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London homes supplied by EfW heat for first time

The Mayor of London’s senior energy advisor has praised Veolia and Southwark Council for setting up the capital’s first energy-from-waste (EfW) district heating network - and expected others to follow.

Matthew Pencharz

Matthew Pencharz, left, spoke at the official opening of the plant, built within Veolia’s existing EfW plant in south-east London which opened 20 years ago. Veolia’s executive vice-president for UK and Northern Europe, Estelle Brachlianoff, and Southwark cabinet member Barrie Hargrove also attended the ceremony, above.

Water heated from the furnaces of the South East London Combined Heat and Power (SELCHP) plant is now being piped to 2,500 homes in Southwark. It has the capacity to heat around 7,500 homes.

Pencharz said: “It’s great that SELCHP is finally living up to its name – it’s innovative schemes like this that both help the environment and reduce fuel bills at a time when national prices are rising.

“After maximising waste reduction and recycling, London’s four energy major energy from waste centres could use the remainder to heat and power over 260,000 homes.

“In support of this vision the Mayor is applying for a junior electricity licence to give local generators a better return for their electricity to attract further investment leading to cheaper and lower carbon energy.”

Meanwhile, Pencharz told the London Assembly the low recycling rate in the capital is partly down to “population churn”.

A meeting of the London Assembly Environment Committee, convened to examine mayor Boris Johnson’s waste strategies, heard London recycled just 30% of its waste. Recycling rates in the capital are among the lowest in comparison with other major European cities, despite significant improvements over the past 14 years.

A paper from London Councils called for “options to be developed for financing recycling initiatives which ultimately helps reduce landfill and treatment costs”.

The assembly was told London has the lowest household recycling rate among English regions and that this “affects national policy, reducing the UK’s ability to meet the EU targets of 50% recycling/re-use/composting by 2020”.

Leeds, Greater Manchester and Bristol all have higher rates, as do cities in Germany, Austria and Scandanavia. Newcastle, Sheffield and Birmingham have lower recycling rates than London.

The meeting was told a “central cause” for the low rates was the high percentage of tower blocks and flats, which makes recycling more difficult.

The relatively low rates belie improvements made by local authorities, however. According to London Councils, London sent 72% of its municipal waste to landfill in 2000. By 2011/12, this had reduced to 30%.

Pencharz told the committee recycling rates are also affected by population churn, types of housing and the proportion of people whose first language is not English. He also pointed out that the Mayor does not have responsibility for collecting waste, which is done at borough level.

Murad Qureshi, chairman of the London Assembly Environment Committee, said: “There are clear benefits – environmental and economic – to recycling more of our waste and preventing it going to landfill so it is disappointing to see other cities are doing better than we are.

”We heard from experts that communication is key to improving rates so we hope that all the organisations involved in tackling the capital’s waste will do all they can to get the message across to Londoners that we need to recycle more.”

According to London Councils waste collection and disposal in London costs around £490m a year, making it one of the largest areas of local authority expenditure. It warned of a possible overall local government funding gap of as much as £3.4bn for London by 2019-20.

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