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Innovation and Resources on Urban Waste

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London Mayor's Environmental Strategy and waste

24 October 2017

Since Mayor of London Sadiq Khan's London Environment Strategy (LES) was published in draft for consultation this August, commentators have pointed to the strategy's broad reach and ambition - as well as its detailed analysis of the environmental challenges faced by the city of over 8 million people. The LES covers air quality, green infrastructure, climate change mitigation and adaptation, noise, the transition to a low-carbon circular economy, but most importantly for SectorWatch - waste.

While the Mayor's preface foregrounds the improvement of air quality, a recurring theme of the LES is the overall intention to ditch the 'linear approach' in favour of a circular economy in a number of areas. The waste section updates a 2011 strategy on municipal waste, and points out the looming problems: landfill will run out by 2026, only half of the 7 million tonnes of waste produced can be recycled, food waste is not being valorised. Of these 7 million tonnes the largest proportions are: 22% food and green garden waste; 60% common dry recyclables paper, card, plastics, glass and metals; 18% other materials including textiles, waste electricals (WEEE) wood, furniture and household cleaning chemicals.

Integrating waste into the Circular Economy

Another highlighted statistic is that London produces around 1.5 – 1.75m tonnes of food waste with a value of £2.55bn a year. One curiosity here is the expression of the amount of food waste, which is financial. Whether this portends a circular economy strategy which seeks to give organic waste a saleable value, or is merely a method of demonstrating scale is not clear. A question for procurers and others in the European municipal waste sector might be, "does the transition to a circular economy in waste necessarily mean attaching financial value for organic waste?"

" Single use packaging materials" are also identified as an area of focus, with UK national figures from WRAP extrapolated to demonstrate the pressure this puts on London's 33 municipal waste authorities.

Waste targets and challenges

The headline waste target of the LES is "by 2026 no biodegradable or recyclable waste will be sent to landfill and by 2030, 65 per cent of London’s municipal waste will be recycled". The LES points to a number of actions which will help achieve this, which angle the focus of the Strategy at this stage more towards the 33 municipal waste authorities than directly at the citizen, reflecting who is most likely to submit responses to the consultation.

The breadth of the LES and its reliance on the buy-in at local government level within the London region means that the results are really in the hands of the local authorities and agencies who will have to implement the strategy.

What will be interesting to observe as the consultation and political processes behind the LES continue is how high a priority waste will have in comparison with other aspects. This week the Mayor announced a new emissions charge for a much wider area than the original congestion charge, and issues of infrastructure (air, rail and underground) around London often dominate regional and national political agendas. Waste is one of seven areas identified, and up until now the main challenge has been achieving compliance with European level regulation. With Brexit looming, the impact of the European Waste Package and Circular Economy agenda might be felt less in the UK capital.

For further analysis, see the Zero Waste Europe website

The consultation is available here

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Waste Package targets - on track?

4 April 2017

Since the European Commission announced the withdrawal of the Waste Package in 2015, to be replaced with a more comprehensive strategy towards a Circular Economy, there has been a familiar level of debate and disagreement over its content and approach.


However, the acceptance in January by the European Parliament of challenging targets towards recyclable waste was heralded as a milestone on the path towards a more resource- and waste-efficient Circular Economy in the EU.

Revising Directives

The new "Waste Package" is, in legislative terms, designed to synchronise various Directives relating to waste, recycling and the related topics of packaging and disposal. The new targets relate primarily to the Waste Framework Directive, the Landfill Directive and the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive.


The targets, when initially mooted in early 2016, were greeted by the waste sector with some concern. The complexity of introducing targets to an area of the economy characterised by rapid but uneven innovation and technological development meant that the Commission's approach had to be to impose relatively long-term targets: to prohibit landfill of recyclable waste by 2025 and to recycle 70% of municipal waste and 80% of packaging waste by 2030.

Challenges for cities

The achievement of these targets across the EU will be no mean feat. While many local and city-regional authorities who have invested in recycling innovation will have little difficulty reaching such targets, currently only 44% of municipal waste across the EU is recycled or composted.
The interpretation of the targets in member states might also present difficulty. The decision over which method should be used to calculate recycling and recovery rates was hotly contested in the drafting process throughout 2016, with industry and municipalities lobbying for the method laid out in the Waste Framework Directive, while environmentalists pushed for the more challenging WEEE Directive to be used. Looking at a process of implementation which extends over 8 years, the definition of "recycled" waste will come in for scrutiny in the application of these targets.

Focus of targets

The European Commission has been keen to demonstrate the potential value of waste targets to the private sector, which has greeted the European Parliament's vote with enthusiasm for the project job creation and market opportunities the targets create in various member states.
However there has been criticism of the targets from proponents of a Circular Economy for being uni-dimensional, and not challenging enough. The focus of the targets on waste output rather than on product manufacture, plastic-sourcing and reduction of e.g. packaging has led some actors in the waste sector to conclude that the Waste Package represents a non-binding, transitional legislative intervention. But proponents of a more product-oriented, differentiated policy had some success in influencing the outcomes - for example, a target of a 30% reduction in food waste is considered likely to have some impact on the food and drink sector. Overall there will be some concern that an opportunity had been missed, through a focus on residual waste, to regulate further on packaging and inefficient manufacture.


Sector Watch will follow developments on the targets through the EU Council and the formal decision-making process in the coming months.


More information on the vote in the European Parliament's Environment Committee on 24 January 2017 can be found at europarl.europa.eu/news