Bulky waste collections from flats are not always as straight forward to organise as collections from kerbside properties. This section discusses the general management of bulky waste from flats and how to improve the re-use and recycling of this waste (resource) stream.

Bulky waste is commonly defined by local authorities as "items you take with you when you move house” such as furniture, electrical appliances such as white goods, bicycles, rugs, garden furniture and other portable household items.

Waste compositional analysis (collected from a variety of sources) on bulky waste managed through local authority collection schemes has indicated that almost 30% of items could be re-used with minimal repair required (see chart one). This research did not specifically target materials collected from flats but an assessment of bulky waste arising from flats in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets indicated that around 33% of bulky waste presented for collection could be re-used.

Chart displaying potential re-use of bulky items from collections, from WRAP's bulky waste guidance
Chart one: potential re-use of bulky items from collections, from WRAP's bulky waste guidance

Protection of items following presentation for collection by residents is crucial to ensuring that items can be re-used. Communications, caretakers and managing organisations can play a vital role in protecting bulky items from flats and residents need to be encouraged to present items correctly (e.g. setting them out at only the designated time in the correct location).

This section discusses common considerations that should be taken into consideration for the management of bulky waste from flats. These include:

  • the socio-demographics of flats;
  • the correct use of collection services provided;
  • protection of items to maximise re-use and recycling opportunities; and
  • communications.

Building features of flats

Particular building features of flats can impact the management of bulky waste and should be considered when schemes are planned.

Space within the home to store bulky items prior to collection is often limited which may lead to items being placed out in advance of the collection. Items for re-use ideally need to be collected from inside or undercover. This issue can be addressed by ensuring that the time between residents requesting a collection and the collection being provided are as short as possible. This may increase the potential for items to be stored inside the property (particularly where there is no alternative undercover storage).

Collection of bulky waste from flats may cause particular challenges for manual handling if items are collected from households several floors up rather than from ground level, particularly if there is no lift available. Caretakers and collection crews need to be provided with specialist training to ensure that items are handled safely.

Access to the block or bulky waste store may be restricted and crews will require access to undertake the collection.  This might be provided by the caretaker or crews can be provided with the relevant access keys.

Flats have internal communal areas such as chute rooms, corridors, and entrance halls. Items presented in these communal areas can increase fire risk (e.g. as they are combustible and can block escape routes). This can be addressed through communications, enforcement activities and regular monitoring of communal areas by caretakers.

Bulky waste from commercial sources such as private void clearances (e.g. by private landlords) from flats within the block or building works can exacerbate issues and identifying who has set out items can be difficult, particularly if blocks of flats do not have CCTV. Caretakers can play a vital role in monitoring problem areas by reporting where the waste has originated from.


Socio-demographics within blocks of flats can influence the management of bulky waste for a variety of reasons as set out below.

Car ownership may be low (e.g. due to lack of parking provided at blocks in city centres), reducing the ability of residents to transport bulky waste to re-use and recycling centres. Even where residents do own cars, many will not have sufficient space to transport large items and often break up the items for transport preventing them from being re-useable. This means that provision of an accessible collection service for bulky items is important for ensuing that residents can dispose of the items responsibly and encourages re-use.

Flats with a high turnover of residents might generate large amounts of bulky waste from void clearances (clearance of waste from empty properties) and new tenants and landlords disposing of unwanted furniture. This brings significant opportunities for reuse and recycling of bulky items from blocks of flats.

Residents may have difficulty transporting items to the ground floor, particularly elderly or less physically able residents (a key consideration for sheltered accommodation blocks). In some blocks of flats caretakers may play a role in moving bulky items from flats to the ground floor.  Some local authorities will collect items from within the flat (and usually ask residents to sign a disclaimer against damages if providing this service).

Antisocial behaviour may be encouraged e.g. items set out may attract arson and this impacts on the health and safety residents. This can be addressed by storing items within a locked storage area.

Care for the aesthetics of communal areas may be low (particularly in rented flats) resulting in residents presenting bulky waste incorrectly (e.g. without requesting a collection service or presenting it in the wrong location).  Caretakers can monitor incorrectly set out items and work with local authorities and managing organisations to address issues e.g. through communication messages and enforcement.

