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Designing homes for bins

If you’re as old as me, you will remember a time when the ‘bin man’ collecting the rubbish would walk around to the back of your house, empty the contents from your steel dustbin into his steel dustbin before hoisting it on to his shoulder and empting it directly into the ‘dustcart’.

Hardly a feeling of nostalgia, but perhaps a reminder of a simpler time when the terms ‘wheelie bin’ and ‘bin blight’ had not yet been coined. Not that I ever gave a moment’s thought to it, but I am guessing all of that waste made its way to landfill.

For my household, change started in the early 1990s when the dustbin was replaced with the black wheelie bin. Over the years, we have since amassed a green one and a blue one as well as a box for paper and a small bin for food waste. On the plus side, it is great that all the stuff we chuck out no longer goes to landfill; on the minus, Britain’s streets are now littered with bins and containers

So-called bin blight has now become a contentious political issue with secretary of state Eric Pickles remarking that “in streets up and down the country, ugly bin clutter has ruined the street scene and the look of people’s homes and gardens”.

New research carried out by the NHBC Foundation, the research arm of the National House Building Council, has found that the number of wheelie bins and other containers varies widely across the country. While the average UK household is typically given three to five bins or containers for their household waste, residents in some parts of the country such as Newcastle-under-Lyme have to contend with as many as nine containers.

Historically, the design of homes took no account of waste and recycling storage – why should it have done? Room could easily be found outside the back door for a single steel dustbin or it could be hidden behind a hedge in the front garden. But for new housing developments built today, there should be no good reason why designers cannot find a practical way to hide numerous wheelie bins and other containers.

Avoiding rubbish design: providing bin storage on new housing developments provides guidance to the house-building industry on how to combat bin blight and highlights a range of ‘best practice’ design solutions for different types of home.

Obviously, it is more challenging for house designers to find sufficient space for terraced houses than detached homes with good access to the rear of the property.  And large volumes of waste and recycling from blocks of apartments means that designers need to account for more containers. But the guide provides viable solutions for all types of new homes and gives many good case study examples.

The time may have come for Britain’s house-building industry to consider more radical solutions to the nation’s bin blight problem.  There is a growing trend in Europe towards communal solutions which challenges the assumption that we must all have our own bins.  One solution is that we have shared facilities at street corners.

Some urban developments now have underground bin storage, allowing much bigger containers to be stored far more discreetly.  As our report found, underground bin storage has already been installed or is proposed in developments in the metropolises of London, Birmingham and Peterborough.

It is undoubtedly a good thing that we are now recycling more of our household waste than ever before.  However, in making progress in one important environmental area, it is essential that we address potential impacts on our local environment and street scene too.

House designers must take account of the good design practice documented in Avoiding rubbish design to ensure that new housing developments do not suffer the dreaded ‘bin blight’ that we are all too familiar with.

To read or download the report, visit www.nhbcfoundation.org/avoidingrubbishdesign

Neil Smith, head of research and innovation, NHBC

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