Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers -

Waste and Resource Management

ISSN 1747-6526 | E-ISSN 1747-6534
Volume 162 Issue 1, February 2009, pp. 15-28


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Although kerbside recycling participation rates have been well studied, little consideration has been paid to dense housing, especially high-rise estates, even though such areas have particularly low participation rates. Because such areas present infrastructural difficulties for recyclates storage and collections, reduced service often results. Nevertheless, solutions still emphasise communication strategies and householder responsibility over adequate infrastructural provision. This paper draws together three empirically based analyses focusing on the improvement of waste collection procedures and infrastructural design for high- and low-rise dense housing. Two sites were studied: an inner London estate and Portsmouth. Both sites have minimal storage space either within the home or in external private, communal or public areas. Both areas have high churn rates. Analysis of the findings suggests that consideration needs to be given to several factors: social, architectural, technological, infrastructural and organisational. Communication strategies need to be simple and consistent and need to acknowledge non-Anglophone residents. Spatial ownership needs to be clearly demarcated and maintained. Solutions must be tailored to existing exigencies of the built environment (such as poor vehicular access) and need to include broader infrastructural factors such as functioning lifts and convenient, safe storage facilities. New-build is better placed to integrate a flexible collection infrastructure. However, pressure to increase housing density is providing a continuing challenge to design appropriate storage and collection infrastructures.

Largely as a result of EU and national waste directives over the last two decades, the percentage of household waste recycled and composted in England rose from 6% in the mid-1990s to 17·7% in 2003/04 and 31% in 2006/07.1 Despite this progress, the higher targets set in the Waste Strategy for England 20071 present a serious challenge to policy-makers and waste practitioners. One response has been the increasing, and increasingly complex, responsibilities placed upon householders in respect of waste disposal and recycling;2 this is in line with broader political and socio-economic shifts over the last three decades from an emphasis on public services to individual accountability, sometimes irrespective of capacity or infrastructural provision. This paper discusses how this move in emphasis from public provision to private obligations is reflected in contested spatial property regimes, including waste collection services, particularly in the communal or public areas of recycling interfaces.

In addition to these changes, the number of medium- and high-density dwellings (see Table 1) in the UK is expected to increase markedly; UK planning guidance promotes maximum exploitation of land by requiring local planning authorities to encourage developments of 30–50 dwellings per hectare.3 Consequently, the overall number of households in England is projected to increase from 21·1 million in 2004 to 26·0 million in 2026.4


Table 1 Definition of high- and medium-density housing (Source: ACT Planning and Land Authority 2004)50

Table 1 Definition of high- and medium-density housing (Source: ACT Planning and Land Authority 2004)50

Housing Definition
High-density Over 60 dwellings per hectare, e.g. high-rise flats
Medium-density 25–60 dwellings per hectare, e.g. terraces, medium- and low-rise flats and houses of multiple occupation

In most medium- and high-density households, both internal and external storage space for waste is low or non-existent. Implementing recycling schemes that rely on source segregation of wastes by the householder is therefore problematic and participation typically low. Established ‘best practice’ collection systems (such as requiring households to use and store two or more wheeled bins) cannot be easily implemented. Alternative methods for source segregation of waste thus need to be found and these methods must work within the constraints associated with dense housing and be convenient for householders to use.

Despite a plethora of studies investigating recycling participation rates and mechanisms for their improvement, few have specifically addressed multi-family dwellings on densely built estates of mixed tenure, although these areas have been identified as particularly problematic in terms of recycling.510 In this respect, difficulties often stem from a highly mobile population for whom English may not be a first language and who have restricted transport; these conditions are aggravated by high-rise accommodation concentrated in areas of generally poor service provision,11 including access to recycling facilities.12,13 Unless the precise nature of the problems are identified and addressed, they are likely to increase with the projected escalation of dense, new-build, social and private housing in Britain, together with the systematic demolition and rebuild of many existing estates in poor condition, commonly via transferring state-maintained housing estates to registered social landlords (RSLs). London, followed by the South-East, has the highest volume of planned new housing. Housing density is generally greater in such replacement developments, while average living space in social housing has been declining since the 1960s.13,14 There is therefore an urgent need both to consider the most effective means of addressing issues specific to mature housing estates and to design new ones that integrate the management of waste and recycling into the material and social life of the built environment.

Most studies considering how to increase the quantity of recycled household waste are based on survey or focus group data and centre on the need to increase householder participation through changing attitudes and behaviour patterns.5,6,1517 Less emphasis has been placed on examining the interface per se and adapting collection technologies as far as possible to meet existing practices.

Accordingly, this paper addresses two areas that, to date, have been under-researched and under-emphasised. In terms of location, research on domestic material flows was carried out in two areas of high-density housing

  1. an inner London housing estate (the estate) of high- and low-rise buildings

  2. Portsmouth, a city on the south coast of England, where ≈90% of dwellings are classified as high- or medium-density housing.

In terms of theoretical emphasis, research has focused on the social and physical interface between householders, administrations and service providers of waste collection schemes. The main conclusion drawn is the need to recognise the importance of both providing an appropriate infrastructure, together with reliable and convenient collection services, and individuals’ disposition and ability to recycle. ‘Appropriate’ necessitates taking account of both broad and locally specific socio-economic conditions; by ‘infrastructure’ we refer to the social, technical, architectural and economic complex that informs successful technologies in practice.

While both sites are characterised by dense housing, each has its own specific features – the London site is an integrated estate with large, high-rise blocks whereas over 67% of Portsmouth’s housing stock are medium- and high-density terraces. The different methodologies used in each site provoked different analyses. The London study, based on fieldwork, focused on householders’ responses to their immediate environment, trying to understand domestic waste management processes and its interface with public collections as part of a broader complex of living arrangements and constraints. The themes in Section 5 and the discussion of householder perceptions of effectiveness emerged as key concerns from this work. The Portsmouth study drew firstly on the results of surveys and follow-up doorstepping and secondly on three trials of different communication methods, both carried out by Portsmouth City Council (PCC). The former served to focus responses to questions on the effectiveness of existing recyclates collections, the latter assessed effectiveness from the service provider’s perspective. To a certain extent, then, these studies are complementary.

The rest of this paper is divided into five parts. Section 2 presents the methodologies used in the three studies. After describing fieldwork locations in Section 3, Section 4 presents findings from the postal survey on householders’ views on existing recycling schemes carried out by PCC. Picking up on some of the topics implicitly suggested here, Section 5 draws on the London-based study, discussing, in combination with fieldwork observations, the following interlocking but sometimes conflicting themes in relation to the key physical arrangements and social practices that affect recycling participation

  1. spatial definitions, practices and ownership

  2. convenience and flexibility

  3. perceptions of safety

  4. communication: householder perceptions of effectiveness.

Section 6 details the findings from the third study, which investigated the effectiveness of doorstepping, feedbacks and incentives trials.

The paper concludes with recommendations, drawn from these studies, for improving the various interfaces of recyclates collections, noting the constraints contingent upon existing housing stock constructed in the context of quite different relationships between householders and the public sector. New-build developments are better placed to take advantage of this paper’s recommendations, but are also faced with demands for increased density. An opportunity exists, via public funding of social housing, to enforce designs that both facilitate source segregation and recyclates collection and are clearly integrated into local collection services, but this chance has not as yet been fully utilised.

