As part of my collaboration with the North London Waste Authority, I talk to them to ask four key questions about waste management in the city of London, specifically North London. The city is striving to make recycling easier but the staggering level of production and consumption can complicate or stifle these efforts to some extents. As consumers the way we use, take care of and throw our belongings away can make a huge difference. Let's find out how.
1. What exactly happens when we throw or recycle something in the city of London?
So it will depend on exactly where you are, but here in north London (Barnet, Camden, Enfield, Hackney, Haringey, Islington, Waltham Forest)…
If you put something in your bin, the Council collect it, and then it comes to us. 95% of that then goes to an ‘energy from waste’ facility (which means that it’s burnt, but we also generate some electricity from that which goes onto the national grid). The remaining 5% goes to landfill but that’s been slowly decreasing over time.
If you put something in the recycling, it goes to a sorting facility to be separated. It’s actually pretty clever the way they separate it (see this video). At the end of the process, the materials are bulked and sent on to ultimately be turned into something new (there are often a reprocessors who handle and sort the materials again before they get made into new products). At NLWA, we put in quite a lot of work to trace where the materials go – partly to make sure they are being managed responsibly, but also so that we can share that information with the public.
"It’s good to recycle what we can, but there is also a problem with the rate at which we consume new things – and often those things are low quality so they won’t last long."
2. What is the biggest challenge you are facing right now when it comes to waste management in the city?
In north London specifically, it’s hard to get people to recycle well (and more). However, I’d say that the biggest challenges we face are the same for the whole of UK: We just produce such an enormous volume of waste. It’s good to recycle what we can, but there is also a problem with the rate at which we consume new things – and often those things are low quality so they won’t last long. We need a massive change to the system so that manufacturer’s aren’t allowed to just sell any old thing, and we value possessions and hold onto them for longer.
3. On an individual level, how can people help reduce waste? (aside from keeping clothes for longer)
Here’s a few top actions that would make a big difference if everyone did them:
Reduce food waste: plan meals; buy what you need; use things up or freeze extra portions
Remember your reusables: fabric bag, coffee cup, water bottle, lunch box
Buy good quality items that stand the test of time
Try doing your own repair, or find a local repair service
If you want to go to the extra level, choose products with minimal or recyclable packaging, or even try buying from refill shops/services
Buy good quality items that stand the test of time.
4. What are three things people can do right now to support your work?
If you are thinking of disposing of something, consider whether there’s a way for it to be reused
Check that you’re recycling as much as you can
A big thank you to Miriam Cragg - Communications Team Manager for answering these questions.