Maximising re-use and recycling

General information regarding maximising re-use and recycling of bulky waste is available in WRAP’s bulky waste guidance. Particular considerations for flats are:

Storage prior to collection: items are often damaged because they are left outside before collection. To reduce this likelihood, internal storage space such as a bulky waste store should be provided if possible for reusable items to be placed in. The storage space ideally needs to be of adequate size to store the collected items without damage and to allow inspection by collection crews / a re-use organisation prior to collection. It should be secured to reduce the potential for antisocial behaviour damaging items, or items being pilfered. The number of collections that occur from inside resident properties could also be increased and the collection times by the local authority or collection partner could be reduced (e.g. while many furniture shops will offer next day delivery, local authority bulk services may need to be ordered a number of days in advance) leading to residents setting out items early.

Caretaker and resident engagement: caretakers need to be trained to assess items for re-use and in handling and storing items to help ensure that items are not damaged and are protected as soon as possible. In addition, messages that items should not be left outside until the day of collections should be reinforced to residents.

Joint contracting: local authorities and housing managing organisations could contract jointly with re-use organisations, or agree to promote the same organisation(s) to residents. This would increase economies of scale for the management of bulky waste and could simplify communications and collection arrangements

There are a number of reasons why managing organisations such as housing associations or ALMOs might want to increase the re-use of bulky items, these include:

  • improved range of services to tenants;
  • training for caretakers and increased employment opportunities e.g. volunteer placements for tenants;
  • waste disposal cost reductions;
  • reducing the cost of void clearance;
  • environmental outputs and reduced carbon footprint;
  • improved public opinion and creation of PR opportunities;
  • access to affordable goods which tackle financial exclusion;
  • reduced issues of flytipping and fire risk;
  • in line with corporate CSR; and
  • part of the contract for management  of the buildings.

Detailed information on the benefits experienced by managing organisations when working with re-use organisations is provided in a publication produced by the Furniture Re-use Network (FRN). Below are two examples taken from the publication:

Ten years ago West Kent Housing Association was collecting household items left behind by tenants and storing them to offer to new tenants who had nothing. Recognising the need to extend the re-use activity, the Furniture Project, Abacus, moved to a disused site owned by the housing association. Although initially set up solely for the benefit of West Kent tenants, the project is now open for public sales. West Kent provides back office and management support to the project. The housing association also funds the staff costs and regularly promotes the project through its tenants' newsletter. Abacus helps an average of 150 customers a month and each year 95-100 tonnes of furniture are diverted from landfill. Six tenants of West Kent have completed traineeships at Abacus and have gone into full time employment.

In 2005, Testway Housing launched a new furniture re-use scheme, Twice as Nice. When surveyed, Testway tenants said that after being allocated a property, the next thing they wanted was to be able to get hold of good quality affordable furniture. Testway wanted to reduce fly-tipping and to divert waste from landfill as well as giving customers and the wider community the chance to learn new skills and buy good low cost furniture. The project is open to the public and operates a two tier pricing system to ensure that they still meet the original objective of helping those in need. Testway Housing provides significant management and financial support to the project. 'In-kind' benefits include IT support and the supply and maintenance of computer equipment.


There are a number of ways in which bulky waste might be removed from blocks of flats by the local authority or managing organisation e.g. via:

  • the local authority’s bulky waste collection service;
  • the local authority’s fly-tipping removal service (particularly if items are presented on public land); and
  • the managing organisation’s arrangements for the removal of fly-tipping (which might include use of their own team, a private contractor or the local authority service).

During small scale surveys conducted on one estate in a London Borough 48% of residents claimed to contact the local authority when disposing of bulky items, 17% were leaving it by the chute room and 10% were informing the caretaker.  If residents make use of the local authority bulky waste collection services or partner service and these are used correctly and the service is delivered on time it could avoid items being, or appearing to be, fly-tipped There are a number of reasons why fly-tipped or incorrectly presented bulky items are undesirable. Download a summary of these [See separate download].

From the perspective of reducing fire risk, the preference will be to ensure that bulky items are cleared from communal areas quickly (recent guidance from the Local Government Association  has particularly highlighted the fire risk associated with items being presented in internal communal areas). However clear-all policies need to be considered alongside mechanisms to encourage residents (and private landlord, builders etc) to manage their waste responsibly (e.g. to address perceptions that any bulky items set out will conveniently and quickly be removed without the proper channels needing to be followed).

Managing organisations can play a vital role in ensuring that residents use bulky waste collection schemes correctly; caretakers can induct new residents, monitor the use of the scheme, play a role in enforcement where schemes are not used correctly and provide details of organisation that collect for reuse .The London Borough of Greenwich has delegated authority to managing organisations to enable them to take action against perpetrators of fly-tipping on their estates on behalf of the council , while the London Borough of Tower Hamlets has a service level agreement with a managing organisation to supply enforcement officers to patrol their estates on a daily basis. In Knowsley, Merseyside, residents are instructed to contact their caretaker to organise for items to be removed to a designated collection point at ground level.

