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What are the problems facing London due to waste disposal?

This summer, Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, published a draft London Environment Strategy for public consultation. The strategy outlines his plans to tackle the London waste disposal concerns.

When it comes to London waste disposal, Khan’s ambition is that: “by 2026 no biodegradable or recyclable waste will be sent to landfill and by 2030 65% London’s municipal waste will be recycled”.

Currently, waste disposal costs ratepayers £2bn a year. Only 52% of London’s 7m tonnes of waste a year is recycled, with 37% being sent to landfill or incineration. Nearly a third of the total waste is made up of food waste and plastic packaging, including single use coffee cups and water bottles. 60% is made up of dry recyclables, e.g. plastics, paper, card, glass and metals. Waste compactors are valuablein thee management and of waste in the most efficient and environmentally-friendly manner.

Khan’s plan is to cut as much waste as possible and recover as much value as possible from the rest. This will enable councils to not only save money but also find an additional revenue stream,  which will also result in jobs and apprenticeships. Any waste that cannot be recycled will be used to produce low carbon energy.


However, he is under no illusion about the difficulties of making his ambitious plans happen: every authority provides different waste and recycling services; around 50% of Londoners live in flats that usually lack adequate storage space for recycling; the population is transient and diverse making it difficult to get the recycling message across, and as yet there is no requirement on businesses to provide recycling collection.

Making a start

Despite the massive challenge he has ahead of him, Khan has already made a start on tackling London’s waste problem. At the beginning of December, he announced measures to try and drastically reduce the number of single-use plastic water bottles. He is planning to create a network of free drinking fountains and places where people can refill water bottles, piloting a scheme where businesses make tap water freely available to members of the public. His ideas have been inspired by the hugely successful Refill campaign launched in Bristol two years ago and which is now being copied by other English cities.

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