Mayor promises ‘a greener, cleaner London’

Sadiq KhanSadiq Khan, the Labour candidate who was elected Mayor of London last week, has promised to make the capital ‘one of the world’s greenest cities’ through measures including ‘reinvigorat[ing] efforts to increase the amount London recycles’.

His pre-election manifesto, ‘Sadiq Khan for London: A Manifesto for all Londoners’, highlights several priorities relating to the environment, including restoring London’s air quality to ‘legal and safe levels’, making travel greener through pedestrianising Oxford Street and building more segregated cycle routes, and protecting the green belt. He has also set an ambitious goal of making London a ‘zero carbon city’ by 2050 through reviving the city’s clean-energy sector.

Writing in the introduction to the section ‘A Greener, Cleaner London’, Khan claimed that the city’s environmental credentials went from world-leading to ‘mediocre at best’ under the outgoing Conservative administration, adding: ‘I want to be the Mayor who makes London one of the world’s greenest cities. Environmental checks are not simply a side concern to be weighed up against economic and social benefits.

‘A greener future is central to my vision for London, to the kind of city I want my children to live in. I want, for all of our children, a city in which the air is clean, green space is accessible, and the energy we consume is increasingly drawn from renewable and local sources. And I want them to work in an economy which leads the world in the new low-carbon technologies and industries that represent the jobs and businesses of the future.’

Promise to ‘reinvigorate’ recycling

Waste and recycling also received a mention in Khan’s manifesto, albeit briefly and without specific action points, with the new mayor saying London ‘needs to up its game on resource efficiency’, and promising to ‘reinvigorate’ recycling efforts.

In the subsection on ‘Making London a low-carbon beacon’, Khan said he will ensure ‘we get back on track with hitting the 65 per cent [recycling] target by 2030, including seeing waste as an opportunity to create jobs in reuse, repair, remanufacturing and materials innovation’. He also promised to set an example and ‘lead on reducing the city’s waste footprint, working to increase recycling and cut the amount London sends to landfill’.

Recycling in the capital

Recycling rates in London, as in many other major cities, are typically lower than the national average. Indeed, according to WRAP statistics, in 2013/14, when the rest of England recycled 42.6 per cent of its waste, the recycling rate in London was just shy of 30.5 per cent.

The recycling rate varies significantly from authority to authority, though (and there are nearly 40 different local or waste authorities with some sort of responsibility for recycling in different parts of the city), with the London Borough of Bexley recycling 55.2 per cent of its waste in 2013/14 and 54 per cent in 2014/15, while Westminster City Council managed just 21.1 per cent in 2013/14 and 19 per cent a year later.

Variations in waste collection systems have come under increasing scrutiny lately, following the UK Resource Minister Rory Stewart’s declaration at last year’s Conservative Party Conference that he wanted a solution to householder confusion, specifically highlighting the ‘Berlin Walls’ on London streets caused by differing collection systems in neighbouring boroughs.

Since then, the minister has set up the Harmonisation and Consistency Working Group, chaired by the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP), which is expected to publish ‘a vision for greater consistency in collections’ this summer.

More recently, during the mayoral campaigning, environmental groups, including the National Trust, WWF, RSPB and Greenpeace, called for the next Mayor of London to harmonise the 20 different recycling systems across London as part of their ‘Greener London’ report. The report noted that London’s low recycling rate is ‘not helped by the fact’ that there are currently 20 different recycling collection systems, with boroughs independently deciding on their approaches to recycling. It added that London’s 50 per cent recycling target for 2020 is ‘out of reach’, unless the recycling and food waste collection regimes are harmonised across the city.

Asked if responsibility for waste and recycling should be centralised in London at Green Alliance’s Greener London hustings ahead of the election, however, Sadiq Khan, along with the other candidates, said it was ‘unrealistic’ to have only one collection system across the capital. He added: “What the mayor can do is make sure, for example, that there are no more incinerators… [and] work with London councils, the 32 council leaders, to make sure that we have ambitious targets to recycle… [and] work with local authorities to make sure that when tendering contracts… they get a good deal when it comes to dealing with refuse.”