Standardised London waste collections sought by Assembly

The next Mayor of London should develop a routemap towards standardising municipal waste collection systems across the capital, according to the London Assembly’s environment committee.

Calls have come for waste collections to be standardised across London's 32 boroughs
Calls have come for waste collections to be standardised across London's 32 boroughs
Calls have come for waste collections to be standardised across London’s 32 boroughs

This could enable “fewer, larger contracts for each waste type”, saving borough councils money on their services and simplifying recycling for householders, a report published today (March 9) by the committee argues. Standardised collections would help to improve the quality of recyclable material sent to reprocessors, it adds.

WRAP and Defra officials are currently working on a plan to help English councils adopt more standardised collection regimes, with three recommended systems reportedly likely to emerge. This work is being led by a ‘Harmonisation and Consistency Working Group’.

The Assembly report also calls for the next Mayor to “put circularity at the heart of London’s economic development strategy” by focusing much more on pushing waste further up the hierarchy through waste prevention, renting and service provision, and reuse.

In its ‘Growing, growing, gone – Long-term sustainable growth for London’ report, the committee sets out the London Assembly’s environmental recommendations for the next Mayor of London, who will take over after the forthcoming election on 5 May.

According to the Assembly, London’s population is increasing by 100,000 every year and could reach 13.4 million by 2050, while the capital’s recycling rate currently stands at around 33%.

“Efficient recycling depends on well separated waste streams, and would benefit from fewer, larger contracts for each waste type.”

Environment committee report
London Assembly

Standardised collections

One way to achieve a standardised system of waste collections across all 23 Greater London borough council areas would be to establish a single London waste authority, the report argues.

However, it also points out that this “would not be welcomed by local authorities because of the need to be responsive to local concerns, and because of the interrelationship of waste issues with other local services and policies”.

Therefore, the committee suggests gradually implementing a standard collection system across the capital, which would be “more feasible and potentially equally efficient” than setting up a new waste authority, adding that “some business waste could be included as well”.

It concedes that in short term there are likely to be existing contractual commitments for councils, but a “route map to standardisation would enable them to move towards the new system and realise efficiency savings as contract renewal allows”.

The report also explains that a standardised system “would not mean exactly the same for everyone”, pointing out that different housing types could have different arrangements.

Waste hierarchy

The report also talks of a need to prioritise waste reduction, renting and service provision, and reuse. Or failing that, efforts to prioritise “lower-carbon, value-preserving forms of reprocessing, such as repair and remanufacture, distinguishing them from destructive recycling”.

Four of the candidates for London Mayor appeared at a hustings last week (L-R): Sadiq Khan, Sian Berry, Zac Goldsmith and Caroline Pigeon
Four of the candidates for London Mayor appeared at a hustings last week (L-R): Sadiq Khan, Sian Berry, Zac Goldsmith and Caroline Pigeon

Environment committee chair Darren Johnson said: “The current strategies used to manage London’s environment are coming up to five or more years old and need updating as a priority. This is an opportunity for the incoming Mayor to give London the chance to shine as a global success story for sustainable growth.”

Mayoral election

Candidates in the running to take over as the next Mayor for an initial four-year term include Labour MP Sadiq Khan, Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith, Liberal Democrat Caroline Pigeon, Sian Berry of the Green Party.

Debating the issue during a hustings organised by the Green Alliance on Friday (March 4), all four of the candidates appeared to agree in principle to the need for a standardised collection system across London, but some were sceptical as to how much power the Mayor had over the issue.

Lib Dem Caroline Pigeon said she didn’t think taking over control of recycling systems was a job for the Mayor, adding that “I believe in localism, so boroughs can work together on this”.

The Conservatives’ Mr Goldsmith said there was “no doubt at all” that harmonising collections would lead to better recycling rates, although he suggested that “we need talk more about producer responsibility” in order to tackle waste.

But, Green Party candidate Sian Berry – who described the differences in recycling systems across London as “absolutely infuriating”, said the Mayor should use “convening power” to bring borough authorities together to discuss closer harmony in waste collections.

Current Mayor Boris Johnson is stepping down after two terms, but will remain as MP for Hillingdon.


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