Boris Johnson was in bullish mood after securing another four years as mayor of London - but he faces urgent calls from the industry to up his game on waste.
Lacking the populist punch of travel costs or council tax, and often fiendishly complex, waste was always destined to be a low-profile topic in a hotly-contested election.
But now the Punch and Judy politics are over, experts have warned the mayor will fall well short of the ambitious waste strategy he set out last year (see box) unless he substantially ups his game.
The capital is undoubtedly a challenging place to collect waste but Defra’s latest household collection statistics, published last week, provided little evidence that the challenges were being met particularly well.
London remains by far the worst performing region, recycling just 33.4% of its household waste, compared to a national average of 42.5%.
Plans must become reality
Experts remain broadly supportive of the aims outlined in London’s waste strategy but questioned whether such ambitions were achievable.
Planning approval remains the number one problem. This may be the same across the rest of the country, but the mayor’s strategic planning powers should give him a unique opportunity to tackle the issue head on.
Clyde Loakes, deputy chair of the Local Government Association’s environment board, and a cabinet member of Waltham Forest borough council, told MRW: “The mayor has said that he wants to deal with London’s waste inside the M25.
“If he is serious about this, he needs to take the lead, start identifying sites where waste infrastructure can be built and get on with it.”
Co-operation with the surrounding Home Counties, where much of the capital’s waste is still shifted off to landfill or for incineration, also needs to be addressed.
Deborah Sacks, a consultant representing South East Councils, said the lack of engagement with counties dealing with the capital’s waste had “angered” council bosses.
“The reality is that they are sending stuff to landfill sites which are about to close,” she said. “While the capacity might be available in the South-east to deal with London’s waste, we need to work out where this will be.”
Jury out on LWaRB
Finance is the other major stumbling block for waste projects. But, akin to the planning conundrum, London has unique powers to aid this – this time in the shape of the London Waste and Recycling Board.
Since LWaRB was established in 2008, it has committed or spent £56m and attracted £170m of external investment for London waste projects, according to figures provided by the board to MRW last week.
This sounds like a fair haul for its first four years but financiers and industry insiders told MRW it would have to improve its performance if it was going to play a significant role in providing much-needed infrastructure.
“Someone needs to work out why these projects are not getting built. It cannot simply be planning. The mayor needs to get the system unblocked and moving,” said consultant Phillip Ward, formerly Wrap’s director for local government services.
Whatever shape it takes, action is now required or rubbish will be a doorstep issue - literally rather than simply proverbially - come the 2016 mayoral poll.
London’s municipal and business waste strategies
Johnson published his Municipal and Business Waste Management Strategies on 18 November 2011.
Key targets include:
- No household waste to landfill by 2025
- Reduce household waste produced by one per cent every year to 2031
- Increase London’s capacity to reuse waste from approximately 6,000 tonnes per year in 2008 to 30,000 by 2031
- Recycle or compost at least 45% of rubbish by 2015 increasing to 60% by 2031
- Achieve 70% reuse, recycling and composting of commercial and industrial waste by 2020
- Achieve 95% reuse, recycling and composting of construction demolition and excavation waste by 2020, maintaining these levels to 2031