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If I Was Elected Mayor

If I was the mayor I wouldn't collect the rubbish anymore. My election manifesto would be built round the slogan "there's no such thing as rubbish" and from day one of being elected I'd be talking to the bin men with new instructions.

If I was the mayor I wouldn't collect the rubbish anymore. My election manifesto would be built round the slogan "there's no such thing as rubbish" and from day one of being elected I'd be talking to the bin men with new instructions.

I'd call a meeting with everyone involved in waste disposal, as well as the media and anyone else who wanted to come. Kids and students would be especially welcome as they'd be the most likely to understand what I had to say and would be the most efficient at spreading the word. We might have to use a stadium.

This is what I'd say:

Thank you for electing me to run your great city. I am both humbled and inspired by your faith in me and will not let you down. I'm not a member of a political party and am not for sale, so if don't bother trying to give me a bribe or I'll call the police.

All those who voted for me know what I promised to do -- to end the current system of waste disposal -- but many of you who work in this sector are resisting my demand to end the reign of rubbish. But the people have spoken and if you want to keep your jobs you'll have to adapt to a city where there is no such thing as rubbish.

What is rubbish? Plastic is made from oil. Paper is made from wood. Glass is made from sand. And food waste can be transformed into natural fertiliser. Why do we spend so much energy in making this stuff and then throw it away?

But don't worry about your jobs. We still need people to drive round the houses and collect all those materials that people don't need anymore. We still need people to set up and run upcycling centres; people to organise the logistics, the economics and the communication.

Many of you may be wondering what was the problem with the old system? Why fix it if it ain't broke? There's no rubbish on the streets? These are good questions that need a convincing answer.

The problem is that we're creating more and more waste and despite all the initiatives to recycle there is far too much waste being mixed up and wasted. Not only does it cost a lot -- a quarter of my budget goes on carrying your waste to landfill -- but it pollutes the earth, water and sky.

All politicians agree that it has to stop and there have been hundreds of initiatives to cut back on waste but it's just not working. And it won't work until we change the way that we behave. If you go into any fast food shop, or big building, you'll see people throwing away all sorts of valuable resources.

Let's take the example of a paper cup, the type used by Starbucks and McDonalds. Each one of these cups is an engineering marvel that has involved some of the best brains on the planet. We call them paper cups but they are made of cardboard, wax, plastic and paint. They're rigid, tough, heat resistant, waterproof and elegant. And what do we do with them? Throw them in the bin.

And it doesn't end there. I'm really interested in rubbish and every time I pass Starbucks I look through their transparent sacks and see scores of these cups -- they take up a huge amount of space relative to their size. And if they get crushed up in the bin van there is no chance they can be separated and used again.

And it's the same story for plastic bottles and product packaging; vast amounts of oil and wood and other raw materials are wasted on producing all this voluminous stuff that ends up in a hole in the ground.

I hope you're still paying attention at the back there. I won't talk much longer. I mentioned upcycling a few times and I'm guessing that some of you don't know what it means. You will have all heard of recycling and if you've read my manifesto you'll know that recycling is dead. It's a false promise. To explain more I need to discuss the paper cup again.

How can you recycle a paper cup that has been made with wax, paint, plastic and cardboard? How do you separate all the component parts? The truth is that we don't. If all gets what we call downcycled, in other words mixed up with similar stuff and turned into lower grade material. So the paper cup, which is made out of top quality material, can be recycled is turned into low grade cardboard. What's the point of that? No wonder that so many councils end up burying mountains of good material in the ground (landfill) or just burning it. They can't see another way.

I have a method of turning this problem into a solution -- and it's called upcycling -- and we are the first city in the world to put it into practice, with your help.

What is upcycling? It's when a waste product is taken apart and all the component parts are used exactly as they were initially. A good way to illustrate this is a car door, which is made from top grade steel. But recovering that high grade steel is extremely difficult because there are so many layers of paints and other chemicals and getting them off is complex and expensive. Much easier to just melt it down -- downcycle it -- into lower grade steel. What a waste.

From now on every company that manufactures anything in this city will have to stamp a code onto it so that our upcycling teams -- you lot -- will know how to take it apart and sell it on. Every cafe, shop and retail outlet will have to have these codes on everything they sell or pay a new tax we're going to introduce. If the manufacturer isn't willing to add the code I'm sure a local producer will be happy to take over the supply.

But none of this can happen if you lot don't tell everyone that it's for real. It's a revolution and as soon as we prove how much money this can generate the rest of the world will pay attention.

And when we have solved the waste disposal problem we will turn our attention to all those other areas where vast amounts of our money are being wasted, contributing to global warming and the destruction of our planet: insulating our buildings properly (slashing heating bills); beating our addiction to petrol and diesel; generating all our energy right here in town; growing all our food in a 50 mile radius. All this will make our city resilient to the man-made and natural disasters that are heading our way.

That's enough from me. Now it's up to you. Go and make this work. We will change our city and then the world.

The book which inspired me to write this article/speech is about upcycling and it's called Cradle to Cradle. It will change the way you think about rubbish and recycling. Another inspiring book is The Transition Handbook which describes a city that can become self sufficient in terms of energy and food; the resilient city. In my view this is the only way to save ourselves.

This article was also published on my blog.