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Making recycling work for people in flats: image of three large recycling bins

Resource London research finds common-sense solutions improve recycling rates in flats by a quarter

28 January 2020

new report published today by Resource London shows that actions such as cleaning up dirty, dark bin areas, making sure bins are emptied regularly, and ensuring bins can take a full bag of recyclables, improve recycling behaviour in flats.

  • Pilots run across London have shown that the introduction of a consistent package of measures (the ‘Flats Recycling Package’) helped tenants on 12 Peabody estates to recycle more
  • Over a nine-month intervention period, there was a 22% increase in capture rates (from 38.2% to 46.8%) and a 26% increase in recycling rates (from 10.7% to 13.4%)
  • There was also an improvement in the contamination rate which decreased by 24% (from 30.7% to 23.4%)
  • Resource London is now working with councils and housing associations in London to get the Flats Recycling Package introduced

The project, run in partnership with Peabody and six London local authorities, was set up to tackle low recycling from flats, and found in its early waste composition analysis that recycling rates on the 12 pilot estates were less than a third of the overall London recycling rate (c.10% vs. a London rate of 33%). Flats present a particular challenge in London, as purpose-built flats make up 37% of London’s residential accommodation – and nearly all new-build properties in London are purpose-built flats. By 2030 nearly half (46%) of London households will live in purpose-built flats[1].

Speaking about the findings, Antony Buchan at Resource London said:

We ran this project quite simply because we need to increase recycling rates in flats. The results speak for themselves: this package of measures improves recycling behaviour. We are working with councils across London now to implement the recommendations. Achieving waste and recycling targets in London means we all have to do our bit; and our findings show that residents are ready and willing to recycle if the conditions are right.

Delivered by Resource London – a partnership between the London Waste and Recycling Board (LWARB) and WRAP – this two-year project is the most comprehensive of its kind. The pilots aimed to better understand the barriers to recycling for people living in purpose-built flats and identify practical solutions that could be rolled out by housing providers, building managers and waste teams.

The project’s own ethnographic research with residents found that those barriers are complex, but that effective recycling is only achieved when residents are motivated to do it, when they understand what they can and can’t recycle, and if it’s made easy for them. So a set of five behavioural interventions to address motivation, understanding and ease were developed and implemented on ten of the twelve estates, in addition to the Flats Recycling Package (which was delivered as a control on all twelve estates).

The Package however had overwhelmingly the biggest impact on capture rates, and the five behavioural interventions simply enhanced those results in different ways, on different estates.

Peabody’s Chief Executive, Brendan Sarsfield, commented:

Peabody is committed to working with our residents to improve our local environments. We’ve been part of the design and delivery of this project, have learned a great deal from it and have already started to implement some of the recommendations from the report. I firmly believe that housing providers should recognise that they have a pivotal role to play in improving the existing low recycling performance of flats, and Resource London’s report should help us all to do just that.

Improving recycling rates is a priority for London where the Mayor and 26 London boroughs (at the time of writing) have declared a climate emergency. 

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

The Mayor and I welcome the recommendations of this report. Immediate action is needed to make it easier for people in flats to recycle, both to hit the Mayor’s targets and to ensure every Londoner can access good recycling services, wherever they live. I’m encouraging all councils to follow these recommendations – particularly those around the measures in the ‘Flats Recycling Package’, which complement the Mayor’s minimum standard for recycling services for every household.

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said:

Congratulations to Resource London on this highly successful scheme to help people living in the capital recycle more of their waste. This kind of innovation will help us deliver on the aims of our landmark Resources and Waste Strategy, which sets out how we will go further and faster to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Our new Environment Bill will also allow us to stipulate the core materials which must be collected for recycling from households, including blocks of flats, such as plastics, glass and paper. I hope this report can help other local authorities to ramp up the quality and quantity of materials they collect from blocks of purpose-built flats for recycling.

Cllr Julian Bell, Chair of London Councils’ Transport and Environment Committee, said:

Helping Londoners living in flats to recycle more is a challenge that London boroughs take very seriously. We know that our residents want to reduce their impact on the environment and where you live should not be a barrier to doing that. Resource London’s research provides valuable evidence of effective strategies that will guide councils and housing associations in their work to change behaviour among residents and improve recycling services.

