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The University of Southampton
Geography and Environmental Science

Research project: Improving recycling in high-density housing

Currently Active: 

Strategies and Technologies for Sustainable Urban Waste Management: Project 7

Recycling in high rise buildings

 The purpose of was to:

  • Investigate household arrangements for re-use, recycling and disposal;
  • To determine the influence of cultural categories for waste and contamination that affect the selection of what is re-used, recycled or thrown away;
  • To identify the physical arrangements, practices and strategies that may help, or prevent waste reduction and recycling both at home and at the interfaces between domestic and public space;
  • To make practical recommendations for the design of interior (domestic) and exterior (public) spaces, and how public sector services for domestic waste collection are provided in order to increase the effectiveness of waste collection and improve the quality of the urban environment;

To highlight problems in the management of domestic waste that are specific to high-density and high-rise housing.

Fly-tipping near flats

The project focused upon domestic material flows in 2 areas of high-density housing:

  • An inner London housing estate of high- and low-rise buildings
  • Portsmouth, where ~90% of dwellings are classified as high- and medium-density housing

The Portsmouth project was led by Ian Williams. This study aimed to investigate and evaluate recycling arrangements in medium and high density housing. In doing so, a comprehensive understanding of recycling in practice was developed. As well as presenting some practical recommendations about the design and implementation of services, the outputs from this study resulted in a new way of framing the landscape in which recycling occurs. The case studies published take a close look at arrangements and barriers (both physical and social) to recycling in high density housing and the effectiveness of behaviour change interventions in a higher density, urban environment. They show that recycling participation is by no means uniform: it is complex, fragmented and dynamic. Headline figures can mask hotspots of change and large shifts on a household level.

Evaluating recycling arrangements

The case studies show the importance of taking a "twin track" approach: seeking to understand recycling on a macro, city-wide level, whilst recognising that households are not empty boxes, they are in themselves dynamic and bound in a wealth of social and psychological complexities. For medium and high density households the study has shown the difficulties and opportunities to achieve high levels of recycling. Significant investment is needed in order to stop the gap between the high and poor performing (in terms of recycling) widening. A new policy framework is required to stop inadvertently penalising urban (more deprived) authorities who are chasing recycling levels that may be out of reach is we pursue business as usual. To achieve truly sustainable waste management (in all households) policy shifts are needed outside the realm of control of waste managers.

One of the research outputs for this project was awarded the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) Baker Medal for 2010). The medal is awarded in recognition of services for the promotion of, or otherwise in connection with development in engineering practice, or investigation into problems with which Sir Benjamin Baker was specially identified.

Associated research themes

Centre for Environmental Sciences

Sustainable urban waste management

Related research groups

Centre for Environmental Sciences
Waste Management
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