London's Circular Economy Route map

The Circular Economy plan of London was not directly proposed by the Greater London administration nor by the Borough of London or a specific ministry, but by London Waste and Recycling Board (LWARB). LWARB is a governmental entity funded in 2008, formed by a Chair (a representative appointed by the Mayor of London), four London Borough councillors and two independent members nominated by London Councils and finally one independent member appointed by the Mayor of London. LWARB’s main objective is to “promote and encourage the production of less waste, the increase in the proportion of waste that is re-used or recycled and the use of methods of collection, treatment and disposal of waste which are more beneficial to the environment in London” [1]. From a financial point of view, LWARB has received ca £76 million in grant funding from government and GLA/LDA between 2008 – 2015. Three main programmes ensure the delivery of these objectives:

-        Resource London: a support for London waste authorities,

-        Advance London: an investment fund to support businesses developing innovative circular solutions to minimise the creation of waste and to support the development of additional treatment capacity in London. 

-        Circular London: a three year programme aimed at accelerating London’s transition to a more circular economy through collaboration with the public and private sector and international partners. The circular economy programme brings together £50m of investment to 2020.

Here we mainly focus on the latter programme and more specifically on two strategic documents produced (London Waste & Recycling Board, 2015, 2017). The first document published in 2015, explored how London could become the “Circular Economy Capital”. This document highlighted some key aspects of circular economy in general (definition, business models, case studies), but also more specific benefits for London (potential of creating over 40,000 jobs in circular economy and creating £7 billion every year by 2036) and finally some focus areas (Built Environment, Food, Textiles, Electricals, Plastics). The focus areas for action were selected following three criteria: waste reduction, gross value added and employment creation. Government, finance, creative / digital, higher education and media were five cross-cutting enabling sectors to carry out actions in the focus areas.

The second publication, London’s circular economy Route Map, presented a more detailed and concrete action-oriented document that was development with external stakeholders. It built upon the previous document in order to propose 50 actions until 2036 [2], in the 5 focus areas. Before proposing the actions, the specific context, opportunities, challenges and existing initiatives are pointed out for each focus area. Built environment (13 actions), was subdivides in 3 themes: circular economy design (5), managing building materials (4), operation of buildings (4). The food focus area had 9 actions that were divided in 3 themes: preventing avoidable food waste (3), valuing food waste and food surplus (3), maximising use of urban space for food growing (3). Ten actions were formulated for textiles in the following themes: design (1), embedding circular economy into the textile supply chain (6), re-use and recycling. Electricals focus area (11) included design (2), extending the life of products (6), and effective collection and recycling (3) aspects. Finally, the plastics focus area proposed 7 actions.


Chair's opinion

The emphasis of the circular economy plan of London is different than the ones of Paris (see the specific post on it) and Brussels. It appears to be less driven by and for the administration than the two other cities. An interesting difference as well is that London circular economy route map embodies the circular economy definition as an economic opportunity rather than a systemic change (social and environmental). They have managed to put forward companies as the solution towards the operationalisation of circular economy. It is a divergent stand point and definition than other cities but underlines how circular economy can be translated and applied very different ways.

Finally, it is interesting to mention that London also had commissioned an urban metabolism study prior to their circular economy plan. Its urban metabolism study of 2002 (Chartered Institute of Wastes, 2002), was nevertheless not mentioned in any of the documents and the metabolic thinking was not necessarily embraced in the case of London.