Three distinct approaches were followed for the Portsmouth and London studies respectively. In 2005, PCC carried out a postal survey to 1000 ‘flat-fronted’ households to investigate residents’ views and activities relating to kerbside recycling.18 A later study, covering 15 000 households, compared three approaches to stimulating behaviour change in 2005/06: doorstepping, incentives and delivery of personalised feedback to residents.8 Summarised findings from the Portsmouth studies are presented here. The Portsmouth-based work broadly followed similar methods to previous studies on household recycling rates, which draw on postal and doorstep questionnaire-based surveys and observations on participation in recycling activities. This approach allows for broad coverage, but makes it difficult to gauge the longer-term, diffuse effects of specific and other ‘green’ communication campaigns on people’s disposition to reuse, recycle or ‘think green’ – or to detect factors inhibiting or contributing to recycling that are not captured by the questions.

The longer-term, participant observation method used for the London study allowed us to build on and complement the extensive research drawn from recycling behaviour surveys. The research team interviewed residents and local authority (LA) officers on the estate from 2002 onwards but the fieldwork period, on which this study is based, took place over 12 months in 2005/06. Earlier interviews contributed the context to later work. A range of methods was used. Interviews and conversations with the same individuals were conducted on several occasions over the year, allowing trust to accrue. These were largely done in the informants’ homes, although they were also accompanied on shopping trips, walks around the estate, visits to family, neighbours and local interest groups. Open interviews were also carried out with a range of semi-formal groups, identified via the local New Deal for Communities (NDC) staff. This prolonged contact enabled the observation of actual as well as reported practices and to document, inter alia, internal, communal and public spatial layouts and routines together with interactions between waste service providers and residents.

‘Consumption’ in its broadest sense was examined, extending beyond the point of acquisition to the social life of objects.19 Detailed pictures of 40 households were collected, ranging from long-term residents who had lived on the estate for over 45 years to recent arrivals, first- and second-generation migrants, black and minority ethnic groups, single-parent households, council and private tenants, and those who had bought their home under the 1980 Housing Act’s Right to Buy scheme. The lived ‘household’, as opposed to the 2001 Census definition of cohabitation and commensality, generally revealed relatively open-ended networks of kin who shared shopping, eating, childcare and so forth, despite being officially registered in different dwellings. Twenty-two informants also kept diaries and commentaries of everything that came into or left the house during one month. These diary data form the basis of a methodological comparison with a model populated with aggregated data sets and designed to predict purchase and disposal patterns to the level of a super output area (SOA).20 Fieldwork with residents was supplemented with interview data from key informants among housing and waste sector professionals in the public, third and private sectors and local NDC staff.

Understanding the history and context of specific locations is key to an accurate analysis of the features affecting successful recycling. An overview of Portsmouth and the London estate is presented here, detailing features that are relevant to subsequent sections.

3.1. Portsmouth

Portsmouth is one of the most densely populated cities in the UK, outside inner London, with 46·9 people per hectare.21 The population is 189 000 (2001 census) and there are currently 87 000 households. The large majority of the housing stock (around 90%) is medium or high density. Over two-thirds of the housing stock (67%) are terraces (many of which open directly onto the street with no rear access) and three-quarters (76%) were built before 1945.21 Around a quarter of dwellings are flats (low-, medium- and high-rise), maisonettes or houses in multiple occupation.

Portsmouth is ranked 88th out of the 354 LAs in England on the Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD), where 1 is the most deprived.22 Just under a third of Portsmouth’s SOAs are part of the 10% most deprived in England in terms of ‘living environment’.23 Portsmouth has a significant transient population, including approximately 19 000 university students23 and 8700 military personnel.24 Information from PCC tax department showed that a fifth of all households had new registered occupants in 2005/06.

Refuse is collected weekly in black sacks and there is a fortnightly, co-mingled recycling collection of paper, card, cans and plastic bottles. Due to space limitations, residents can choose to use a 240-litre, 180-litre or 140-litre wheeled bin or one or two 55-litre boxes for recycling. Most flats have communal refuse and recycling bins located either in bin sheds or near entrance communal areas. The type of service is tailored to the household as detailed in Table 2.


Table 2 Approximate guide to housing types serviced by recycling schemes

Table 2 Approximate guide to housing types serviced by recycling schemes

Serviced by kerbside recycling schemes Serviced by communal recycling schemes
• Terraces with forecourts • Medium-rise flats
• ‘Flat-fronted’ terraces • High-rise flats
• Houses in multiple occupation • Larger houses in multiple occupation (e.g. six or more flats)
• Low-rise flats, apartments and maisonettes • Larger low-rise flats, apartments and maisonettes (e.g. six or more flats)
• Semi-detached and detached properties with front gardens or drives

There are 51 neighbourhood recycling points across the city, where residents can take a range of materials including glass and textiles. PCC’s recycling rate averaged around 15% between 2001 and 2004. Increases were seen over 2004/05 and 2005/06 due to the phased introduction of wheeled bins to 50 000 households in the city, to replace 55-litre boxes. The recycling rate in 2006/07 was 23%.25

Waste composition analysis conducted in 1999 showed that just under a third of household waste presented for kerbside collection (30·73%) consisted of materials that could be recycled using the current kerbside recycling scheme.26 A further fifth (21·87%) could be composted and 5·01% comprised recyclable glass.26

3.2. London

The estate is a large, dense high- and low-rise housing estate in the inner London Borough of Southwark. In 2001, the borough’s overall population was 244 866. The total number of dwellings was 107 663, of which 79 036 (73·4%) were flats or maisonettes.27 In 2005, approximately 60 000 flats were council-owned and 6% of all dwellings (N = 6457) were on the fifth floor or higher.13 The estate was built between 1963 and 1970. Covering 285 000 m2 and originally built to accommodate 10 000 residents in 2700 dwellings, this is the largest housing estate in Europe. Drawing on modernist principles, the estate embodied similar ideas of social transformation, even if at cut-price: large slab-block buildings imitated the functional machine aesthetic and communal/public life was encouraged through local provision of a basic social infrastructure (day centre, shops, medical facilities, etc.). Long corridors in front of flats attempted to separate human interaction from cars and the street level, creating ‘walkways in the sky’. In common with many similar urban schemes, the estate’s design was premised on the growing use of the car. However, most contemporary residents are unable to afford private transport: purchases of furniture, white goods or groceries in bulk are restricted to when help is available from kin or friends and reliance on catalogue shopping obviates the need for transport. No informants used the local household waste recycling centre (HWRC), half a mile distant, because all but one informant did not know about it, but also because of lack of transport. Domestic waste for high-rise blocks was managed through storage cupboards in the corridors and chutes at the end of each corridor, which emptied into large paladins. Larger items were collected by the council.

