Burning waste

MQT on 2017-12-14
Session date: 
December 14, 2017
Question By: 
Caroline Russell
City Hall Greens
Asked Of: 
The Mayor


Is London burning too much waste?

Supplementary Questions: 


Answer for Burning waste

Answer for Burning waste

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Thank you.  In my draft London Environment Strategy, I have been clear that we should not be burning any more waste in London.  It is only squandering valuable resources that could be reused in the economy.  It also emits pollutants that can contribute to London’s toxic air and carbon emissions that cause climate change.  The best way to prevent more waste going to incineration in London is to reduce the waste we produce in the first place and significantly increase our recycling rates.  That is why my draft London Environment Strategy has set a London-wide target to recycle 65% of London’s waste by 2030, with a target for local authorities to recycle 50% of the waste they collect by 2025.  I also want to see zero biodegradable or recycling waste to landfill by 2026. 


There is some good news.  Government statistics released last week show that in 2016/17 London’s household recycling went up by 1% to 33%, the first year London has experienced an increase since 2011, and household waste produced per person is the lowest of all regions in England.  To reach the 65% recycling target, we still have some way to go.  That is why I have proposed in my draft London Environment Strategy that all London boroughs should collect the six main recyclables from all kerbside properties and flats where practicable, as well as have separate food waste collections.  Through the London Waste and Recycling Board’s Resource London programme, I am providing up to £9 million from 2017 to 2020 to support the authorities to provide better recycling services, especially in flats. 


Where incinerators have already been built or approved before I came into office, I want them to be as efficient as possible.  Proposals for refurbished waste incineration facilities would need to meet strict air quality criteria set out in my draft London f for all developments, and my draft London Environment Strategy has set a carbon intensity floor that requires all waste that goes to energy‑from‑waste plants to be genuinely residual and non‑recyclable.  In addition, I want all of London’s facilities to use waste heat as well as the electricity produced, as this will help contribute toward my goal for London to become a zero-carbon city by 2050. 


Caroline Russell AM:  Thank you, Mr Mayor.  It is good that the recycling rate has gone up by 1% but it has come down an awful lot over the last few years.  Back in 2010 Wandsworth was up at 26.8% and last year they were at 21.9%.  All over London, there is a long way to go on our recycling levels.  The Western Riverside Waste Authority boroughs, Hammersmith and Fulham, Lambeth, Wandsworth and Kensington and Chelsea, found their recycling rates dropped significantly once they started to use the Belvedere incinerator in 2012.  This suggests that there is a risk that incineration is keeping recycling levels down.  The South London Waste Partnership boroughs, Kingston, Croydon, Merton and Sutton, are going to start to use the new Viridor incinerator in Sutton next year.  What will you do if the same thing happens and their recycling rates drop once they start to use the Viridor incinerator?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  I am not sure why there is a link between the incinerator and the recycling rates dropping.  Maybe it is a perverse incentive.  I am happy to look into the point you have raised and maybe speak to my Deputy Mayor for Environment and Energy about that.  I have been quite welcoming of the partnership between Merton, Sutton, Kingston and Croydon and the approach they are taking, procuring a waste treatment contract and waste collection contract together.  Now that you have warned me about what could happen, why do I not speak to the four councils to make sure we do not inadvertently reach the position you referred to with Belvedere?


Caroline Russell AM:  That would be very helpful.  I realise none of us can predict what might happen, but if it does ‑‑


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  I take your point, yes. 


Caroline Russell AM:  ‑‑ you do have the power to direct a waste authority that is not in general conformity with your policies and targets.  If the recycling rates of the South London Waste Partnership boroughs fall once the Viridor incinerator is onstream, will you consider using your powers of direction to get them to boost their recycling?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Hopefully we will not get there because you have told me about it.  We will look into it.  We do not want to get there but you are right, as a last resort we do have tools in the toolkit that can be used.  The local authorities know this and they can be reminded of this.  Because you have alerted me to a precedent that is not a good one, let us speak to them and see what we can do. 


Caroline Russell AM:  OK, but as a last resort, you would push them?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  I hope I would not need to. 


Caroline Russell AM:  This morning I visited Bio Collectors, which is an anaerobic digestor plant for food waste in Mitcham, with Assembly Member Cooper.  Bio Collectors raised the concern that your draft Environment Strategy proposal for zero waste, specifically no biodegradable or recyclable waste being sent to landfill by 2026, is not tough enough.  They are worried that incinerators are burning food waste that should be being anaerobically digested to produce biogas and liquid fertiliser.  Will your final Environment Strategy and London Plan say that not only should no biodegradable or recyclable waste be sent to landfill but also that this unavoidable food waste should be collected and separated so it can be anaerobically digested to prevent unnecessary burning?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Why did you not respond to the draft consultation?  It is a consultation. 


Caroline Russell AM:  I have already and I did say that. 


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Fine.  That is one of my concerns about the push towards waste to energy.  There is a perverse incentive to try to do that, for the reasons you have said, because of residual benefits.  That is why I am not as keen an advocate as some people are, for the reasons you say.  Please respond to the consultation.  Ask the company you referred to to respond as well.  We will look into the specific points you raise. 


Caroline Russell AM:  There is one other problem, which is that boroughs are not separating enough food waste from recycling and residual waste.  Bio Collectors said the second most useful thing they thought you could do would be to set a policy to ensure that all food waste that is separated and sent for anaerobic digestion is treated in London, so that we reduce the amount of lorry movements.  It is possible to have that capacity in London.  Will you consider that?


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  I smile because it seems like a self‑serving suggestion from that company. 


Caroline Russell AM:  No, I appreciate that, but they are not talking about themselves.  Other companies ‑‑


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  I bet they are not.  They are lobbying for other companies to make profit, are they?


Caroline Russell AM:  It is much better to anaerobically digest food waste than to incinerate it in terms of our environment, carbon emissions and so on. 


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  We will see what we can do to increase the amount we do not send to the incinerator.  I am happy to look into that as well.


Caroline Russell AM:  Thank you.