In some cases lease holders are recharged for the collection of fly-tipping on the estates through their service charge and managing organisations may withhold benefits like garages as a deterrent/punishment against fly-tipping.

Having designated collection points for bulky waste items can also assist with reducing fly-tipping by providing residents with agreed locations to leave items prior to collection.  This also provides caretakers with locations to move items that have been placed out incorrectly to and means that collection crews do not have to spend time trying to identify the location of items presented for collection which helps to reduce service inefficiencies. Items set out away from these areas can then be a focus of monitoring to identify incorrectly presented waste and waste from commercial sources.

Monitoring bulky waste collections for flats

General information about monitoring bulky waste collections is included in WRAP’s guidance on bulky waste. This section discusses some indicators that are particularly important to consider for bulky waste collections from flats and the reasons for this.

The following indicators can be monitored by accompanying crews on sample rounds. This monitoring can be considered for local authority collections as well as any collections operated by the managing organisation:

The number of locations collected from: this is important to understand the efficiency of collections e.g. if bulky waste is presented at the ground level by the caretaker or resident the scheme will operate less efficiently if the crews have to spend time trying to locate items. This is more of an issue for blocks of flats than kerbside properties since the address information relating to the ordered collection will not necessarily be the same as the collection point. Assessing the collection locations can help identify whether any designated collection points are being used correctly and whether call centre procedures effectively communicate to the crews the point of collection.

Compliance of crews with collection procedures: it is particularly important to understand if crews are complying with health and safety procedures within blocks of flats if items are being carried down stairs. Whether they notify the depot when they cannot access or find items is also important as this could result in collections being missed and items attracting antisocial behaviour and contributing to fire risk.

The type, suspected origin and re-use/recycling potential of items collected: the origin of items collected from blocks of flats is likely to vary from those collected from the kerbside, for example it may include waste from void clearance by private landlords or waste from builders undertaking works on site. The type, amount and presentation of waste can be used to estimate its origin. Understanding the origin of items is important for identifying and addressing issues, for example, if large amounts of wood waste are set out it might indicate  that waste is being fly-tipped by builders. Processes can then be put in place to enforce against this fly-tipping. The Furniture Recycling Network (FRN) has produced an extensive list of items that are collected through a bulky waste collection service. The types of items (e.g. chair, table, lawn mower) collected through the services assessed can be classified in accordance with FRN’s list. This list allocates an average weight to each item which can be used to estimate the weight of each type of bulky waste arising. Understanding the weight of materials and the amount that can be reused or recycled is important for setting targets for reuse and recycling and identifying the resources required (e.g. space required for storage of wood at the transfer station).

Damage to items: damage to items e.g. from antisocial behaviour or exposure to the elements can help to identify whether on site procedures for managing bulky waste are effective; whether the role of the caretaker and the management of the bulky waste store are protecting items from damage prior to collection

Customer and service management system records for the local authority and managing organisation can be analysed to provide information on:

  • The time between a resident making a request and the date of actual collection. This is important since storage space in flats is limited and if collections are not made rapidly the items may be more likely to be set out early or fly-tipped.
  • Items that are deemed to be fly-tipped and removed by the local authority and managing organisation. This is important for flats due to the potential for items set out for collection to be mistaken for fly-tipping, and since some blocks may be prone to fly-tipping from other sources (e.g. void clearance by private landlords). Understanding the number, type and weight of bulky items removed as fly-tipping will help to understand the resources spent on managing this waste and whether enforcement and communication activities are effective.
  • Reasons why collections were not completed: it is important to understand why collections were not completed in order to gain an understanding of service issues. For flats this might include a lack of access to the building or bulky waste store, or because items have been mistakenly removed as fly-tipping. These issues can then be addressed to increase service efficiency.

Surveys and focus groups with residents and caretakers can be used to identify if they are aware of the correct disposal routes for bulky items and if items are being managed correctly according to these disposal routes.

Communicating collection schemes

Joint working with managing organisations is extremely important for consistent messaging regarding management of bulky waste for blocks of flats. Problems might arise if local authority communications are not tailored to blocks of flats. As an example instructing residents to leave items out the night before collection or outside their property could cause serious problems in flats and could contradict managing organisation policies.

