London’s recycling levels are low, but LWARB is charged with bringing the city’s waste management players together,
“It is not in the showy evolutions of buildings, but in the multiplicity of human habitations which are crowded together, that the wonderful immensity of London consists,” pointed out man of letters Samuel Johnson in 1777.
More than 300 years later, the city is as hectic has ever, and the waste scene has more than enough to keep these two Londoners busy. Far from seeming tired of it, they appear to have plenty of ideas and commitment to galvanise recycling in the capital.
Wayne Hubbard and Melville Haggard are key figures at the London Waste and Recycling Board (LWRAB), the body which seeks to bring together the city’s waste management players.
As a chief operating officer, Hubbard oversees the day to day running of the organisation, while as a board members and chair of the investment committee, Haggard is involved in the decisions surrounding investments in waste infrastructure.
They are pooling their expertise as former head of waste policy at the Greater London Authority (Hubbard) and as project financier and adviser to industry and Government (Haggard), to achieve one goal: improving recycling rates in London.
With more than eight million inhabitants and 33 boroughs, London leads the UK in many respects, but stands at the bottom of the national recycling league, with just over a third of its waste recycled in 2012-13. Hubbard says four elements make recycling particularly challenging in the capital.
First, London is growing faster than expected, with a consequent increase in the cost of collections and waste management. Second, most Londoners live in flat or old properties, which were not designed to accommodate recycling facilities. Third, London has a greater “transient” and population than any other place in the UK. Finally, the there is great variety between collections systems across the capital, which is particularly unhelpful in light of the mobility of London’s residents. Hubbard believes that taking these constraints into account, the 34% recycling rate of last year is an “incredible performance”.
In 2007-08 only 25% of waste was recycled, meaning that the rate has increased by 1.8 percentage points year-on-year in the last five years, which is more than the national average. However, it was still not as much as the London Mayor Boris Johnson had wished for the capital in November 2011, when he drafted his municipal waste management strategy, London’s Wasted Resources. The document set out a target for the city to recycle as much as 45% of its waste by 2015.
“[Reaching the target] will be a challenge, to say the least,” said Hubbard. He declined to comment on whether it was too ambitious. “It’s the Mayor strategy, not ours. We cannot answer for the setting of the target,” he said.
LWARB participated in a consultation that preceded the drafting of the document, but was not an official adviser to the Mayor and does not get involved in these kind of decisions. The organisation sits in the middle between aspiration and implementation.
“The mayor has a role to set a strategy; the boroughs have a role to deliver it operationally. We have a role to bring that together,” said Hubbard.
“We don’t have the trucks, we don’t set up the bins, and we are not an operational board. All we can do is helping the boroughs to achieve the targets that the Mayor has set through programmes and through the delivery of additional infrastructure,” he added.
Since it was set up in 2008 with £73.4m fund provided by the Greater London Authority and Defra, LWARB has conducted a number of initiatives to help tackle the challenges that hinders recycling, with different degrees of success.
To address a low recycling performance in flats, LWARB launched a £5m Flats Recycling Programme in 2010. It supported 26 boroughs to deliver projects across four main schemes: reusable bags, improvement to signage, food waste bring-banks, and better dry recycling services.
An evaluation report suggested the programme achieved better than expected results. It helped most of the boroughs to recycle more dry materials, and to collect more food waste. The programme also cost 36% less than anticipated as a result of joint procurements, efficiency savings through the purchase of refurbished rather than new containers, and the optimisation of the vehicle fleet.
But another project supported by LWRAB, a London-wide awareness-rising and behaviour-change communication programme, achieved more modest results.
The Recycle for London” (RfL) initiative was rolled out between 2010 and 2013, and involved a £2.4m campaign on recycling and on food waste prevention, with specific tonnage and carbon performance targets. Those were set against a projection of increasing recycling in the period. RfL aimed to contribute at least for 20% to an overall increase in London’s recycling rate.
But an evaluation report indicated that RfL had fallen short of the tonnage and C02 targets, although it did meet the 20% contribution.
Hubbard explained: “The recycle for London programme based its tonnage-recycled target on an assumed rise in waste arising. If the target is adjusted to reflect that waste did not rise, the programme met its target.”
London-wide behavioural change campaigns such as RfL are expensive and their outcome is difficult to assess, Hubbard acknowledged. This is why LWARB is now focused on more targeted support to boroughs willing to boost their communication strategy. “We now concentrate on direct message support for local authorities, for example on ‘what do I recycle, where do I recycle, when is it collected?’ as opposed to ‘why is it important to recycle?’,” he said.
Communication support remains at the heart of LWARB’s activity, as awareness campaigns are often the first services to be reduced as a result of cuts in the budgets of local authorities. LWARB has recently relaunched a £100,000 initiative to assist councils with their communication schemes.
“One of the problems in London is getting participation. This is why communication is so important, and why we can’t underplay the value of our borough communication support,” said Hubbard.
“Probably not all Londoners would have had access to some form of recycling scheme ten years ago, but now we are at a point where most Londoners do have access to a recycling scheme: it’s about getting them to participate.”
