Chutes in most buildings are designed for residents to dispose of refuse but there are a number of options for the collection of recycling which are discussed in this section.

1. Dedicated chute recycling schemes

In blocks of flats where there is more than one chute, a chute or several chutes can be dedicated to the collection of recyclables with any remaining chutes being used for refuse disposal.  In blocks of flats where there is only one chute, it may be possible to build an extra chute within the building or as an external element to the building. 

Generally the refuse and recycling chutes will be located side by side so that recycling is easy for residents and the likelihood of contamination is reduced.

Signage and paint is used on the chute doors to indicate to residents that the chute should be used for recycling. It should also be used at the base of the chute so that caretakers and collection crews know which chute the recycling containers should be positioned under.

Containers at the base of the chute need to be rotated as they become full. Residents may be given reusable bags or small single use bags to contain and transport their recyclable materials.

2. Mechanical chute recycling schemes

Mechanical chute recycling systems usually have a lever or control panel next to or on the chute door at each level of the building. This moves a mechanism that guides recycling or refuse into the correct collection containers at the bottom of the chute. For example containers may rotate on a platform beneath the chute or a basket may catch materials at the base of the chute and drop them into the correct container. An electronic system is usually used to ensure that chute doors at each level remain locked until residents have chosen a disposal option. 

Mechanical chute systems can be retrofitted to existing refuse chutes but are generally easier to introduce in new developments.

3. Vacuum chute schemes

Vacuum chute systems create a vacuum to draw materials to a central location meaning that instead of collecting materials from multiple different areas the collection vehicle only has to visit one location.

In the Envac system sacks of waste, dry recyclable materials or food waste are put into separate chute apertures and are temporarily stored in the chute on top of a discharge valve. At regular intervals a control system automatically switches on fans which create a vacuum in the network of pipes.  Discharge valves below each of the chutes are opened and sacks fall by gravity into a horizontal network of pipes. The three material streams are vacuumed at separate times of the day ensuring materials are kept separate and only one system of pipes needs to be laid.  The vacuum that has been created pulls sacks to a central collection point via a pre-filter that separates the sacks from the air.  Sacks fall into a compactor while the transport air passes through a silencer and dust and deodorant filters.

These systems are most suited to being built into new developments.

4. Other chute recycling schemes

It may be possible to introduce other types of chute recycling schemes depending on local circumstances. For example if the correct processing infrastructure is available it may be possible to provide residents with thick survival bags. These can then be put down the same chute as refuse and sorted later at a recovery facility. 

Residents could be consulted about the potential to use a single chute for recycling and refuse at different times of the week, a scheme like this launched in Tamworth in 2011. The caretaker or collection crews need to make sure the correct containers are under the chute at the correct time, and communications need to be clear so that residents understood which day and/or time was for which materials.

Equipment that may be needed

  • containers for residents to store and transport recycling;
  • signage and paint to communicate which chute should be used for recycling;
  • recycling containers for the base of the chute;
  • information packs for the crew, caretakers and call centre staff;
  • communication materials for residents;
  • collection vehicle;
  • locks for the door to the chute room to control access to the base of the chute;
  • mechanical chute systems will require the mechanical addition for the base of the chute and supporting equipment (e.g. electronics for the chute doors, an electrical isolator to ensure that work can take place on the chute without affecting the electricity supply to the rest of the building and lighting for the chute chamber to assist maintenance work).

Find out more about equipment used for flats collection schemes.

Typical performance of chute systems

There is little data and information available on their performance, as they are not yet widely used in the UK. As such, WRAP cannot provide an average performance tonnage for chute recycling systems.

This page will be updated when more schemes come in line and more data is available. If you have such a scheme in place with data to share, please email WRAP.

Download a table comparing the performance of different recycling systems for flats.

What’s good about chute recycling schemes?

  • can be easy to communicate and for residents to use;
  • potential for systems to be built into new developments and to introduce schemes in existing buildings (e.g. dedicated chute schemes in blocks with more than one chute and fitting of mechanical additions to existing chutes);
  • potential for blockages of chutes to be reduced by providing residents with small bags for recycling;
  • revenue and capital costs can be low (for dedicated and survival sack chute systems);
  • lower fire risk than collection schemes where containers are placed in corridors;
  • manual handling minimal; and
  • little involvement from caretaker needed.

What problems could there be?

  • difficult to identify households which are contaminating recycling;
  • chute blockages may cause problems such as contamination and dumping of materials and refuse in corridors next to chute doors;
  • some types of chute schemes are likely to be unsuitable for food waste collection as chutes would require frequent and intensive cleaning;
  • difficult to amend schemes once chutes are installed;
  • space required at base of chute for collection containers (and possibly mechanical equipment);
  • most suited to co-mingled recycling;
  • arrangements may need to be made for residents that do not have access to the chute doors (e.g. households on the ground floor that do not use communal areas). Residents should not be encouraged to bring materials to containers under the chute due to the risk of injury from falling refuse/recycling;
  • mechanical chute schemes are relatively untested in UK and require ongoing maintenance; and
  • dedicated chute schemes can be difficult to introduce as multiple chutes side by side are rare in existing buildings.

How could different building types affect collections?

  • most premises that have been converted into flats are unlikely to have an existing chute in the building;
  • chute schemes are usually easiest to plan into new developments rather than to retrofit into existing buildings;
  • in older blocks of flats chutes are likely to be narrow and prone to blockages; and
  • chute schemes generally require maintenance so are best suited to blocks with a caretaker regularly on site.

Top tips

Mechanical chute schemes and building new chutes can involve high capital costs. This might have a financial impact on residents that own the lease to their flat and have to pay for building works. Consultation times may also be affected. Find out more information about statutory consultation visits.

The cost per household of improvements (mechanical chute schemes and new chutes) can vary significantly depending on the number of households per building. The best value will be obtained in blocks with many households and few chutes.

Chute recycling schemes can be easier to include in new developments than to retrofit in existing properties. Planning obligations such as Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 can be used to ensure provision for recycling is made before planning permission for new estates is granted.

Islington Council recently trialled a dedicated chute recycling scheme in blocks of flats where refuse and recycling chutes are located some distance apart.  The scheme was launched after an intensive consultation and communications exercise and, aside from a minor issue with contamination at the start of the scheme, is reported to be working well.  Resident surveys in different blocks show that:

  1. Most people found out about the scheme through leaflets that were delivered.  Residents also found signage at the chute effective in communicating the scheme.
  2. Between 74 and 100% of people questioned in different blocks found the scheme more convenient than bring banks and a similar percentage were happy with the new scheme
  3. Over 70% of people in all blocks said they were more likely to recycle now the new scheme was in place

Want to know more?

  • Read more about basic criteria that could be taken into account when assessing the feasibility of chute schemes for a particular block.
  • Download a case study about dedicated and mechanical chute recycling scheme in the London Borough of Islington.
  • Download a case study about a timed chute recycling scheme operating in Tamworth.
  • Read a CIWM article about a vacuum chute system at Wembley.
  • View more information about statutory consultation visits.
  • Read detailed instructions of works needed to reassign refuse chutes to recycling.  This works detail was used by Islington Council to assist the launch of their chute recycling scheme.  Also read the letter sent to residents to introduce the new scheme.



Re-use and recycling