New flat recycling schemes

28th January 2015 Posted by

The news that Edinburgh is to roll out two pilot schemes addressing recycling in flats will be welcomed by waste-watchers concerned over the UK’s stalling recycling rate. High-rise and multi-occupancy housing pose by far the greatest challenge to the design and logistics of collection systems for recyclates. With some 80 per cent of the UK’s population living in urban settings, cracking this challenge is a top priority if we are to raise and maintain higher national recycling rates.

Edinburgh can draw on both UK and international experience. In 2010, we commissioned the report Looking up – International recycling experience for multi-occupancy households, which examined city-based recycling schemes in Canada, America, Italy and the Netherlands. Also in 2010, the London Waste and Recycling Board (LWARB) launched a £5 million Flats Recycling Programme infrastructure fund, supporting 29 new or improved recycling projects covering over half a million households in London. An interim report on the projects was published by LWARB in 2013.

In 2014, we commissioned the report The Ur[bin] Issue – Working with communities to improve urban recycling, which asked community representatives for their ideas on how to raise urban recycling rates in England. Their key messages resonate with the experiences from these schemes.

Firstly, systems need to be designed for ease and simplicity of use, supported by clear and unambiguous messaging. With the diverse mix and mobility of populations in our cities, a good door-to-door communications plan is essential to ensure high participation rates and the correct use of the system under trial.

Secondly, in order to ensure that dry recyclates such as paper and plastics were as free as possible of contamination, glass and especially food waste need to be collected separately, through a combination of kerbside collection and bring systems. This requires both good system design, and commitment on the part of the householder to use the system correctly.

Thirdly, our collection systems need to be rationalised, as opposed to the patchwork of different service designs that currently characterise our urban landscapes. This is not to suggest a one-size-fits-all approach; rather, a set of common system designs and messaging applied across the city, tailored to specific types of housing stock and logistical setting.

The main message we got from our work on urban recycling was that communities are up to the challenge. But – the physical system itself is only one component for success.  As important, if not more so, is the need for local authorities to provide their communities with context, feedback, and a quid pro quo in the form of tangible community benefits in return for the actions they are asked to perform.

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