Dan Jones, Chair of the London Environment Directors’ Network (LEDNet) and Director of Public Realm at Tower Hamlets, said:

LEDNet is pleased to welcome this innovative research, which has sought to identify robust, evidence-led approaches to increasing recycling from flats. In London boroughs, recycling rates in flats remains low, despite many efforts to increase participation and reduce contamination. LEDNet members look forward to working with LWARB to support uptake of these interventions across London.

The report outlining the results of the project has been published today (28th January 2020) on the Resource London website, along with a set of case studies from the estates involved. A toolkit to help others implement the report’s recommendations will be available by March 2020.


For more information:

Contact Alice Jaffe ( on 0207 403 22330

The ‘Flats Recycling Package’ and the behavioural interventions:

The ‘Flats Recycling Package’ consists of:

  • Clean, well-maintained bins and bin areas
  • Adequate collections to stop overflows, and enough recycling capacity (min 60l/hh/wk)
  • Big enough apertures on recycling bins to accept plastic bags of recycling
  • Bins with locked reverse-opening lids
  • Collection of the six main recyclable materials
  • Clear and visible signage on and above the bins
  • Recycling bins conveniently located for residents
  • Recycling leaflet sent to residents once a year
  • Posters highlighting recycling messages displayed in a central location (where possible)
  • Clear information for residents about what they should do with large items like fridges, sofas etc.

Five behavioural interventions were also developed to tackle ease, understanding and motivation barriers amongst residents:

  1. Additional small recycling bins in convenient locations – to make it easier for residents to recycle
  2. Emotive signage on or around residual waste bins
  3. Feedback posters giving localised news and recycling information and changed regularly to catch residents’ attention
  4. In-home storage solution – a pack of plastic bags and hooks for storing recycling at home, with additional bags available from dispensers near entrances to each block
  5. Tenant pack from the landlord telling residents what recycling behaviour is expected of them as Peabody tenants

Capture rates vs recycling rates:

We chose to use capture rate as the primary measure of success for this study. ‘Recycling rate’ is a proportion of the total waste produced at an estate and therefore can be skewed by other factors; whereas ‘capture rate’ – the proportion of a target material that has been collected relative to the total amount of that material in collections overall – gives a more accurate indication of whether residents are putting the correct items in the correct bin. Capture rate is not influenced by the quantity of the targeted material or the amount of the non-target materials.

About Resource London

Resource London was established in 2015 as a jointly funded partnership between London Waste and Recycling Board (LWARB) and the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) to maximise the resources of both organisations for the benefit of London. The aim of the programme is that by 2020 London will have more harmonised, consistent and efficient waste and recycling services that will:

  • Reduce the city’s waste footprint and reinvigorate recycling to make a significant contribution towards the Mayor’s ambition for London to achieve 65% recycling by 2030; and
  • Make a significant contribution towards England achieving its 50% household waste recycling target by 2020.

In 2017-18, Resource London established a new three-year, £1million flats initiative to reinvigorate London’s household recycling efforts for residents living in purpose-built flats, specifically targeting housing estates and large blocks of social housing.


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 LWARB works to ensure that London’s businesses, local government and communities thrive by helping them make the very best use of resources and materials.

About WRAP

WRAP is a not for profit organisation founded in 2000 which works with governments, businesses and citizens to create a world in which we source and use resources sustainably. Our impact spans the entire lifecycle of the food we eat, the clothes we wear and the products we buy, from production to consumption and beyond.

About Peabody

Peabody is one of London’s oldest and largest housing associations. It has been creating opportunities for Londoners since 1862, when it was established by the American banker and philanthropist, George Peabody. The organisation owns and manage around 66,000 homes, providing affordable housing for over 111,000 people. This is set to grow through new housing developments across London. As well as bricks and mortar, Peabody provides a wide range of community programmes, including help with employment and training, health and wellbeing projects and family support programmes. They also provide care and support services to around 17,500 people.

About London Councils

London Councils represents London’s 32 boroughs and the City of London Corporation. It is a cross-party organisation that works on behalf of all of its member authorities regardless of political persuasion. More about London Councils here:

Boroughs involved in the project

Camden; Hackney; Lambeth; Tower Hamlets; Westminster; Islington.

[1] GLA housing projections 2017

[2] List of councils that have declared a climate emergency. Available at:

[3] Local authority collected waste management – annual results. Available at:

[4] London Environment Strategy. Available:

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