Published Monday 21st October

One of the most pressing topics in the UK currently, after Brexit, is the environment. Consistent public movements are leaving Governments under increasing pressure to initiate environmentally-friendly plans which are impacting long-term business decisions. As this drive for improved sustainability continues, the demands placed upon waste and recycling companies could leave them stretched.

This demand and supply problem is already felt in London, where public recycling rates are some of the UK’s lowest. As the flagbearer for a seemingly forward-looking United Kingdom, the city provides an interesting case study into the issues facing the broader ambition to achieve a circular economy in major cities.

Recycling in London: The Facts

The primary issue regarding recycling in London relates to the rates of household waste. In 2017/18, London had the lowest recycling rate regarding these materials in England, at 33.1%. For comparison, the national average was 45.2%. While nationally there was a 0.3% improvement in these figures, the London area saw an increase of just 0.1%.

It should be added that London’s overall environmental record has been relatively strong. Recent studies have ranked London as one of the world’s most sustainable cities, once a broader range of factors is taken into account. There have also been other eco-friendly movements, such as the adoption of the Ultra-Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) in the city’s centre. Much of this has been led by Mayor Sadiq Khan, who has set out a string of ambitious sustainability goals to reach over the coming decades. However, there is a growing realisation that London is way off on its waste, not just for future ambitions but also the wider standard set today.

The Reasons for Low Recycling Rates in London

There are many reasons behind the capital’s poor recycling record, some the fault of the city and others the result of circumstance. One of the main factors is revealed when discovering that the regions with the best recycling rate in England are Eastern and the South West, at 49%. The South West of England also saw the most significant recycling rate increase from the previous year, of 0.7%.

Shirley Rodrigues, London’s deputy mayor for environment and energy, highlighted the spatial differences between rural and city locations as a key reason behind the city’s recycling record. “We are making sure there is space for infrastructure particularly for flatted properties”, she said in a London Assembly Environment Committee in September. Providing adequate recycling services to flats has proven a significant challenge, with combined recycling collections often leading to contaminated products.

However, there is also an issue with consistency across the region. In 2017/18 there was a discrepancy of 38% between the highest and lowest recycling rates in London. With each borough tasked with planning and costing their recycling system, a service gap has formed. An example of this can be found in Barnet, where weekly food waste collections were scrapped due to high costs and low public involvement. Mayor Khan has asked each authority to provide a Reduction and Recycling Plan by 2020, to create a more consistent strategy across the city.

Turning London’s Waste from Problem to Opportunity

London’s household recycling problem is going to be a sizeable challenge to solve, especially to reach city targets. Sadiq Khan wishes to achieve an overall recycling rate for London of 65% by 2030. For that target to be met, a more creative and actionable solution may have to be found, one that works for the businesses providing these services.

Delivering a sustainable logistics service in major cities is a problem widely cited in the logistics sector. This need for increased activity but with the environment in mind has lead to increased interest in last-mile delivery systems. Such a solution may be necessary to solve London’s lack of space and the need for consistent, regular collections. Regardless, the city must provide incentives to businesses that support these ambitions, which could provide opportunities for sustainable companies in the region.

Here at Expense Reduction Analysts, we’ve been helping major businesses in London and further afield improve their sustainability while reducing costs. Our waste expense management experts can work with your business to streamline supply chains, decreasing overheads while also supporting your eco-friendly ambitions. If you’re interested in seeing the work we’ve done already for other companies, why not get in contact with us or take a look at our case studies?