29 November 2018

Surrey Waste Partnership reflects on flats recycling project

SPECIAL REPORT: The Surrey Waste Partnership discusses its work to improve recycling rates in flatted properties.

This year the Surrey Waste Partnership team that aims to improve recycling rates at blocks of flats has seen its first results. And the news is good. They’ve reduced contamination by 12 percentage points and have increased recycling everywhere they’ve worked. We take a look at how the team formed and achieved such great results. As the team moves forward, we also find out where they’re headed next.


The challenge of how to increase recycling rates at blocks of flats is one that continues to pose problems for local authorities. Difficulties persist for a variety of reasons including a lack of ownership of recycling due to shared bins; limited space in bin stores for signage; bin stores often being dark, unwelcoming places; and the extra effort needed for residents to take their waste to bin stores.

Interventions introduced by SWP included replacing old plastic bins with metal bins with restricted apertures and locks

Surrey Waste Partnership, which brings together the county council and Surrey’s 11 district and borough councils, established its flats team in March 2017. The partnership wanted to tackle the issue head-on and create savings for Surrey’s local councils by using a central team that would reduce officer time and duplication of work.

The project began by establishing a process that would be applied to all 11 local councils using best practice from similar work previously carried out by partner authorities. The team then planned a phased approach where they would work with each council in turn, over a two-year period.

This involved meeting with each council and agreeing which blocks of flats were to be tackled. The team then monitored the blocks to get an understanding of current behaviour and problems to tackle.


They then developed targeted interventions to try and solve the problems they had found. The team put these into place and monitored again, comparing behaviour before and after interventions were put in place. Results from work with councils early on in the project were then used to inform work with the remaining ones.

Typically the interventions were either changes to waste and recycling infrastructure or communication with residents. Changes to infrastructure included introducing new bins and collection services, replacing old plastic bins that had roll-top or flat lids with new metal bins that had restricted apertures and locks, creating DIY plastic reverse aperture bins and supplying food caddy liners. Communications tactics included signage in bin stores, direct mail to residents, bin tags, stickers and branded recycling bags with instructions for residents.


The headline result from the team’s work was a reduction in heavily contaminated bins from 21% to 9%. This was achieved mainly by clear, direct and predominantly pictorial communications to residents and the introduction of lockable or reverse-opening, reduced aperture bins, which reduced the amount of plastic and black bags of waste thrown into recycling bins. Elsewhere, placing bins for textiles and small electricals in indoor communal areas led to regular usage and low contamination. Food waste bins were also introduced successfully with liners provided to residents to encourage use.

“We’re delighted to have made such an impact at blocks of flats in Surrey.”

Tom Beagan
Surrey Waste Partnership

Speaking on the success of the work, Tom Beagan, Partnership Manager for the Surrey Waste Partnership, said: “We’re delighted to have made such an impact at blocks of flats in Surrey. As a result we’ve made the team permanent and promised £700,000 of investment to continue the work. The team were also thrilled to win the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee’s Team of the Year award at its annual conference.”

Now fully established, the team will be rolling out its work across the county with the aim of reaching all blocks of flats and houses of multiple occupancy. This has the potential to increase the county’s already high recycling rate by 2.4 percentage points with payback for the taxpayer expected in 18 months. There are also plans for the team to look more broadly at using similar style targeted interventions not just to flats but also to low performing areas or rounds.


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