Four London boroughs have no plans for waste reduction

CROYDON COMMENTARY: The boroughs of Croydon, Sutton, Merton and Kingston have a new draft South London Waste Plan and, according to PETER UNDERWOOD (right), it’s a load of rubbish

One of the most common issues people raise with me is waste.

Whether that’s litter, or fly-tipping, or bins available for people who live in flats, or bins not being collected at all, or what happens to our waste once it is collected.

Waste plan: the Veolia-dominated SLWP is making policies for you

So when I saw that a new South London Waste Plan had been drafted, I thought I would read through it to see what improvements they are planning to make.

They – the South London Waste Partnership, or SLWP – say that a new plan is needed from 2021 onwards because, “Neither the adopted Local Plans for Sutton or Croydon include waste policies nor do the emerging Local Plans for Kingston and Merton.”

So in terms of the overall planning for dealing with waste, this is it.

Here’s a quick run-through of what it says about some of the important issues:

  • Reducing or clearing litter – nothing
  • Reducing or clearing fly-tipping – nothing
  • Better bins for people living in flats – nothing
  • Improving collection rates – nothing

Basically, the plan says nothing about collecting or clearing rubbish, never mind how to improve it.

So what about processing the waste that is collected?

More rubbish: The SLWP, dominated by rubbish contractors Veolia and Viridor, has no plans for reducing the amount of waste we generate

The new waste plan covers the next 15 years, right through to 2036. The period covered by this plan is significant because all of the councils have declared that we are in a climate emergency and set deadlines for becoming carbon neutral – three of them by 2030 and Kingston by 2038.

Many of us have pointed out that it will be virtually impossible to meet those carbon neutral targets without closing down the waste incinerator at Beddington (or at the very least using it only minimally), which is operated under a £1billion, 25-year contract for the SLWP.

So surely this plan should be setting out the route to significantly reducing waste, increasing re-use and recycling, and eventually closing the incinerator altogether?

Well, the first disappointment is that they are clearly not planning on reducing waste. Instead, the plan assumes that waste is going to increase over the period.

Similarly, while they say that re-use is a good idea, there is nothing in this plan to help increase re-use or set a target for increasing it.

On recycling, they do mention the Mayor of London’s target to increase recycling to 65 per cent by 2030, but they don’t say anything about setting targets in each borough or how they are going to achieve it.

Even more rubbish: the SLWP’s own figures show that at least 65 per cent of Croydon’s waste is going straight to the Beddington incinerator

Given the low rate of recycling at the moment – Croydon is the worst-performing of the four SLWP boroughs, recycling no more than 20 per cent of its waste according to their own figures – it is going to take a major change to meet the Mayor’s target. So it seems odd not to provide any details of that in the waste plan.

The chances of meeting the recycling target have been shown to be even more doubtful by a recent investigation by MertonTV that showed that even waste that was collected for recycling still ended up going into the incinerator.

When it comes to reducing the amount of pollution coming out of the incinerator, the waste plan doesn’t even mention the word incinerator. They only mention waste facilities being net-zero if they are talking about new facilities.

But they are not planning any new facilities and we already have an enormous facility belching out tonnes of carbon every day.

A big clue as to why they haven’t said anything about reducing carbon from the incinerator comes from incinerator operators Viridor’s own Carbon Management Plan which states, “The vast majority of the carbon emissions associated with the residual waste contract are… dependent on the composition of the waste that is sent to the facility. As Viridor does not have direct control over this, there are no contractual targets for its reduction.”

In other words, when the boroughs of the South London Waste Partnership set up the contract with Viridor to burn waste, they decided to ignore the climate emergency and didn’t include any targets to cut carbon. If Croydon and the three other councils are serious about living up to their own declarations of a climate emergency, then this has to change. But it doesn’t look like they are planning on doing anything of the sort.

Dealing with waste is one of the few areas that our local elected councillors are supposed to have some influence over. But when you ask them, they say they can’t do anything because it’s all wrapped up in the South London Waste Partnership for all four boroughs.

