It is encouraging to see that London is starting to shift the dial on recycling in the right direction, with figures released by Defra last year showing a small increase from 32% to 33%. But set against a national recycling rate of almost 44% and a mayoral target of 65% by 2030, there is still a lot of work to do.
Much of the difference in recycling rates can be attributed to the capital’s unique challenges. It is a complex, dense, urban environment with a huge swell of daytime visitors, creating extra litter. A high proportion of Londoners live in flats, including high rise blocks and flats above shops, where recycling can be more difficult.
It is this last point which is particularly significant. Purpose-built flats make up to 80% of residential homes in some boroughs and around 37% in total across the capital. But, on average, those living in flats recycle half as much as those who live in houses.
So to drive real change in boosting London’s domestic recycling rates, encouraging flat dwellers to recycle more is critical. And this will become more important over time as the number of residents living in purpose-built flats continues to rise. Nearly all new-build properties in London are now purpose-built flats and, by 2030, nearly half (46%) of London households will be purpose-built flats.
Resource London – a partnership programme formed by the London Waste and Recycling Board and WRAP – recognises that an issue as complex as this should not be tackled alone. In February it launched a partnership with Peabody Housing – which has 55,000 homes across London – to conduct in-depth research with its residents living in purpose-built flats to understand what their domestic recycling habits are and what stops them from recycling more.
Such a collaborative approach to gathering insights and opinions will help to ensure that residents’ views are at the heart of recommendations for improvements, and that they are practical and easy to implement.
Resource London is also working in partnership with boroughs across the capital. Through this research, it aims to explore the recycling behaviours of households in a selection of inner London boroughs, particularly those where there are large numbers of flats and lower levels of home ownership, to understand the unique set of challenges each area faces.
Later phases of activity will include trying out different approaches on a number of inner London Peabody estates to see which interventions increase recycling the most. They will explore recycling behaviours, with researchers spending time in people’s homes to learn how recycling fits with their everyday lives, the practical details of what and when they recycle as well as what motivates them to do it.
At the end of the process, Resource London will deliver practical guidance and interventions to help more people living in London flats to recycle. The results of this initiative could have an impact beyond the capital because the organisation is also looking at ways of improving recycling in dense urban areas across the country. These outcomes will be used to develop a new approach to providing flats with recycling services and will help to inform national waste policy.
The target for increasing London’s recycling rate is ambitious. But through collaborative working such as our partnership with Peabody, its residents and London boroughs, we have the expertise and insights to drive change. The partnership will run until 2020 and is part of a wider £1m programme of work focusing on improving recycling in purpose-built flats.
Ashling Fox, chief operating officer, says: “We are excited to be collaborating with the team at Resource London, as well as boroughs across the capital, to deliver this innovative project. This partnership is a great opportunity for us to talk to our residents about recycling services and find practical solutions for achieving London’s ambitious recycling targets.
“The research and insights we gather will help us to better understand our residents’ recycling habits and support them to recycle more by providing the most effective recycling facilities.”
Antony Buchan is head of programme for local authority support at Resource London