By 2005, the estate was in the lowest Acorn category of ‘hard pressed, inner city adversity, in multi-ethnic, crowded flats or purpose-built estates’. Although Acorn is a marketing tool and biased towards formal consumption ability, the estate is also in the lowest decile of the IMD with one SOA in the 1% most deprived category. Broader socio-economic changes over the last three decades have divided long-term council tenants from those who bought their homes and from a new population of short-term residents. The ‘flexible’ labour of late capitalism produces a mobile workforce seeking short-term, private tenancies; these are available as an unintended effect of the 1980 right to buy scheme. National strategies for higher education expansion have increased the demand for short-term student lets. Migration figures in the area have risen sharply, also contributing to the rise of short-term, often informal, unprotected, tenancies. One proxy for churn shows that in the NDC area covering the estate, 20% of the school children had a different address from that given the previous year. While notoriously difficult to capture accurately, or indeed define,28 churn needs to be taken into account in designing appropriate interfaces for waste collections, particularly in the case of those who do not register on standard population counting mechanisms since they are often among the most mobile and the most invisible element of the urban population: often not reflected in official data and yet generating waste and utilising services. House moves also generate waste.

In 2005, the council decided to transfer the estate to an RSL for redevelopment. Already densely built, the existing 2700 dwellings are to be replaced, in stages, with 4900 residences; 2290 of these are to be sold, thus funding construction of the remaining 2610 social housing units. Reflecting a typical trend across the country, space for these additional dwellings is to be both carved out of current public spaces and found by reducing the average dwelling size.

Residents’ most pressing concern was the poor condition of communal and public spaces. Many cupboards for storing waste along communal corridors were broken and dirty, sometimes used as shelters by homeless individuals. Too small for full bin bags, the chutes were frequently blocked, a problem aggravated by excessively large objects being stuffed into them. Since chutes were placed at the end of long corridors and were time-consuming to reach, residents, finding them blocked, often left bin bags nearby. Spilt rubbish around the cupboards and chutes attracted vermin. Flytipping was endemic: both large items scattered in corridors and courtyards and unbagged rubbish tipped into corridors from flats. Part subcontracting of cleaning and collections led to frequent confusion over who was responsible for different clearance tasks on the estate, sometimes resulting in uncollected rubbish. Although this organisational hitch has since been remedied, residents’ loss of trust was not so quickly restored. As one LA official noted

They (estate residents) have long memories. In the end, all the different councils blur together. Maybe there’s a short period after a new council comes in. But, in the end, people are just going to see the council as one group of people responsible for all the things that have gone wrong.

In 2003, recycling facilities consisted of an HWRC half a mile distant and bring banks on the estate for paper and glass, although informants noted that neither formed a significant part of their household rubbish. Previously, a popular community scheme for collecting compostable waste had operated. Several informants, especially those in low-rise accommodation, had participated and were unclear why it had suddenly stopped. In 2003, a consultation was held between tenants and residents’ associations (TRAs) and the LA about improving household recycling facilities; one estate resident said

We said that we didn’t want the plastic boxes as there’s no room in the flats and we don’t want to leave them cluttering up the corridors – so what does the council give us? Blue plastic boxes!

These incidents added to an existing culture of distrust of LAs. Many boxes, said householders, had been appropriated to contain toys, laundry or for other domestic uses. In 1995, a community waste group was given funding for collecting paper via doorstepping. This proved effective but too resource-intensive for long-term sustainability. Various other small community schemes operated, although usually for a relatively short duration.

In the course of the fieldwork, a new scheme for collecting dry recyclates (paper, card, cans, plastic and glass) was introduced whereby transparent plastic bags marked with the requisite items were posted through household doors. Bags left outside in corridors were collected once a week. This has proved highly successful with nearly 50% of residents participating in the scheme and approximately 38 t collected each week. Furthermore, in 2004, in response to the high number of students in the borough, the paucity (or lack) of recycling facilities provided in halls of residence and the quantities of rubbish produced (especially bulky waste in the final two weeks of each summer term), CRISP (the ‘recycling arm’ of Southwark Council) began a project of targeted communication, advice and provision of bring banks and internal, recycling bags. From the beginning, students were co-opted into the system which has now become a flourishing and permanent feature of council/university cooperation and has extended to cover 45 halls of residence.29 In March 2007, the borough signed a 25-year private finance initiative contract with a major waste management company.

The following sections report on and discuss issues arising from the storage and collection of recyclates in flat-fronted housing in Portsmouth and high-rise flats in London.

4.1. Flat-fronted households: recycling participation rates and methods

The full results of the postal survey are presented in Appendix 1. The survey appears to paint a positive picture of recycling in flat-fronted households, with almost all survey respondents aware of, and taking part in, the kerbside scheme. The survey shows the current scheme is usable, with a high self-reported participation rate and high levels of satisfaction. When given the choice of potential collection containers, most respondents chose those already available. When asked about potential ‘useful’ changes to the recycling scheme, residents chose extensions to the service (such as collecting additional materials) as opposed to changes to the existing kerbside scheme (such as more frequent collections, different containers or better quality service).

Although, physically, flat-fronted homes are very similar, one way of recycling was not found to be ‘best’ for all. Within the constraints of the collection scheme, there was wide variability in how people took part, for example

  1. choice of collection container

  2. where it was stored inside or outside the home

  3. whether additional containers were used inside the home.

4.2. Operational and logistical barriers

The survey identified that operational and logistical barriers to recycling are evident. The vast majority of respondents had no external access to their rear garden (a problem as most used this area to store containers), meaning that many had to bring containers through the home to put out for collection. This perceived barrier apparently does not deter ‘keen recyclers’ from participating, but it may impact upon quantities and types of materials collected, and the recycling arrangements within the home. This may be why the most favoured container is a smaller more manoeuvrable box, even though many said that the capacity was insufficient. However, almost a third of respondents preferred a wheeled bin, choosing the convenience of capacity above the inconvenience of moving it through their home. The issue of insufficient capacity needs to be addressed as almost a quarter of respondents said that they put any additional recyclables out for rubbish collection.

Lack of storage space for recycling was the barrier most frequently reported. This could be expected, as flat-fronted households do not have space at the front or side of the property to store waste. Only a fifth of households reported lack of space, suggesting that the majority found a way to store their waste without perceiving it as a problem.

The large majority of respondents were satisfied with the quality of the doorstep service. However, almost a third had experienced a collection problem in the previous three months. Collection crews could easily rectify most problems – apparently small issues, such as crews returning containers correctly after emptying, are important to address as such problems may deter less committed recyclers.

4.3. Levels of awareness

For non-recyclers, lack of information was a key influence on their behaviour. Almost 80% reported some kind of knowledge-related barrier; not knowing the collection day was most frequently reported. This supports previous research that has shown that less-informed households are less likely to recycle.17 However, it may not be the key reason for non-participation, particularly when information is readily available. There was a good awareness of targeted recyclables, with the majority of respondents claiming to recycle paper, cans, card and plastic bottles. However, the majority (70%) were also including a wide range of unwanted materials.

Awareness and recall of communications material was high, with almost all respondents ‘seeing something’ in the previous six months. However, the dichotomy between respondents’ perceived awareness of what to recycle and what they should be doing shows that an enhanced communications approach is needed.

