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Rising to the recycling challenge in flats

There is a serious need for a set of standardised, safe approaches to driving up recycling rates in flats – after all, 20% of the UK population resides in flats, according to Eurostat. But many buildings still do not offer clear information to residents about the surrounding recycling infrastructure or how/when recyclable materials are collected.

Furthermore, the issue takes on a far more serious character when considering the fire hazard presented by storing large quantities of recyclable materials, particularly in basement areas. The tragic Grenfell Tower fire in London shows that the authorities must properly assess every aspect of fire risks in high-rise buildings, and this includes how and where recyclable materials are stored before collection.

The UK’s household recycling rate may have declined, according to the latest available data, but we also know that very small changes can make a huge impact on ability and willingness to recycle. Smply put, it should not be harder to recycle when you live in a flat.

So what are the storage and collection options for flats? There are many solutions, including near entry sites, door-to-door collection and commingled, kerbside collection. Each local authority sets its own criteria, and these include kerbside collections from flats, boxes for blocks containing eight or fewer flats, or containers/reusable bags to be placed outside doors on a pre-arranged day for collection.

The key to increasing tonnage is to make it as easy as possible to recycle. Multi-trip recycling bags can be specifically designed for use in flats, for instance. The best available can be easily wiped clean and quality printed – such as messaging and information on a block’s recycling infrastructure and policies, making them tailor-made for the convenient collection and storage of dry recyclables in flats and tenement buildings.

While door-to-door collections can perform well, there are health and safety implications including tripping hazards and fire risks. Alternatively, residents could be told to place recyclables at a communal collection point. such as on each floor of a building or in a basement but, again, this presents a tripping and fire hazard. I suggest that whenever residents are asked to store recyclable materials on-site – be it outside their doors or at a communal collection point – it is essential there are certified sprinkler systems installed throughout the building. In addition, storage areas must be carefully planned to ensure they do not block fire escapes or access routes in the event of an emergency.

Residential waste chutes are another option, albeit less mainstream and tested for recycling purposes. A scheme in Westminster saw two chutes running in parallel – one had been converted to take commingled recycling, and residents were given commingled recycling bags while sound-proofed bins were installed at the bottom of the chutes. This scheme was said to result in a large increase in the amount collected, from 0.68kg to 5.7kg per household per week.

There are a lot of options available, and it must not be down to residents themselves to come up with a solution. Councils should have the frameworks at their fingertips to recommend which type of scheme works best for different types and scales of high-rise developments. The emphasis must be on good communication with residents and the importance of high-quality services when it comes to improving recycling rates in flats.

Some councils advocate introducing recycling ’champions’ in buildings to encourage and support fellow residents once a scheme begins. This is a fantastic idea that could be taken a step further with a standardised framework for residential engagement for such champions.

This could include support with setting up social media accounts for specific buildings, which track and quantify the amount of material recycled, and poster campaigns to publicise recycling initiatives and associated social media accounts/hashtags in and around a building. Residents would be enabled to participate and find out more about how to improve recycling rates where they live, and build momentum for a recycling project as well as fostering a sense of community working together for a common goal.

Such communications activity could also be combined with a reward scheme or competitive element: which block of flats in a local authority can achieve the highest recycling rate? Through social media, initiatives could be tracked and quantified using standardised data from certified waste handlers to make this a reality and feed back to residents the success of their scheme.

Communication, education and involving residents are crucial ingredients for success.

We are keen to work together with local authorities and trade bodies to help develop practical, standardised recommendations for safely increasing recycling in their area.

James Lee, managing director, Cromwell Polythene (



Readers' comments (1)

  • Great article, completely agree. If you weren't aware, we run a number of Recycling Rewards schemes with local councils specifically targeted at flats to drive up their recycling rates, such as our recently launched Epping Forest Recycling Rewards scheme and our schemes running in Bexley, Kingston and Waltham Forest.

    Graham Simmonds, Managing Director, Green Rewards

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