Circular economy needed to combat London’s falling recycling rates, says report

A circular economy could reduce London’s waste by 60 per cent by 2041 and should be implemented in order to combat falling recycling rates and face up to the waste management challenges posed by a growing population, according to a London Assembly Environment Committee report.

The report - ‘Waste: The Circular Economy’ - was released today (21 September) and reports on the state of waste and waste management in London, and calls for Mayor of London Sadiq Khan to integrate the circular economy into his final Environment Strategy in order to reduce the amount of waste generated, minimise the depletion of resources, reduce carbon emissions, create new job opportunities and boost London’s economic activity.

London’s waste situation doesn’t paint a pretty picture, with London local authorities collecting a total of 3.7 million tonnes of waste - enough to fill 1,500 Olympic-size swimming pools - while recycling rates have dropped back to 2010 levels and the total amount of waste generated has barely fallen over the past decade.

Circular economy needed to combat London’s falling recycling rates, says report
All eyes will be on City Hall as the Environment Committee calls on the Mayor to take the lead on the circular economy in London

The future doesn’t look promising if current waste trends continue. With London’s population forecast to grow to between 10-13 million people over the next 30 years, local authorities would have to collect an additional one million tonnes of waste per year if Londoners continued to produce the same amount of waste per person as they do at present, an unsustainable figure that would increase strain on stretched waste infrastructure.

The report extols the virtues of the circular economy’s capacity to utilise waste as a resource and extract maximum value from a manufactured product or material.

Potential benefits of the circular economy in London include:

  • Reducing London’s waste by up to 60 per cent by 2041;
  • Putting London ‘on track’ to become carbon-neutral;
  • Creating 12,000 new jobs by 2030; and
  • Giving a £7-billion net benefit to London’s economy.

To bring about these benefits, the Environment Committee calls on the Mayor to push for to advocate for the circular economy among businesses through an outreach programme, use the purchasing power of the Greater London Authority Group to implement a circular procurement policy, and to set a whole-city vision for the circular economy, drawing on examples from other cities such as Amsterdam, Helsinki and Paris, the latter of which recently set out ten guiding priniples for the circular economy, including setting a vision and objective and giving financial incentives to the circular economy.

Commenting on the release of the report, Environment Committee Chair, Leonie Cooper AM, said: “The way we deal with waste in London needs to change. Recycling rates have fallen, the population continues to grow, and landfill space is quickly running out.

“We acknowledge the importance of the Route Map produced by the London Waste and Recycling Board (LWARB) and we’re delighted to see importance given to the circular economy in the Mayor’s Draft Environment Strategy. Clearly we are in the early stages of change. This is further demonstrated by the growing popularity of innovative recycling websites and apps. The potential for new jobs is enormous.

“Where we go from here, however, is crucial. The Mayor needs to take a visible lead in pushing the circular economy forward. This should start with ensuring that organisations in the GLA Group procure goods and services in line with its principles. The Mayor should set a whole-city vision which includes specific milestones towards growing the circular economy. Awareness also needs to be vastly improved among London’s businesses and an outreach programme led by the Mayor would address these issues.”

Emerging circularity

While the report states the need for a transition to a circular economy in London, it does not ignore the fact that shoots of circular economy thinking are emerging in the capital, and praises the London Waste and Recycling Board’s (LWARB) Circular Economy Route Map, which sets out more than 100 practical actions for stakeholders to hasten the development of the circular economy.

LWARB will be crucial in the advancement of the circular economy and must: take a leadership role in the acceleration of the circular economy; procure goods and services in a way that develops the market for circular goods and service; incorporate the circular economy into local government strategy documents; and make the case to businesses for engaging in the circular economy, building on its work through Advance London, a support programme to help SMEs go ‘circular’.

Encouraging signs include the fact that more than 250,000 Londoners are members of the food sharing app, OLIO, and have shared some 32,999 meals, the Met procured a circular economy service during its estate reduction programme in 2015, helping to save £300,000 and make significant carbon savings, and developers at the Old Oak and Park Royal Mayoral Development Corporation are planning with the circular economy in mind, ensuring the buildings they design are adaptable and flexible for changing uses.

Furthermore, a recent ComRes survey for the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry of 569 London businesses between August and September 2017, weighted to be representative of all London businesses by company size and broad industry sector, found that 83 per cent of businesses believe that they should cooperate on waste collection to reduce their impact on congestion in the capital to create a more sustainable and pleasant city environment.

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