Getting more people to recycle will be one of the key drivers to improve recycling rates in the capital as envisaged in the Mayor’s strategy. But another goal of the plan is to increase London’s self-sufficiency in terms of waste treatment.
The document stated: “The counties surrounding London no longer want to landfill London’s waste in their countryside and therefore the Mayor has set a net self-sufficiency target for the management of London’s municipal and commercial waste of 100% by 2031.”
Hubbard stressed the strategy referred to net self-sufficiency, which means the plan allows London to offset waste exported outside the city by bringing waste in for processing. “Waste moves both ways, the border is permeable,” he said.
Haggard said the key point was to extract as much value as possible from waste and retain it in the capital.
“The Mayor’s plan would require for as much as possible to be done to waste in London to take out the various resources, plastics in particular, but also some of the biodegradable materials before the irreducible rump is dealt with.
“Whether that can be dealt with in London or outside, it’s a matter for debate.”
He cited the example of a contract between a Sita-led consortium and the West London Waste Authority, a £1.4bn Public Private Partnership (PPP) deal over the next 25 years which envisages waste produced by six northern London boroughs to be taken by rail to the Severnside Energy Recovery Centre in South Gloucestershire.
“If you have direct rail connection between a London borough and a waste treatment facility then it may very well be that particular elements of the waste stream can go off to that facility using rail rather than road,” said Haggard.
But to achieve the Mayor’s aspiration of more self-sufficiency, London needs to increase its waste treatment capacity, with technology that matches the waste arisings in the capital.
LWARB is working with the GLA to review what the waste treatment capacity shortfalls in London are. “Our sense of that gap is that we don’t have enough recycling, reprocessing and reuse facilities. As we enter in an era of more circularity within the economy we do anticipate that we will see the need for reuse, assembly and disassembly facilities,” said Hubbard.
LWARB has played and will play a crucial role in providing finance for those projects to take off. Haggard explained what makes the organisation unique as a funding provider:
“A very important part of our activity here is providing a helping hand to small scale developers. They come along, they don’t necessarily know how to address the financing markets, being it equity or debt, probably they don’t know how to structure in a way which will attract private finance and we have put in a lot of time in hand holding with those players, helping them to come to market.
He added that while a private sector adviser would charge for consultancy services, they are an integral part of LWARB’s investment product.
LWARB also focuses more on merchant projects aimed not only at local authority collected waste but also and increasingly to C&I waste. Haggard says C&I waste projects are more difficult to finance because they are not backed by the stream of revenue that a local authority contract guarantees and his organisation is increasingly looking at supporting existing businesses to expand their operations.
“Part of our emphasis going forward is to look not just at individual entrepreneurial projects, but also to look at existing companies with existing businesses who might consider incremental investments in the value chain,” he said.
Developing projects in partnership with established businesses is often easier than starting from scratch and could deliver results more rapidly.,One of the main obstacles to the development of waste infrastructure in London is the limited amount of available sites, which Haggard described as one of the “big bottle necks”.
More than a lack of space in itself, it is a question of movement of tracks. For this reason, Haggard says LWARB is considering investing in a land site that could be used by other developers to build recycling facilities.
“Having sites that have waste use is very important, we are very aware of that,” he said.
But even when sites are found, developers often complain that planning applications in London boroughs are more difficult to obtain than in the rest of the country.
“With the right project and the right approach, planning is not the issue that is made out to be,” said Hubbard.
“There is clearly going to be an issue with large scale facilities of any kind. When they get big, they tend to be seen by residents and that generates noise and discussion. But at the level that we invested in, which is smaller scale reprocessing and food waste processing, we have never had a problem with planning permission.”
Alongside investing directing in projects, LWARB aims at becoming a catalyst to mobilise additional capital around waste developments. It has often been one of the earliest investors in the projects it supported, which was crucial to give the market the confidence needed for other funders to crowd in.
Hubbard said LWARB’s investments have generated more funding that can now be spent on new infrastructures. Other regions in the UK are looking at ways to replicate the organisation’s model.
“We would certainly encourage other groups of local authorities around the countries to think whether it is something they can do in their areas.
“We managed to generate a revolving fund of money that we can carry on investing in much needed infrastructure. And provide additional support to hit ever increasing recycling targets.
“And that support is not from central government. That support is provided and generated through our investment activity, so it wouldn’t be there if we hadn’t done the first piece.”
CV: MELVILLE HAGGARD
Melville Haggard is a LWARB board member and chair of the investment committee. He has over 30 years’ experience as a project financier and adviser to industry and the Government.
His career in financial services included positions with Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi, Lloyds Bank International, Arbuthnot Latham and Impax Group plc. In 2011, Melville founded Quartermain Advisers Limited to provide advice to clients in the energy and waste sectors.
From 2005 to 2011 he was markets development adviser to the UK Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs on the financing of waste and energy infrastructure under the waste PFI and PPP programmes. He was also a member of the advisory group of the Green Investment Bank.
CV: WAYNE HUBBARD
Wayne is LWARB chief operating officer. He has been involved in LWARB since its establishment and has over 18 years’ experience in the local government and waste management sectors.
Prior to LWARB, Wayne worked as head of waste policy at the Greater London Authority and has also held roles at Haringey Borough Council and East Sussex County Council.