Harmonising messaging and developing a joint communications plan with managing organisations can have real benefits for both the local authority and managing organisation. Through harmonisation comprehensive communications can be achieved e.g. by ensuring that all caretakers receive training in the management of bulky waste, messaging to private landlords wanting to dispose of void waste is consistent, and that local communication channels such as managing organisation newsletters and poster boards are used to communicate schemes.

Good communications can help reduce the incidences of items that have been booked for a collection being removed by fly-tipping clearance service. Eye-catching stickers, labels or reference numbers can be provided to residents to attach to the items to show that they have been booked and the anticipated date / time of collection to address this to some extent, although this requires and additional administrative process and logistically labelling items can be difficult.

The Furniture Re-use Network (FRN)  identified examples of communications via managing organisations increasing re-use of bulky waste:

  • East Homes has successfully integrated information on their local furniture re-use project into tenant sign up processes.  Information on the local furniture project is inserted into every sign up pack.  As the organisation recognises that staff engagement is fundamental to a successful service, workshops are conducted annually for front line staff. Front line housing staff, in regular contact with tenants, need to be fully aware of their local furniture re-use service and have information to hand to complete immediate referrals for tenants.
  • One Housing Group has developed a formal partnership with LCRN to increase the number of tenants benefiting from access to furniture re-use.  It is also supporting the development of training and employment opportunities at the projects most accessible to its tenants.  The association actively promotes the furniture re-use network.  The first mail-out to promote the scheme that One Housing Group undertook received responses from over 130 residents interested in buying or donating furniture and 107 referrals were made in the first eight months.

Residents are another key stakeholder. As outlined in WRAP’s guidance on increasing recycling through effective communications, the Defra 4Es model should be used as a basis for planning behaviour change programmes.

The 4Es can be used as a basis to encourage behaviour change for bulky waste for residents within blocks of flats:

Enable is about removing barriers faced by residents when trying to use a service, providing them with relevant information and training those involved in the service so that they all provide consistent and correct information to residents. In order to do this, authorities need to identify the barriers that residents face when trying to dispose of bulky waste through focus groups or surveys. Barriers might include:

  • operational constraints such as the waiting time prior to collection being too long;
  • awareness constraints e.g. residents being unaware who to contact to organise re-use of items; and
  • behavioural barriers e.g. a perception that it is easier to dump the items on the estate as it gets cleared any way. 

Engage is about getting residents involved and helping them to take responsibility for the actions they take. It also empowers residents and gives them the sense that they can influence a service that they use. Since mismanagement of bulky items can affect the local environment and quality of life residents may be willing to develop a “neighbourhood agreement” (also referred to as community contracts or local charters). Neighbourhood agreements are voluntary agreements between local service providers and residents that set out standards of service and priorities for action, as well as any commitments that residents have taken upon themselves.

Encourage is about penalties, rewards and recognition. This might include enforcement activities against fly-tipping / incorrect set out of bulky waste or positive feedback about achievements in re-use such as the number of households that have been provided with new low cost items. Give and take days for the block of flats could give residents an opportunity to benefit from re-use.

Exemplify is about demonstrating the local authority’s and managing organisation’s commitment to responsible handling of bulky waste and reusing bulky waste.  Managing organisations can increase re-use of bulky waste items through their own operations e.g. through re-use and recycling of bulky waste from void clearances. This can be an important way of exemplifying re-use to residents.  These activities can be supported by local authorities, for example, the North London Waste Disposal Authority is currently developing a menu of service options for managing organisations to divert waste to re-use and recycling. 

Other stakeholders who may need to be engaged in communications regarding bulky waste include:

  • The fire brigade: who may be involved in communications regarding avoidance of arson and fire risk related to bulky items. They may also have a communications budget that could support local authority and managing organisation budgets.
  • Enforcement teams: who may need to be communicated with regarding enforcement against fly-tipping and correct use of bulky waste collection schemes.
    Caretakers and collection crews: who will need to understand their role in managing bulky waste and protecting items for re-use.
  • The Housing Department: who may be able to help promote a service within their resident newsletters/publications.
  • The contact centre: who can assess the re-use and recycling potential of items when residents request a collection and signpost residents to appropriate services / re-use outlets.
  • Private landlords: who need to be informed about their responsibilities for  conducting void clearances responsibly and who can communicate with their tenants regarding appropriate collection avenues for bulky waste.
  • Local re-use organisations: who may provide collection services.
  • Social services and other care organisations.
  • Organisations such as Keep Britain Tidy: who produce communication materials and support activities to help reduce fly-tipping and encourage proper management of bulky waste.

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