonald’s which is printed on 100% recycled paper. He asks me to look at it and feel it to see if I can tell it is recycled paper, his point being that recycled products can be just as good their non-recycled counterparts.

He thinks that more emphasis needs to be put on buying recycled products, and that they should be easily available at supermarkets and shops. He suggests local authorities link up with supermarkets to introduce incentives, such as money-off vouchers for recycled products.

“People get inform

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