Tougher Recycling Standards for London

Mayor aiming to cut city carbon emissions

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The Mayor of London

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The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, is proposing new standards for waste management that aim to incentivise boroughs to drive down the amount of waste produced, save money and to adopt cleaner, greener recycling practices. The hope is that the measures will encourage an increase in plastics and metal recycling as well as food and garden waste composting.

To date, local authority recycling rates are based on weight, regardless of which type or quality of materials are being recycled. The new proposals will instead encourage boroughs to focus on methods which achieve the greatest reduction in greenhouse gas emissions associated with the collection, recycling and disposing of their rubbish.  For example, the new standard will be met by increasing plastics which have high levels of carbon embodied in them but are lighter in weight than other materials. Plastic is made from oil, a fossil fuel and producing aluminium for cans requires a high use of energy.

It will also aim towards no food or garden waste being landfilled as quickly as possible as these materials produce methane, a damaging greenhouse gas. The new standard will encourage less waste to cut the emissions involved with using virgin materials in manufacturing, and in the energy required to recycle them in the first place. This will emphasise the collection of high quality materials which will have a higher economic value as a profitable commodity.

These proposals, taking account of savings from avoiding emissions involved in manufacturing virgin materials and generating energy from fossil fuels - could save London 1.6 million tonnes of carbon per year and, after maximising recycling, save £90 million off the city's £4.4 billion electricity bill and £24 million off London's £2.5 billion gas bill according to figures supplied by the Mayor's office.

The detailed proposal forms part of the Mayor’s draft municipal waste strategy – ‘London’s Wasted Resource’ - which was published for recently consultation. The strategy contains proposals to work with the boroughs to boost London's recycling rates, decrease waste reduce, reuse more items, to embrace less polluting waste technologies, make more money from waste and ensure streets are cleaner ahead of 2012. It calculates that by sending no rubbish to landfill, recycling as much as possible, and extracting energy from what is left over could save the city up to £90 million per year. The Mayor has also produced a draft business waste strategy.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said: ‘My waste plans seek to maximise the economic value of London’s waste material whilst moving away from environmentally damaging methods to dispose of it. This will include funds for infrastructure to make recycling easier and to use waste to generate cleaner, more efficient energy. I also want to ensure our streets and town centres are rubbish free to improve quality of life especially as we gear up to welcome the world to London in 2012.’

Boroughs face a range of challenges in providing good quality, convenient and cost effective collection services especially for flats and multi-occupancy buildings, which account for 50 per cent of London's housing stock. The Mayor is working with the London Waste and Recycling Board (LWARB) to allocate £5 million for projects to help adapt flats to boost recycling facilities such as putting newly designed collection points near doorways or supporting changes to bin chute designs.

Another priority is to reduce the amount of still-usable items being chucked away. A London - wide reuse network is being developed to ensure people have access to organisations that repair items or help people pass items on to others - for example furniture reuse schemes or support for Freecycle or Freegle. A well resourced, coordinated and publicised network could divert up to 1.7 million reuseable household items from landfill every year, representing 40,000 tonnes of waste and saving £5million off London's annual waste bill - it could also create training opportunities and jobs. LWARB has committed at least £4million to the London Community Resource Network to help expand their existing activities and is supporting Trinity, a charity that collects unwanted but good quality furniture and sells it through its shops. Trinity's proceeds are used to house and train single homeless people, who also gain new skills working in the retail units. LWARB’s funding will go towards setting up three new outlets, which the charity estimate will help create up to 69 new employment opportunities and divert 2,000 tonnes of furniture from the waste stream.
By 2015, the Mayor wants the capital to be recycling at least 45 per cent of its municipal waste rising to 60 per cent by 2031, sending zero municipal waste to landfill by 2025. With landfill rates set to increase from current associated costs of around £250 million to £310 million by 2014, these proposals seek to help boroughs to minimise pressure on future council tax bills. A key strand of doing this involves with LWARB to fund new infrastructure to increase capacity and reduce reliance on landfill and incineration. LWARB has recently committed £4.5m to extend a recycling facility in East London which is set to create 90 jobs. It is also supporting with £8.9 million a gasification plant in east London, which will use waste to heat local homes and businesses in a greener way.

The Mayor also wants to improve Londoners' quality of life by making streets cleaner, tackling litter especially the blight of chewing gum, with a focus on making London's streets as clean as possible for 2012 with better access to 'on the go' recycling facilities. The Mayor recently hosted two summits at City Hall on the topics of chewing gum litter and street litter bringing together key parties to find solutions to the challenges of redoubling efforts to clean up the city. He also announced plans to increase litter bins in or near Tube stations by 25 per cent.

The municipal strategy covers waste collected by boroughs coming from households, some small businesses and litter from streets and parks. The cost of managing this waste is approximately £580m every year. Business waste accounts for 80 per cent of all waste generated in London and costs an estimated £2bn to manage. Boroughs are obliged to be in general conformity to the Mayor's municipal waste strategy, a statutory document.

October 21, 2010