Abandoning their responsibility is bad enough, but when you see the plan it’s even more shocking. Because overall the new South London Waste Plan is the same old rubbish for the next 15 years.

The plan is subject to examination, but the examiners’ scope to change anything is very limited. But if you do want to comment then you have to send it in by this Friday July 16 – details of how to object and the grounds you can use are available by clicking here.

  • Peter Underwood is a member of the Green Party, and was one of their candidates in the London Assembly elections earlier this year

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4 Responses to Four London boroughs have no plans for waste reduction

  1. Lancaster says:

    With an increasing population; waste will inevitably also increase; what local or government numb-nut can’t work that one out ! The issue of population control has to be addressed if politicians are serious about environmental issues.

    We have a finite amount of space and resources, and the population of the planet has doubled in less than 100 years. It took 1,900 years for the planets population to double prior to the year 1900.

    Time to have ‘real’ conversations about the longevity of the planet and civilisation. Something ‘transitory’ politicians will never, ever do as they will be long gone before anything meaningful or ‘hard to face’ is ever achieved or discussed. This may be the problem with appointing governments for short periods. Issues that take longer than 4 or 5 years to resolve will never win votes.

    A phrase from Frazer, Dads Army comes to mind ….. !

    • Grace Onions says:

      I agree about the exponentially increasing human population – it’s crazy that not only the politicians of all colours and most environmental organisations won’t even discuss it. The charity Population Matters advocates education, contraception and freedom to choose family size and these are very effective.
      Humans are producing vast amounts of waste (check out Revercide.tv for a recent one) and destroying literally every natural environment on the planet that we need to live on. Maybe we will figure out how to eat computers and mobile phones one day when we’ve destroyed the soil and can’t grow any food

  2. Lancaster says:

    Also, don’t ask any difficult questions about how Veolia have renegotiated their contract with the SWLP over the last couple of years !

  3. Dan Maertens says:

    My fault, I should have checked the SLWP web pages earlier in the year. Now with the deadline for submitting any carefully considered comment fast approaching, the draft ‘Waste Plan’ will probably go through on the nod.

    We, the residents of the 4 boroughs have the opportunity to take direct action with regard to the volume and type of waste that we generate and which get’s collected – we need to think about smarter choices, avoiding purchases that are over packaged, and ensuring that packaging is recyclable. Where possible, buy products that can be refilled, reused and repaired. We can also pressurise suppliers through the choices we make as consumers. We can hold each of out LAs to account – we pay the money, we can demand full transparency about the performance of the SWLP with respect to the individual targets that our Councils have set for them. The Waste Plan makes assumptions about how we will behave in future years, but that is all it is – a set of assumptions. That doesn’t mean that it has to turn out that way – we can influence the Waste Plan outcomes by modifying our behaviours.

    But possibly more important than the Waste Plan is the Veolia Carbon Management Plan. It’s more challenging in many respects. My quick read of it is that it doesn’t provide any challenging targets, more a bland set of aspirations, things that are under consideration or for review, opportunities to be identified and prioritised, with little that I would consider to be transparent or tangible. There is no detail. It’s all ‘fluff’. The ability to hold Veolia to account on the strength of it will be very limited, and of course there are no sanctions available. In that respect it is more reactive than proactive. Is that acceptable in the middle of a climate crisis? Is a 1% annual reduction year on year in Scope 1 CO2e emissions derived from the energy that the ERF facility uses (electricity, fuel oil, etc) – the only ‘target’ proposed in the plan – supposed to achieve a 2050 zero emissions target? What are the plans for carbon capture to reduce the total CO2e emissions from the ERF stack? How are total emissions actually going to be reduced? What are the plans to minimise landfill methane emissions? Think about it – the ERF facility and Veolia operations are possibly the largest single producer of atmospheric carbon in Croydon. I appreciate that they handle and process our waste, but it’s a service that we pay for; they need to take a lead; we need to see what that lead is, where that lead takes us, and quickly. Time really is of the essence.

    Peter, please keep up the good work. I promise to pay more attention.

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