London’s waste services suffer ‘minimal’ Covid-19 impacts

The policy and programmes manager for waste and the green economy at the Greater London Authority (GLA) says Covid-19’s impact on waste services in the capital has been “minimal”.

A deserted Piccadilly Circus at the height of the first lockdown in April 2020 (picture: Shutterstock)

Andrew Dunwoody spoke about the capital’s waste services at letsrecycle.com’s London Conference at 41 Portland Place yesterday (26 April).

The GLA is the devolved regional governance body of Greater London and consists of the mayor, Sadiq Khan, and the 25-member London Assembly.

Mr Dunwoody said the mayor was “incredibly proud” of how the waste sector responded to the pandemic.

“Obviously, the pandemic and the following lockdown brought a lot of uncertainty and a lot of worry about what that would mean for waste services,” Mr Dunwoody said.

“[There was] a lot of concern that there would be a lot of waste building up and going for long periods uncollected, but that never really came to pass.

“I think that’s testament to the hard work and dedication of local authorities, waste authorities, and the crews on the ground as well.”

Pandemic

Mr Dunwoody said the mayor, the GLA, and London-based recycling board ReLondon worked together during the pandemic to support the “whole waste management process” within the capital.

(l-r) Matthew Homer, waste strategy manager at Islington council, chaired the session, which included talks from ReLondon’s Anthony Buchan, the GLA’s Andrew Dunwoody, and ELWA’s Andrew Lappage

He said they looked at trying to encourage capacity sharing and provided peer support networks and communications toolkits for the different London boroughs.

Mr Dunwoody acknowledged that some boroughs had seen delays to actions under their respective reduction and recycling plans, but again he described the impact as “minimal”.

He said: “Boroughs and authorities were all very stretched and distracted by supporting the lockdown, but we were very pleased they managed to maintain a lot of momentum in waste reduction and recycling.

“I think that’s put us in a really good place to be able to maintain that momentum and continue to see improvements in waste minimisation and the transition towards circularity post-pandemic.”

Vision

Andrew Lappage, managing director of the East London Waste Authority (ELWA), also spoke at the conference, on the challenges ahead for London’s waste services.

It’s about guarding against just focusing on improving what we have now

Andrew Lappage, ELWA

He said recycling at flats was an issue which was “only getting bigger”, with some 80% of new developments being flats.

Mr Lappage said the key to improving waste management across London was to ensure that there was a vision for what the capital wanted to achieve at regional, sub-regional and local levels.

He said: “It’s about guarding against just focusing on improving what we have now rather than stopping to think what else might be possible.”

He suggested regulatory changes such as the introduction of extended producer responsibility for packaging and the deposit return scheme, along with the potential extension of the emissions trading scheme into parts of the waste industry, could have a “significant bearing” on the approach of London councils.

However, Mr Lappage added: “I think it’s fair to say that the nuts and bolts of the services to residents are pretty much in place across London and the challenge is about how we persuade people to use them both regularly and correctly.”

Consumption

Anthony Buchan, who leads ReLondon’s local authority support work, concluded the session by speaking on the future of consumption in London.

ReLondon is currently mapping the flows of materials including food, textiles, plastics, and electronics across London.

Mr Buchan said his organisation had finished mapping food and had found that 99% was produced outside the city limits.

London has been a strategic partner of circular economy charity the Ellen MacArthur Foundation for the past two years, alongside Sao Paulo and New York.

Mr Buchan said: “That is really critical for us as a city. It helps us connect with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s network, who are predominantly global businesses, global corporations – the producers of the products and services we consume.

“If we want the circular economy to be a success, it is unfortunately not going to be delivered by small-scale refill shops alone.

“We need those products and services to come from the multinationals, from the corporates.”

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