Waste is a growing problem in London. Last year, local authorities collected more than 3.7million tonnes of waste - enough to fill 1,500 Olympic-size swimming pools. The creation, management and disposal of waste damages our environment, and the situation will only get worse as London's population grows.
"Waste will continue to rise, we will run out of space and the growth will be unsustainable," Dr Liz Goodwin, Chair of the London Waste and Recycling Board (LWARB) and guest at a meeting of the London Assembly Environment Committee, 12 July 2017.
In the next 30 years, local authorities could be collecting an extra one million tonnes of waste, equal to an extra 500,000 refuse trucks on London's roads each year. Not only does this cause congestion and air pollution at great expense to tax payers, but throwing away waste, although the norm, hampers the opportunity to use waste as a resource. What if this wasn't the norm and what if we could turn the problem of waste into a solution to help clothe, feed and house Londoners?
As part of our three-part investigation into waste management, the London Assembly Environment Committee is considering how the Mayor might help solve the problem of growing waste in the city. The first part of the investigation looked at the circular economy. In a circular economy, we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them whilst in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each product's life. You've probably come across one of these products in the last week - for example, Transport for London use surplus heat from the tube network to heat local homes.
The circular economy already shows promise in London. The Library of Things in West Norwood, for instance, offers a lending service for everyday items at a minimal cost. You can hire their popcorn or bread machine for £1 a day - great for having people over! These services not only save Londoners money but they also help the environment. During their recent estate reduction programme, the Metropolitan Police saved over £300,000 and made significant carbon savings by re-modelling their old office furniture, instead of buying new items. And that's not all, interesting examples are springing up all over London, including food-sharing apps, plastic-free supermarkets and buildings designed for multiple use.
The Mayor has said he is willing to support the circular economy. As Chair of LWARB, the Mayor recently published a Circular Economy Route Map for London. The Route Map focused on five key business areas: built environment, food, textiles, electricals and plastics. It gave clear instructions to the Greater London Authority Group (GLA Group) in how to enable the circular economy. The Mayor's draft Environment Strategy supports this, unsurprising as the environmental benefits of the circular economy complement many of the Mayor's priorities.
If we were to fully implement the circular economy in London, the potential benefits could be huge, including:
• reducing 60 per cent of London's waste by 2041
• putting London "on track" to become carbon-neutral
• creating 12,000 new jobs by 2030
• providing £7 billion net benefit to London's economy.
London is some way off yet, but there are things the Mayor could do now to help speed up the transition to a circular economy. Research carried out by the Fusion Observatory shows that only half of the 286 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) questioned throughout France, Belgium and the UK had heard of the circular economy and only half of the waste management companies questioned by the Chartered Institute of Waste Management understood the term. If we want to fully realise the benefits of the circular economy then we need to turn political willingness into action and capture the imagination and attention of these sectors. To start with, the Mayor can use the purchasing power of the GLA Group (including the Met Police and Transport for London) to procure circular economy goods and services, as well as setting a vision of London as a city where rather than trying to get rid of waste, we find a use for it, saving money and the environment, for the benefit of Londoners.