For reasons of economy, communications material is often generalised for the whole LA area. In Portsmouth, residents receive a recycling collection calendar every April. The survey showed that 13% of respondents did not know their collection day, which was a particular ‘turn off ’ for recycling. Transient households (16% had lived in their home less than one year) require more regular information.

The majority of respondents did not report negative attitudes to recycling, with many disagreeing that they did not have the time or interest to recycle. Less than 10% of non-recyclers reported attitudinal barriers, which may be an indication that logistical/operational or information-related barriers are more important in terms of non-participation.

4.4. Survey respondents

Most survey respondents (83%) said that they recycled every fortnight. Only 73% were observed to recycle at least once over a six-week period. The participation rate for the survey sample as a whole was just 45%. There are two factors at play here: an element of exaggerating ‘good’ behaviour (as found in previous research30,31) and the suggestion that active recyclers are more likely to respond to recycling surveys. Self-selecting sampling methods need be treated with caution.

4.5. Conclusions

This study showed that households with limited capacity to store waste are less likely to participate in recycling activities. However, many flat-fronted households have overcome the barriers associated with the constraints of their home to recycle successfully.

No ‘one size fits all’ solution was identified: different households have different priorities when it comes to how they participate. The kerbside scheme has a degree of flexibility to reflect this, but further work is needed to find a suitable compromise between convenience (storing and moving containers) and capacity to maximise the capture of recyclables. In addition, issues about collection of materials need to be addressed, many of which could be overcome relatively easily.

Lack of sufficient instructional information was reported as a key barrier to recycling and there was extensive confusion about items not targeted by the kerbside scheme. However, the majority recalled communications material. Future communications need to be regular and targeted and provide an explanation of why certain items cannot be recycled.

Over half of the respondents identified some kind of barrier to recycling, although 83% also claimed to recycle every fortnight. This suggests that, for these survey respondents, most barriers are an inconvenience but not a complete deterrent from recycling.

Survey respondents were predominantly active recyclers, which presented a participation rate almost double that observed in reality. As a consequence, the findings in this survey can only properly describe the behaviour of households engaged in recycling activities. When residents are pre-inclined to recycle, Portsmouth’s current collection infrastructure can work successfully, despite the barriers presented by the flat-fronted home.

This section first examines themes that arose from fieldwork on the London estate that affected the effective functioning of ‘recycling interfaces’. Although the borough’s recycling rates quadrupled over four years, reaching 18·4% in 2007, the following discussion was reinforced by comparison with other inner London estates and can serve to inform new-build developments.

5.1. Spatial definitions, ownership and practices
5.1.1. Problems with interfaces and communal space

High-rise dwellings have particular problems with communal spaces. Logistically, conventional kerbside collections of recyclates in boxes are impractical in blocks more than four-stories high. Door-to-door collections of plastic bags of recyclates are effective, but often expensive to provide. Annual costs of such schemes were estimated at £27 per household in 2005, with costs per tonne ranging from £141 to £254 depending on performance.32 Small flat sizes mean that collections also have to be carried out at least once a week since there is limited internal storage space. Balconies were often co-opted as storage areas for dry recyclates, but, in the case of organic matter, few informants were willing to store this for reasons of hygiene and safety.

Collection of household waste and recyclates foregrounds the boundary between the ‘black box’ of the home and public services (including commercial suppliers). This interface covers a number of domains

  1. the social, in terms of the respective obligations of ‘private’ householders and ‘public’ waste collection authorities

  2. the political, in terms of the debate over public or private provision of services

  3. the spatial, in terms of the physical location of domestic waste storage facilities at the margins of the household’s private space and the larger public space within which it is situated.

Understanding the practices and beliefs at these various levels of the public–private dichotomy, together with the marginal or liminal areas that fit neatly into neither category, is crucial for formulating effective strategies to maximise householder participation.

The importance of these boundary issues is redoubled in the case of high-rise, social housing estates because it raises the question of what ‘public’ and ‘private’ space entails in practice. ‘Private’, for example, may mean ‘domestic’, ‘commercial’ or ‘non-state’ according to context. The confusions to which these definitions may give rise are accentuated in social housing where ‘domestic’/‘private’ space is elided with that provided by local or housing authorities. Additionally, the spatial layout of high-rise blocks maximises contact points between public and private space.

5.1.2. Spatial ownership and obligations

Ownership and obligations are frequently obscure in communal spaces such as stairwells, corridors, courtyards and shared entrances, and this has a direct bearing on spatial practices surrounding recycling interfaces. An analysis of property regimes, in this respect, is illuminating. A clear theme emerging from the London-based research was the importance of clear ownership of different spaces and the rights and obligations associated with such ownership or property regimes.

In contemporary Western society, the private–public distinction has become commonplace as the bedrock of the two major political contemporary ideologies, namely, the ‘right-wing’ belief that private control of resources results in their husbanding by self-interested owners so as to deliver the maximum sustainable benefit, serendipitously maximising social welfare in the process, and the ‘left-wing’ belief that collective control over resources results in rational and equitable resource allocation. This in turn leads to the familiar critique of each position from the other’s point of view: the left’s critique that private market solutions deliver an inequitable distribution of resources, and the right’s critique that collective ownership breeds unresponsive public bureaucracies, along with the abandonment of personal responsibilities. In the context of this paper, ‘resources’ are understood here as services and infrastructure. In the sphere of environmental economics, the rightist critique has been formulated into the ‘tragedy of the commons’ argument – that is, a resource will be inappropriately used in the absence of private property rights which confer an interest upon the rights-owner rationally to preserve it.33 However, there is an important distinction to be made here between an open access regime, in which property rights are conferred upon no one (and therefore effectively upon everyone), and a common property regime, in which definitive property rights exist but are conferred upon a group rather than an individual person. Only in the former case can the ‘tragedy of the commons’ be likely to occur, since in a common property regime there is self-interest in the rational preservation of a resource at the level of the group.

5.1.3. Property regimes, social housing and waste/recyclate collection

In relation to the provision of waste services in social housing, the state or RSL assumes the mantle of the common property regime and acts on behalf of the residents. However, in situations where state responsibilities become disconnected from a clear relation with collectivities of individuals for whom the resources (housing, public space, waste services, etc.) are managed, there is a danger that the common property regime will decay into a de facto open access situation. This occurs, for example, when people come to view the managing organisation as an alienating force to which they relinquish responsibilities vis-à-vis the property regime, when they lack solidarity with other individuals in the same collective, or when the managing organisation itself assigns insufficient priority to its responsibilities as the rights-owner. These, notoriously, are all problems associated with the social housing sector in Britain34 and all were evident in the fieldwork sites.

This is a highly complex issue. One effect of unclear property regimes for recycling on the estate was that initially the managing authorities emphasised householder responsibility (or lack of ) for using what facilities were provided, irrespective of the problems detailed in this paper. As the next section describes, a series of factors had caused a disconnection among residents and between residents and the LA. The result was that common or public areas were largely perceived to be dangerous, dirty and thus to be avoided – this included participating in recycling schemes.

The effect of marking out and maintaining these interfaces – whether through clear spatial delineation and/or 24 h concierges and fully-functioning services – has been dramatic, both on the estate when door-to-door collections were introduced and on other London estates (e.g. Tower Hamlets).

