Environment Circular Economy

Waste: The Circular Economy

Date published: 
21 September 2017

Key facts

  • In 2016, local authorities collected 3.7 million tonnes of waste – enough to fill more than 1,500 Olympic-size swimming pools.
  • Recycling rates have dropped back down to the levels seen in 2010.
  • In 30 years, local authorities will need to collect an extra one million tonnes of waste - equal to an additional 500,000 refuse trucks of rubbish each year. This is not sustainable from an environmental or economic perspective.

Our report and findings

The London Assembly Environment Committee has published its report, ‘Waste: The Circular Economy’ which examines how a circular economy could offer a solution to the problem of an unsustainable waste management model in the capital and strengthen London’s economy at a time of uncertainty.

  • Our current economic model of take, make and dispose, creates millions of tonnes of waste every year. This is not sustainable from an environmental or economic perspective and must change.
  • London should adopt the ‘circular economy model’.* Not only will it reduce the amount of waste generated, minimise the depletion of natural resources and reduce our carbon emissions, it will also create new job opportunities and boost London’s economic activity.
  • London is at the early stages of transitioning to a circular economy but the model has the potential to be transformative. The London Waste and Recycling Board has recently published a route map, focusing on five key business sectors, but will need Mayoral support and action to succeed.
  • We are pleased to see that the Mayor’s draft Environment Strategy recognises the importance of the circular economy.
  • The Mayor needs to take a visible lead in pushing the circular economy model forward and must ensure organisations in the GLA Group to procure goods and services in line with its principles.

The report found that by adopting a circular model for its waste, London could:

  • reduce 60 per cent of its waste by 2041
  • put London “on track” to become carbon-neutral
  • create 12,000 new jobs by 2030
  • provide £7 billion net benefit to London’s economy.


How the Mayor can help

  • The Mayor plays a key role in promoting the progression of the circular economy in London by his appointments to LWARB and by setting out his plans with an emphasis on re-use and recycling. There are already obstacles preventing the implementation of the circular economy - outside of green economy experts and environmentalists, the circular economy remains unknown and irrelevant in comparison to other budgetary demands. As well as setting policy, the Mayor can advocate for the circular economy and showcase its ability to improve environmental and economic outcomes for London. 
  • Awareness of the circular economy needs to improve among London’s businesses. Recent surveys have found that:
    - 50 per cent of SMEs hadn’t heard of the circular economy. 
    - Nearly half of waste management companies didn’t understand the term ‘circular economy’.  

Experts stressed that an outreach programme which addressed business concerns would help overcome awareness and engagement issues. 

  • Environmental benefits alone will not be enough to incentivise the circular economy. Guests highlighted that although an intimate knowledge of the circular economy may be unnecessary for the public and some businesses, both groups will need to become active participants in this new way of waste management for it to become successful. Much like successful recycling systems, participation in the circular economy will need to be straightforward, convenient and cost effective; preferably linking into existing local systems. There are activities that the Mayor could include in his final Environment Strategy that would enable the circular economy in London and allow him to act as a circular economy role model to the business and wider community.
  • The Mayor should use the purchasing power of the GLA Group to encourage the growth of London’s circular economy. The GLA Group spends £11 billion per year on procurement activities.  The GLA has recently updated its Responsible Procurement Policy; reflecting the need to procure circular economy services, thereby ensuring better environmental outcomes for London.  The Environment Strategy highlights the need to show leadership in implementing these policies with the intention to influence other procurement bodies. The Mayor cannot rely on his Environment Strategy alone though and communicating this leadership requires a clear vision for a circular London.
  • Setting a whole-city vision for the circular economy will be challenging but London is not alone. The Mayor should set a vision and specific milestones, especially in relation to future growth, towards the circular economy. This could be done by drawing on examples from other cities such as Amsterdam, Helsinki and Paris. Recently Paris set out ten circular economy guiding principles: these include setting a vision and objective and giving financial incentives to the circular economy. 

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