Revealing research gives insights into how to increase recycling rates in flats

Resource London has today published insights from a detailed piece of in-depth research undertaken with residents in 2018, which reveals a range of issues that need to be addressed if recycling rates in flats are to improve.

The research highlights that three factors – motivation, ease and knowledge – are all necessary conditions for improving recycling rates in flats but are not always addressed fully by those delivering waste services. The report shows that, while many people living in flats and on estates are keen to recycle, they don’t always feel that it’s easy enough or that they have the right knowledge to recycle effectively.

The barriers to recycling revealed by this ground-breaking ethnographic study are many and complex. Flats present a whole range of recycling challenges, including space constraints in people’s homes, the state and location of communal bins on estates, and continuing confusion about what residents can and can’t recycle where they live.

Resource London, a partnership programme between London Waste & Recycling Board (LWARB) and WRAP, has collaborated with Peabody Housing Association over the past year to develop innovative solutions to tackle some of the barriers and capitalise on the opportunities the research has identified.

Taking place on 12 housing estates across six inner London boroughs, the project is testing different recycling interventions so that the successful initiatives can be replicated in other urban locations across the UK.

The interventions being tested and the barriers they aim to overcome are:

  • Tenant recycling packs – provided by landlords to explain what items they expect their tenants to recycle and what happens to their recycling; aiming to address the fact that many residents don’t feel responsible for recycling and properly disposing of their waste
  • Emotive messaging around communal areas – large poster signage to help residents feel more responsibility and motivation for recycling
  • More, smaller recycling bins – conveniently located smaller bins around the estate, to make recycling more accessible and convenient
  • Feedback mechanisms – to show residents that their recycling efforts are appreciated, that everyone has a contribution to make, and provide updates on recycling rates and what is being achieved
  • In-home storage solutions – a space-saving hook and bag system to help residents find space in the home to store recycling, and make it cleaner and easier to recycle

Resource London and Peabody developed the practical interventions after conducting full estate inventories and running the ethnographic research to understand the reality of people’s lives in flats. Written diaries, interviews and film footage are just some of the methods that have been used to gather the insights.

Gemma Scott, flats project manager for Resource London, said:

“As the number of people living in flats increases, it’s more important than ever to make recycling from those properties easy and achievable. Initial signs from the pilots are promising, and the project will give us important insights into how we can overcome people’s barriers to recycling which can then be shared and replicated by others in London and beyond.”

Initial results from the pilots, which began in September 2018, are already showing positive impacts, with the overall recycling and capture rates appearing to improve and contamination coming down. A full waste composition analysis at the end of the project in June this year will provide more definitive results and recommendations, which will then be published and shared more widely.

James Glass, Head of Estate Services at Peabody Housing Association, commented:

“This project is all about taking a fresh look at how our residents recycle and trying to find practical solutions that work for them. We know that people lead busy lives and juggle different pressures, so it is crucial that we find simple, convenient and effective interventions to help make recycling the norm for all of our residents.”

Off the back of initial results Resource London is also today launching a communications toolkit for other waste authorities considering improvements to their flats service. The toolkit features the signage, stickers and posters used by the project team to help bring all 12 pilot estates up to a consistent minimum standard before rolling out the interventions, and is available for free on the Resource London website.

Clyde Loakes, Chair of the Resource London partnership board and Deputy Leader of Waltham Forest Borough Council, said:

“This project shows that when we think differently and work collaboratively, we can deliver genuinely innovative changes to the services we provide. I’m optimistic that the interventions we’ve introduced will help us learn some valuable lessons over the next few months, and improve recycling for everyone living in flats.”

Deputy Mayor for Environment and Energy, Shirley Rodrigues, added:

“The Mayor is committed to doing all he can to help London’s boroughs raise their recycling rates and has set a target for the capital to achieve 65 per cent municipal waste recycling by 2030. Improving recycling performance in flats across London is crucial and the insights from this research should be valuable in helping local authorities improve their services. This project is already having a positive impact and we look forward to seeing the final results and recommendations.”

Cllr Feryal Demirci, Vice Chair of London Councils’ Transport and Environment Committee and LWARB Board Member, commented:

“It is vital that we take everyone along with us as we improve the ways that we look after the environment and encourage recycling. Residents take pride in their local areas and should be free to make a positive contribution to their communities. This research is an important step in addressing the challenges many Londoners who live in flats face and identifying the ways we can enhance recycling services.”