5.1.4. Malfunctioning property regimes on the estate: the retraction of public control

The social history of the estate can be summarised as a trajectory from a publicly validated space to a withdrawal to the home and the related disconnection between residents and the council. Older residents enthusiastically described the early days of moving from terraced housing to new flats where planned spaces flowed from domestic to public arenas. The separation now between homes and external spaces is marked. Most entrances to flats have a second, barred and padlocked door. One NDC worker commented

‘Inside’ everything is lovely. All the care goes on the home itself. But ‘outside’ begins right at the door itself.

Indeed, in contrast to national surveys,35 interviews for this research confirmed that residents were largely content with their homes – although less with the state of repair. Conversely, the unusually high mobility of many private tenants led to an emphasis on the temporary nature of their stay; typically, they expressed neither a sense of connection to the area nor a desire to spend time or money personalising the space.

This increasing alienation from the space of social life beyond the home was characteristically accounted for through the idiom of a runaway ethnic pluralism, which was perceived by many older residents to have undermined the solidarity required for a functioning common property regime that incorporated knowledge of how to deal with wastes appropriately.36,37 In the words of one informant

We had people in the past who just threw stuff out of their windows because that’s what they did where they came from, but over time we taught them how to do things properly. Now, you’re all scared of each other, because there’s such a diversity of nationalities.

He contrasted this with the more stable ethnic differences of his youth.

This change in the respective use and valorisation of private and public realms follows a wider tendency where meaningful public spaces have shrunk in terms of activities carried out. Consumption has become a private activity. The separation of domains has wider implications. LA officials bemoaned the fact that ‘neighbourliness’ seemed to have vanished and residents only looked to the council to solve waste problems, doing nothing for themselves or each other. On the other hand, residents complained that the council failed to carry out its duties in keeping the estate clean, in a good state of repair, and fully enacting its responsibilities for waste collection. Materially, the decline of the public realm was manifested in the ejection of waste from the domestic arena into a space of no consequence. It is these ‘grey’ or communal spaces where the tensions between social groups and service suppliers are most strongly materialised, with each party externalising the obligation of keeping such spaces liveable.

5.1.5. Informal spatial property regimes and exchange

Nevertheless, there were instances where the distinction between domestic and external spaces was more flexible, and householders took some responsibility for the estate’s communal areas such as cleaning out waste storage cupboards shared with other households, clearing up waste dumped in corridors, or cleaning and carpeting a lift. Similar scenarios played out across ethnic groups, although invariably it was women who performed these tasks. In all cases, however, informants eventually stopped performing these activities because of a sense that other residents were not playing their part – the classic ‘free rider’ problem of open access regimes.

One solution to these problems may lie in restoring and maintaining a functioning common property regime. Certainly, this was the sentiment of several of the housing professionals interviewed in this work. In relation to estate recycling facilities, for example, one professional informant said

Local ‘ownership’ is a big issue. If people are going to use it properly it helps if it’s made clear through good labelling or some other means precisely who the recycling facility is for – which households, which streets, which part of the estate.

Spaces are defined by practice as much as formal distinctions. Thus, space outside the home can be appropriated as domestic space, although the privatisation of public space is usually contested. Although most ill-defined or public space was routinely treated as external to the concerns of residents – and therefore a legitimate dumping ground – there was one exception that was characteristic of all the London fieldwork sites. This was the commonly held view by residents that a unique local material culture of household ridding and reuse existed in their locality. The term ‘ridding’ is used, following work led by Gregson,38,39 for items not seen as waste but for which there is no longer a place in the household. Such objects still had a sentimental value for the owners or were in working order and were therefore placed, explicitly, where they might be picked up and reused by someone else. This was talked about quite distinctly from dumping unwanted items. A typical comment was ‘There’s an unwritten rule around here that you can leave stuff you’re done with outside and then somebody else will come and make use of it’.

This manifested itself on all the estates visited, where unwanted household goods – usually small items of furniture or functioning electrical goods – were left in stairwells, next to the paladins or other public areas of the building. Equally, many informants showed the research team items that they had retrieved from such places. Since much of the pleasure derived from the clandestine nature of the activity, and indeed not knowing the donor or recipient, formalising this process of exchange might therefore seem self-defeating. Nevertheless, a local voluntary group organised a successful day in a local park, inviting local residents to bring such objects and take away what was found. The local waste collection authority removed the remainder. Such ‘swap’ days have proved popular elsewhere.40 (It should be noted that the Duty of Care Regulations relating to such events necessitate oversight by an authorised body who can produce waste transfer notes for ‘leftover’ recyclables to be taken to a HWRC or passed to a reuse scheme.)

5.1.6. Postmodern designs for urban communities: the challenge posed by high mobility

Most large-scale housing schemes constructed up to the 1970s exemplified the modernist spirit that placed buildings, both residential and for common use, in a public setting. Postmodern urban design has responded to the failure of many of these projects by reintroducing a human scale – spaces that residents are encouraged to ‘appropriate’. In terms of maximising the effectiveness of recycling collections on existing postwar estates, this can only be a compromise, translating into emphasising locality within sub-areas, clearly identifying communal facilities with a particular neighbourhood, extending outreach programmes via local community groups and, where possible, employing a concierge system to ensure information is constantly directed as needed and the environment is kept clean and safe enough for householders to store recyclates in communal areas. In other words, a combination of the social and architectural is needed.

The research further showed that, despite the aspirations of architects and designers to create local community through design, urban communities are more likely to be based on open-ended networks of kin and associative links that cut across and beyond the contiguous territory of administrations. The high mobility of many residents again works against a sense of place. The expectation that neighbourhoods with a concomitant interest in locality (meeting local recycling targets, supporting local economies through creation of work in recycling, keeping the environment clean) can be wholly created through spatial design needs to be pragmatically modified. In terms of allocating costs and responsibility for recycling collections, the emphasis on individual accountability and place-based sympathy is less likely to be effective in such areas, requiring greater investment on the part of the managing authority.

5.1.7. New-build opportunities

New-build social housing has more scope to address the integration of infrastructure and domestic practices through spatial organisation. A social housing architect interviewed in this study addressed the same point in the design of new estates by trying to invest the built environment with a more complex sense of social space, moving beyond the distinction between private and public (open access) space by creating an intermediary ‘local’ space in which the immediate residents could feel they had a stake. Alternatively, where space allowed, clearly demarcated, secure, ‘private’ spaces within courtyards for bins specific to households, or small household groups, had a marked positive effect on residents’ willingness to maintain these areas and engage with waste collection initiatives. The poor vehicular access that marks and restricts most recycling on high-rise estates could be addressed in planning criteria for planned social housing developments via the Housing Corporation. Again, current sustainability criteria used by the Housing Corporation (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (Breeam)) focus on energy efficiency; credit for integrating developments into local recycling schemes is limited in value and only demands evidence that internal and external space for recycling containers has been provided. The projection for increasing density is a significant challenge for these more nuanced approaches to spatial layouts and designing recycling schemes that connect domestic and communal spaces to external recycling schemes.

