By Nigel Deacon, National Account Director at MetroStor

Whenever I get the opportunity, I ask residents what their biggest frustrations are with the places where they live, and a large proportion will always say that they would like their bin areas improved. And I can absolutely see why; having to navigate overflowing bins, fly-tipped waste, rats and worse is a deeply negative experience for them, often on almost a daily basis.

Of course, we all know that it’s not this extreme every time in every location, but it’s worth unpacking the root causes, because to a greater or lesser extent, almost every communal bin store suffers from these four same symptoms:

  1. Lack of ownership and accountability – if other people don’t keep the area tidy there’s very little incentive for you to do so, especially when your top priorities of the day are probably securing food and heat for your family.
  2. Lack of capacity – there’s been a huge increase in waste volume in the decades since many social blocks were built, along with subsequent changes to recycling streams and collection frequencies, and there’s often not room for all the bins within the store.
  3. Poor accessibility and unsafe environment – bin stores are often located out of sight and out of mind so that residents must go a long way out of their way to use them, and they also tend to attract antisocial behaviour.
  4. Poor design and lack of maintenance – stores where users must unlock doors and enter a dark and smelly bin room to lift dirty bin-lids before they can deposit their refuse and recycling bags are hardly conducive to the outcome we’re looking for.

Managing bin areas like this soaks up an inordinate amount of time and money with additional caretaking and cleaning tasks and unscheduled cage-truck visits to remove fly-tipping and empty contaminated recycling bins. Plus, the more you do this, the more it becomes expected as a standard level of service. Sometimes it can be recharged to residents, but more often than not, it can’t.

I strongly believe that this money would be better invested in bin store improvements, it’s genuine spend-to-save. But perhaps even more importantly than this is the safety aspect.

Many recyclable materials are highly combustible and give off toxic smoke when burning, so both the bins and associated fly-tipping are a significant fire risk which escalates when they’re close to dwellings.

So, if you’ve now decided that you want to invest in bin store upgrades to bring them up to the required standard; what steps should you follow to make sure you get this right?

Here’s my top 10 tips to get you started:

  1. Capacity – calculate your weekly storage requirement using the BS5906 formula, 70L/bedroom plus 30L/flat, multiply up for the number of weeks between collections then split between refuse and recycling streams and into the right size bins as supplied by your local authority.
  2. Accessibility – find a bin store location that is within 30m of each block entrance and on a main walking route if possible and ensure that 4-wheel bins are within 10m of a dropped kerb and wheelie bins within 25m of the refuse vehicle or you’ll have to present them kerbside.
  3. Visibility – place in full view of residents’ windows if possible to increase accountability but screen or face away from passers-by as this will reduce unauthorised use.
  4. Safety – ensure that your chosen bin store location is at least 6m from any dwelling openings such as doors or windows, and if this is not possible ensure that the bins are enclosed within a structure giving 30min fire resistance. I’ve heard recently of insurers starting to insist on this.
  5. Security – while you should remove obstacles for residents as far as possible, you will sometimes need to restrict access by unauthorised users, such as when located on the street or near commercial premises, and this can be done with traditional keyed, coded and now even app-controlled locks.
  6. Ease of Use – design your store so that residents can load the bins from outside without opening doors or lifting lids, and no, I don’t mean a fenced enclosure where the whole neighbourhood can launch anything they don’t want over the top…! If you can imagine lifting the lid of a large refuse bin from a seated position while placing a bag of refuse in the bin with the other, then you’ll get this one – use bins with front openings to reduce loading height for any wheelchair users.
  7. Communication – have really clear graphic signage confirming what should and what shouldn’t be placed in each bin, where to take other items such as batteries and bulk rubbish, and how much people will be fined if they don’t.
  8. Segregation – use physical barriers wherever possible to prevent recycling streams being contaminated by refuse or incorrect recyclable items and consider providing a specific secure holding-area for bulky items awaiting collection.
  9. Beautify – making bin stores look good will encourage correct use and cleanliness, whether with natural wood finishes, laser-cut steel patterns, green-roof or planter boxes, the latter helping promote biodiversity at the same time.
  10. Enforce – unfortunately there will often be someone that refuses to comply with the instructions, but at least by following all the above steps you will have removed all the excuses and you’re now in a good position to implement appropriate enforcement measures.

Safe and effective removal of waste and recycling is fundamental in this day and age, akin to the fifth utility after gas, electricity, comms and water. So don’t accept the completely outdated status quo, don’t even complain that there’s no money. Work out what it’s costing you now – every week, month and year – and invest that amount now in a long-term solution – I promise you that your customers will thank you for it!