Maximising recycling in purpose-built flats

Trialling new interventions and facilities across four estates to increase dry mixed recycling

Maximising recycling for flat based households

ReLondon (formerly known as The London Waste and Recycling Board) are one of four winners of the 2020 Ecosurety Exploration Fund, with the Maximising recycling from purpose-built flats project. The project is working to address an age-old problem - how to increase capture and quality of recyclable materials from households that don't have standard kerbside collections. By drawing on findings from previous ReLondon research that considered how to improve and increase the services provided to residents living in flats, this project will trial new interventions and infrastructure, with the results and key learnings shared widely so they can be easily replicated anywhere in the UK.

An unfair disadvantage

It is a well established fact that residents living in flats recycle less, but also tend to receive lower levels of service compared to street-level properties. The scale of this problem is not insignificant with 20% of UK households living in flats - up to 80% in some London boroughs.

Barrier to success

The government target, as set out in the National Resources and Waste Strategy, is to recycle 50% of household waste by 2020. In London, the Mayor’s London Environment Strategy has set targets of 65% municipal recycling by 2030.

London Boroughs have produced Reuse and Recycling Plans (RRPs) detailing how they will achieve these targets but poor recycling performance in flats is one of the main barriers to achieving them. This is exacerbated by the growth in flats which means 46% of London's housing stock will be purpose-built flats by 2030.


Problematic contaminants

Whilst most flats have existing recycling facilities, the range of material streams collected is often limited, capture rates are low and contamination is high.

Materials such as food waste, textiles and WEEE have been identified as the most problematic contaminants in dry mixed recycling from flats in London, as well as accounting for a significant proportion of the waste produced overall (28.1%, 4.6% and 1.2% respectively).

Sadly, there are typically no dedicated facilities for these waste streams for the majority of residents living in purpose-built flats across the whole of the UK.

Communual bins



Trialling new interventions

In a trial across four estates in Lambeth, South London, this project will draw on findings from previous research conducted by ReLondon which identified opportunities to increase the services provided to residents living in flats. It will test systems to maximise recycling rates and will amplify the results to help London achieve the Mayor’s and central government’s recycling targets, instrumental to achieving a low-carbon circular economy.

Comprehensive capture

The primary aim of the project includes maximising the capture and quality of dry mixed recycling (DMR), which is largely made up of packaging.

Key contaminants of this waste stream include food waste, textiles and waste electricals. New facilities will be introduced to capture these effectively, with potential to reduce the contamination rates of the packaging captured through the DMR.

recycling packaging

WEEE recycling

Recycling waste electricals

Each estate taking part in the trial will have a donation bank for small electrical appliances in a central location, where residents will be able to recycle items such as toasters and irons.

To raise awareness and encourage action, there will be a communal ‘clear-out day’ followed by two further pop-up collections to support residents.


Collecting food waste

The estates participating in the trial will all receive a new food waste service which will test two new interventions for the first time.

This includes pedal-operated housing units to help combat the ‘yuck’ factor associated with food waste and to address resident’s potential concerns around COVID-19, plus smaller food waste bins that can be hooked to the inside of kitchen cabinets.   

clothes recycling

Clothes and shoes recycling

Each participating estate will also have a dedicated clear-out day for clothing and shoes, followed by two further pop-up collections.

Communication is key

Low engagement and participation leads to low recycling and capture rates. Research and project evaluation have repeatedly identified that young people (18-34-year olds) are the least effective recyclers in the city. 

This project will introduce messaging approaches and behavioural interventions which will hopefully make young Londoners living in flats more motivated to recycle. Benchmarking and regular assessment of recycling composition will provide an accurate assessment of the effectiveness.

This project is committed to disseminate and amplify the results of this research to all local authorities and housing providers to ensure the findings can be beneficial to as many parties as possible, across the UK.

floor signage



“Purpose-built flats and estates are a particular challenge, where recycling performance is well below what we need if we’re going to achieve recycling targets and tackle the climate emergency. We’re delighted to have been awarded this funding, which will provide extra facilities and support for residents to recycle their e-waste, textiles, food and packaging to help address the problem.” Gemma Scott Photo Gemma Scott Senior advisor, ReLondon

About ReLondon

ReLondon (Formerly known as The London Waste and Recycling Board) is a partnership of the Mayor of London and the London boroughs to improve waste and resource management. The city’s economic and environmental future depends on a transition to a low-carbon circular economy, and ReLondon works to ensure that London’s businesses, local government and communities thrive by helping them make the very best use of resources and materials.
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Enabling tomorrow's solutions

The Maximising recycling from purpose-built flats project has been funded by the Ecosurety Exploration Fund which is investing £1million in projects that aim to reduce the environmental impact of packaging, batteries or WEEE through innovation or research in the UK. The fund is the first such opportunity to be launched by a UK compliance scheme. It builds on Ecosurety’s experience in supporting innovative projects and new technologies across the waste and recycling sector.
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