5.2. Convenience and flexibility

Although convenience is conventionally cited as a key factor in raising recycling rates, extant findings are less uniform, partly because different variables have been included under this heading. Ando and Gosselin41 suggest that easy access to external facilities is less important than adequate internal storage space for high-rise dwellings, whereas Nyamwange42 emphasises the need for easily accessible recycling containers and others43,44 note that the greater the variety of materials collected in a group of bring banks, the correspondingly greater the participation.

5.2.1. Location of bring banks

‘Convenience’ has different meanings for different groups of people, however. Since kerbside collections are impractical for high-rise flats, occupants are generally faced with carrying recyclates to bring banks on communal sites, thus being excluded from the same level of service provided for low-rise housing. Bring banks situated near entrances or most frequently used routes through the estate were used most often. Nevertheless, some householders objected to having bring banks close to their blocks since the banks were often vandalised and could then be closed leading to rubbish being dumped around the base of the containers which attracted vermin, smelled and was unsightly. Despite the observation2 that technologies need to be ‘scripted’ to guide behaviour in a particular way, this behaviour suggests a two-way dialogue rather than an authoritative monologue. There is thus often a conflict between spatial ownership and the convenience of proximity.

5.2.2. Key constraints: non-operational infrastructure

Convenience extends well beyond siting. In high-rise blocks, ill-functioning lifts were the sticking point for residents expected to use ground-level recycling containers. Elderly residents described climbing down several flights of stairs only to find the banks had been closed. ‘You won’t catch me doing that again in a hurry’ was a common response. Chronically broken lifts and ill-lit stairwells were one of the commonest causes of complaint among informants, leading to public protests to the council in 2005 and cited as reasons for not using bring banks. Again, single mothers had neither the time nor physical capacity to carry additional bags of recyclates with them when dealing with pushchairs and faced with several flights of stairs. The paucity of crÉches in the area was cited as a reason for the difficulties faced by single mothers in having available time to carry out tasks additional to childcare – in this instance, transporting recyclates to ground-level collection centres constituted an extra drain on time and energy. These examples suggest that the wider infrastructure and environment need to be taken into account when retrofitting or designing an integrated waste management system.

5.2.3. Trade-offs between convenience and cost-effectiveness

Linked to the discussion above on spatial practices and the retreat to domestic space, convenience in this context has almost become synonymous with proximity to the household and ease of use. This concept fits awkwardly with the emphasis on public and communal space embodied by modernist design, particularly long blocks where chutes are situated at the far end of each corridor. Convenience, in older estates, and indeed older blocks of flats more generally, has to be tailored to the existing physical and social environment, selecting from a range of possible options (summarised in the final section of this paper). There are likely to be trade-offs between cost-effectiveness and equality of provision in blocks of flats where access is difficult or the length of blocks makes recycling chutes only half the answer. As noted earlier, door-to-door collections on estates have proved successful both in raising the quantity collected and in acting as outreach communication, although expense can be a prohibiting factor.

5.2.4. Domestic recycling space: the need for temporal and spatial flexibility

Convenience extends into the domestic space itself. As the Portsmouth study of flat-fronted dwellings shows, containers have to be small enough to be manoeuvred through the home. Only 10% of the estate’s informants cited lack of internal space as a general reason for not storing recyclates; other concerns for safety (see Section 5.3) were deemed more pressing. This situation is likely to change as redevelopments reduce internal space:14 the average living space for social housing in Britain is currently 62 m2 as opposed to the average space in private accommodation of 91 m2. This is considerably less than the Parker Morris minimum standards on space, mandated in 1967 for public housing but which ceased to be compulsory in 1980, since when average living space has declined in British housing overall.45

Adequate internal storage space, however, did become problematic at particular times of increased waste generation and where homes served as a focus for dispersed kin. With regard to consumption quantities and household waste produced, sharp variations between households were produced by local, kin-related households acting in concert, sharing income, expenses, childcare and other domestic tasks. As a result, a ‘household’ that was nominally occupied by one or two people could generate waste for several more. Equally, households where the occupants regularly ate elsewhere, leaving children with family members produced little waste. Different temporal points generated more waste than others.46 Events such as Christmas, spring sales and Eid all saw increased purchases and related higher rates of recyclates production. In Turkic and Middle-Eastern cultures, spring is typically associated not just with cleaning but with clearing out and the purchase of new clothes, again generating a slight increase in typical waste production. Alterations in kin relations and development cycles again provoke the generation of waste and often house moves – themselves a major cause of hoarded household items becoming recategorised as waste.

Flexibility, in terms of quantity and key temporal junctures, thus needs to be added to ideas of household convenience in designing appropriate collection infrastructures. Larger internal storage containers are inappropriate for small domestic spaces, suggesting the need either for increased collections or for chutes for co-mingled dry recyclates.

5.3. Safety

Perceptions of safety played a key role in determining domestic waste management practices and their interface with an external infrastructure where interaction with a communal space was involved. Storing recyclates within the home was seen as a potential hazard where small children were present: glass can be broken, tins can cut and accumulated waste organic matter was broadly seen as ‘unclean’ and ‘unhygienic’. The concern was more widespread than might appear from a simple demographic survey of the estate’s population of parents and small children. The lack of affordable local childcare and crÉches, together with the high proportion of single mothers, meant that, where possible, other family members living locally took on these responsibilities – and also insisted on a child-friendly environment.

The main priority for these households and many other small dwellings was to eject rubbish and recyclables as quickly as possible from the domestic space for three reasons: space, perceptions of cleanliness and safety. However, communal areas such as corridors and courtyards were equally undesirable for storing paper or glass, since the former could be, and often was, set alight and the latter smashed. Other stored items were scattered. The problem was more acute where such communal areas were close to schools or routes to school as children were the main culprits. As a consequence, these households had used the bring banks rather than corridor cupboards, but only if so inclined, and when this happened to coincide with the day’s production of dry recyclates. Otherwise, the chute was used for all wastes. Our informants noted that secure cupboards in communal areas would encourage segregation and storage. A few informants objected to collection bags being posted through doors for collection the following week as these were seen as a potential threat of suffocation to children.

5.4. Communication, clarity and rationality
5.4.1. Communication channels and demotic language

Communication between service suppliers and users is a core component of the infrastructural and organisational interface, embracing both text-based information and design. The role of communication strategies in improving recyclates collections has been extensively covered. The main focus to date has been, first, how to ensure that householders know what they should be doing to fit in with collection systems and, second, how to produce ‘behaviour change’ where householders are not performing adequately. The findings on channels for communication are broadly consistent and borne out by the fieldwork. Co-opting local networks, faith and interest groups and schools provides an effective adjunct to LA promotional campaigns, especially in a context where trust in national and local government has declined over the last three decades.47 Hartley and Howes48 point to the need to use demotic rather than technical language in communication campaigns – a point that bears repetition (London informants responded blankly when asked about use of the local HWRC until this was translated to ‘the council tip’). Motivation to recycle is no longer exclusively tied to standard socio-demographic classifications, but often linked to more general environmental concerns.16,18

In the following, these analyses of understanding, practice and motivation are extended to issues highlighted by our informants, which add to these findings. A common supposition is that estate residents are less inclined to recycle than a more affluent, middle-class demographic.43 Along with highlighting the structural constraints on recycling in high-rise flats, the findings from this research suggest a more complex view of the communication process.

5.4.2. Clarifying definitions of reuse and recycling within and beyond the home

Despite occasional targeted campaigns and more general publicity directed towards increasing local recycling, confusion over what recycling was, why it was necessary and how to do it was endemic. In the course of the fieldwork, a door-to-door collection was introduced; six months later a participation rate of nearly 50% was reported. Nevertheless, the following observations from the period preceding the scheme’s introduction remain relevant.

Before the recycling bag scheme was introduced, most informants told us that no recycling occurred on the estate. This later translated to the fact that schemes such as community composting had started then stopped, or that bring banks were often closed. Both these events had had a marked effect on residents’ trust in the schemes offered and they rapidly stopped participating. Moreover, waste minimisation, reuse and recycling, as resource management concepts were clearly associated only with kerbside collections or bring banks, largely as a result of publicity campaigns, but also knowledge of provision elsewhere in the borough. Thus, none of the informal activities practised within and between households of exchanging clothes, toys and other items, charity shop donations and purchases, shredding newspapers for pets’ bedding, saving old clothes for dusters, tins for plants and so forth, was seen in the context of saving resources, but of saving money. Thrift, whether as virtue or necessity, applied to individuals and households, not to less tangible concepts such as ‘society’ or ‘the environment’. ‘Recycling’ was exclusively understood as an activity involving an external body removing particular objects placed outside the home.

5.4.3. Reasons adduced for low participation

Max Weber’s work49 on rational actions that are variously driven by values, goals or habit provides a useful typology for interpreting informants’ responses. Frequent reasons given for non- or low participation in recycling schemes were that most recyclates would ‘be landfilled or transported to China’ and for this reason these informants did not bother separating out recyclates unless it was easier for them to do so than otherwise. In part, these comments reflected a wider loss of trust in local and national government, but they also revealed a lack of rational conviction in recycling as an end-driven process. The converse was also true, although principally among first-generation immigrants. Here, perhaps surprisingly, comments were made such as: ‘if my government wants me to do it, then I must do it’ where ‘government’ was interchangeable with ‘council’ or, on a few occasions, ‘nation’. These statements demonstrated a belief in the value of the action itself but also without understanding its goal; therefore, on occasion, there was confusion about what could, and could not, be recycled. The last form of ‘rational’ behaviour is that dictated by habit. Translated into this setting, this is the normalisation of practice represented by those informants who had fully adapted their domestic waste management strategies to meet requirements. However, such normalisation is less successful when the collection systems are not equally dependable and consistent.

5.4.4. Non-linguistic communication strategies: technological interface design

Communication systems cover linguistic signs, semantic context and non-linguistic modes such as symbols, colours, shapes and the general interface design of technologies. The high mobility of residents in an urban setting, especially private tenants, meant that confusion was easily caused by colours and containers signifying diverse practices in different places at different times between and sometimes within LAs. Where residents move between low-rise and high-rise buildings, some of this change in signification is unavoidable since kerbside or doorstep collections are operationally impractical in buildings in excess of four or five stories. However, within one LA, garden waste was variously collected in brown wheelie bins, brown paper sacks or green plastic handled bags, and dry recyclates in transparent bags or blue boxes.

5.4.5. Summary

The above suggests the following key factors need to be taken into account. The language of service providers should tally as far as possible with that used by homeowners. Information should be given in multilingual texts as well as images. Basic information should be given constantly and consistently, including what is to be recycled, when collections occur and how, with periodic explanations of the onward trajectory of collected items (and other benefits such as job creation as appropriate). Non-linguistic methods of communication mean that the system of collection must be regular, thus avoiding a breakdown of trust in patchy or short-lived operations. Since high-rise flats tend to use a chute system for most wastes, timing door-to-door collections to coincide with other waste collections is irrelevant but, where appropriate, adds to a sense of regularity. Consistency of container design is harder to achieve but would obviate some perplexities among transient residents.

This study demonstrated that different communication methods have their own strengths and weaknesses that need to be considered. A summary of the results is given in Appendix 2.

6.1. Doorstepping

Doorstepping was not very effective in terms of

  1. value for money

  2. bringing about mass behaviour change

  3. increasing set-out

  4. reducing contamination.

In this case study, this may be because of the relatively high starting-points (i.e. >60% participation). However, it was effective in engaging residents with the service (ordering new bins) and increasing the range of materials recycled. Doorstepping allows a quality interaction with the household but, as a consequence, relatively few households can be interacted with. It is recommended that doorstepping is used only when this additional quality is needed. It must be carefully targeted in instances where other techniques have failed or cannot be easily applied. Doorstepping may be the best approach in areas where the population is ‘hard to reach’, such as in blocks of flats using communal bins.

6.2. Personal incentives

This study was designed to test the impact of offering a financial reward related to the recycling performance of individual households. In practice, it was far too difficult to isolate the incentive variable and it could reasonably be argued that the significant results achieved were more a consequence of the communication, engagement and feedback used in project delivery, and not to do with the actual chance of a reward. This was borne out in qualitative responses from households, with only 13% stating that the chance of a reward was their main motivating factor. The study showed how effective intense communications can be when communicating a single message (in this case, increased quality of recyclables), even in high-performing areas. Although expensive, such an intense approach could be used to effectively target problem areas. It is interesting that even with excellent communication and the chance of a personal reward, participation did not significantly increase. This suggests that it is very difficult to persuade the last remaining (in Portsmouth 20%) households to recycle using engagement methods alone and that some kind of compulsion may be required.

6.3. Personal feedback

The study looked at the effect of giving personalised feedback via cards through the door on collection day. It was found that they were very effective at reducing contamination and, in this respect, by far the best value for money out of the three approaches. The results suggest that the majority of people are ‘getting it wrong’ simply because they do not understand how to get it right. Using personalised feedback has been shown to be more effective than just a general leaflet as it highlights something specific to the household: it does not rely on reading a lot of information and then working out which bits apply. Delivering regular feedback at the point of service (on collection day) is important as this is when recycling is more forward in people’s minds. The feedback approach would be best integrated into collection contracts, delivered by the crews. In this way, it can be delivered without external funding and, importantly, any impact can be sustained.

This study has reviewed some of the most popular behaviour change methods currently used in the waste sector to encourage positive recycling behaviour. It has shown that simple feedback can be highly effective when it is regular, incremental, well-communicated, monitored and reinforced. Expensive, complicated options are not always required – behaviour change can be achieved using cheap ‘low-tech’ methods.

Clearly, there is no straightforward checklist of recommendations to improve the interface between recycling collection infrastructures and the domestic space in densely built, older estates. In the first place, the physical constraints of each block of flats have to be taken into account; access by collection crews and vehicles might be restricted, for example, or inadequate chutes located at the end of long slab-block buildings. Furthermore, some of the criteria for consideration discussed in this paper come into conflict with each other. The most effective solution in terms of recovery (door-to-door collections) is usually the most expensive. There are thus trade-offs to be made in terms of local effectiveness and need; ameliorative designs have to be tailored to each estate and building. New-build estates are better placed to integrate recycling management mechanisms and take advantage of the following recommendations, but are increasingly likely to have to take the logistical problems of high-rise accommodation into account, a challenge that goes well beyond social rented housing. In all cases, however, it is essential that the domestic/public interface of recycling infrastructures is designed through consultation with residents13 and with both the architectural and environmental specificity of the area and LA collection systems in mind.51

Drawn from the three studies discussed, the following recommendations address a variety of domains – architectural, technological, institutional and social.

  1. Communal recycling facilities require clear demarcation of ownership, should not result in loss of other amenities and should be sited close to entrances but in consultation with residents. Where access can be secure, this enhances the sense of ownership and care taken over the use of such facilities.

  2. Collection systems, whether via communal containers, recycling chutes or door-to-door collections, should cover as many materials as possible and should be tuned to calendar points of greater production of recyclates.

  3. Facilities (a secure, indoor, monitored space for example) should be provided to formalise the exchange of bulky usable items between estate residents. These semi-formal exchanges could be operated in tandem with local reuse schemes such as occasional ‘bring days’.

  4. Storage containers, whether for use in internal or external domestic spaces or communal spaces, should be secure; alternatively, secure cupboards in which they can be placed should be provided.

  5. Communal areas such as corridors, stairwells, lifts and courtyards need to be kept clean, functioning and safe. This necessitates clarifying the role of estate administrators as well as securing storage cupboards adjacent to flats.

  6. Door-to-door collections are effective in terms of recovery, communication and outreach, but present problems in terms of cost and access. Collections need to be regular and consistent to build up trust and normalise the process. Robust bags, without handles, and printed with clear symbols of acceptable recyclates have proved a successful alternative to boxes and handled bags.

  7. Constant, simple, targeted communication is essential to address the effects of high residential turnover. As far as possible, this should take into account linguistic barriers, the need to address the purpose of recycling, the onward trajectory of recyclates and consistent container design. Co-option of local community groups, schools, faith groups and NGOs such as the NDC are effective means of tapping into local, trusted networks. Feedback cards are the most cost-effective means of regularly communicating with residents, although doorstepping can be effective when used to target ‘hard-to-reach’ populations.

  8. Concierges have proved highly effective in communication campaigns, maintaining a clean environment, brokering between management administration and residents, and enhancing a broad sense of local community in integrated estates.

  9. Chutes can be effectively incorporated into the interface for recycling collections. The simplest route is to place recycling containers near existing chutes, although this depends on availability of space. Chute recycling schemes are little used in Britain but have been successfully used in North America. The simplest to use incorporate user-operated switches for different recyclates that are then directed to the relevant paladin below. However, there is a risk of contamination with such user-operated chutes; further research is needed specifically in this area.

Table 3, Table 4, Table 5, Table 6, Table 7, Table 8, Table 9, Table 10, Table 11, Table 12, Table 13, Table 14, Table 15


Table 3 Survey response rate

Table 3 Survey response rate

Total households receiving survey 1000
Total households responding 302

Table 4 Reported awareness of kerbside recycling scheme

Table 4 Reported awareness of kerbside recycling scheme

Households aware: % 99
Households unaware: % 1

Table 5 Participation in kerbside recycling

Table 5 Participation in kerbside recycling

Frequency Participation level: %
Fortnightly 83.0
Monthly 1.7
Less frequently 2.7
Never 12.6

Table 6 Reported satisfaction with kerbside recycling services

Table 6 Reported satisfaction with kerbside recycling services

Satisfaction level Response: %
Very satisfied 46.9
Satisfied 41.3
Neither 5.9
Dissatisfied 4.2
Very dissatisfied 1.7

Table 7 Choice of recycling container

Table 7 Choice of recycling container

Respondents actually used: % Respondents prefer to use: %
One 55-litre box 67.6
Two 55-litre boxes 10.8 58.1
Wheeled bin 12.4 30.4
Plastic bag 8.0 10.1
Other 1.2 1.6

Table 8 Suggested potential improvements to the recycling scheme

Table 8 Suggested potential improvements to the recycling scheme

Response: %

Useful Not useful
Glass collection 72.8 12.5
Green waste collection 57.3 19.9
More banks 47.4 25.2
Community feedback 45.8 21.8
More frequent collections 45.0 34.5
More information 42.0 26.6
Different container 31.9 41.9
Better service 26.3 45.2

Table 9 Reported storage of waste in the home

Table 9 Reported storage of waste in the home

Response: %
Rear garden 73.5
Kitchen 13.7
Other outside 4.3
Other inside 8.5

Table 10 Reported movement of waste to collection point

Table 10 Reported movement of waste to collection point

Response: %
Through the house 91.7
Using an alleyway 2.0
Other 6.3

Table 11 Reported additional containers used inside the home (prior to decanting into collection container)

Table 11 Reported additional containers used inside the home (prior to decanting into collection container)

Proportion of respondents using additional container: % 18.9

Table 12 Reported barriers to recycling

Table 12 Reported barriers to recycling

Response: %

Agree Disagree
Don’t know what to recycle 10.4 82.5
Don’t know how to get a recycling bin 11.3 83.3
Don’t know collection day 13.1 84.8
Limited storage space 18.6 67.5
Difficulties moving bin to collection point 12.4 73.8
No time 3.6 90.0
Poor service 3.5 83.7
Don’t like leaving bin on pavement 11.0 70.9
Not interested 1.8 95.0

Table 13 Proportion of respondents reporting barriers to recycling

Table 13 Proportion of respondents reporting barriers to recycling

Response: %
Information-related 28.9
Operations/logistics-related 37.2
Attitude-related 11.7
Any barrier 50.7

Table 14 Problems reported in three months prior to survey

Table 14 Problems reported in three months prior to survey

Response: %
Missed collection 6.9
Missing container 6.5
Containers returned incorrectly 13.0
Other 7.3
No problems 68.6

Table 15 Materials reported as always included in recycling bin

Table 15 Materials reported as always included in recycling bin

Response: %
Paper 88.6
Cans 72.0
Card 85.9
Plastic bottles 84.7
Non-recyclable materials 70.8

Table 16, Table 17,


Table 16 Summary of key results

Table 16 Summary of key results

Communication method Total properties Households setting out recycling: % Recycling bins containing contaminants: % Recycling containing four target materials: % Requests for new bins

Before After Before After Before After
Doorstepping 4695 61.0 57.2 43.7 43.6 33.0 44.7 121
Incentives 5317 69.9 74.9 60.3 29.1 46.4 42.0 29
Feedback 4380 53.8 53.7 66.1 18.9 66

Table 17 Costs (indicative only and based on in-house project delivery) of implementing campaign per 5000-household project delivery area

Table 17 Costs (indicative only and based on in-house project delivery) of implementing campaign per 5000-household project delivery area

Doorstepping Incentives Feedback
Total cost: £ 13 900 57 000 2500
Cost per household in the project area: £ 2.78 11.40 0.50
Number of communications per household 0.6 4.2 1.9
Number of households showing positive behaviour change 303 1958 831
Cost per changed household: £ 46.91 29.11 3.01


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