The north London boroughs collect around 827,000 tonnes waste each year making North London Waste Authority the second largest waste authority in the country in terms of the amount of waste managed. Waste management is therefore a larger challenge in north London than in all other parts of the country, except for Greater Manchester (which is the largest waste disposal authority). The amount of waste produced in north London is also expected to grow as household incomes increase and more people live in the area. North London Waste Authority (NLWA) and the seven boroughs in its area, Barnet, Camden, Enfield, Hackney, Haringey, Islington and Waltham Forest are therefore working together to continuously improve the way in which waste is managed.
North London Waste Authority (NLWA) manages the recycling and composting for six of the seven north London boroughs (not LB Enfield) and disposes of the waste left over after recycling and composting for all seven.
In 2012/13 NLWA sent around 200,000 tonnes of waste to landfill disposal. Landfill sites are holes in the ground, often quarries that are no longer operational, which have been adapted to accept rubbish for disposal.
However, landfill is the least preferable option for managing waste from an environmental point of view and in terms of cost. The EU Landfill Directive states that the use of landfill should be limited to the necessary minimum. All the landfill sites that NLWA uses are outside London so there is a cost of transporting the waste to landfill for disposal. In addition a tax of £80 has to be paid on every tonne of waste that is sent to landfill. The tax is intended to discourage both the generation of waste and its landfilling because it is undesirable from an environmental point of view. However, landfill is the least preferable option for managing waste from an environmental point of view and in terms of cost. The EU Landfill Directive states that the use of landfill should be limited to the necessary minimum. All the landfill sites that NLWA uses are outside London so there is a cost of transporting the waste to landfill for disposal. In addition a tax of £80 has to be paid on every tonne of waste that is sent to landfill. The tax is intended to discourage both the generation of waste and its landfilling because it is undesirable from an environmental point of view.
As waste decomposes in landfill sites it generates landfill gas – a mixture of methane, carbon dioxide and water vapour. Methane is 28 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide over a 100 year period . So by putting a tax on waste to landfill the government aims to make it the least attractive option for local authorities, businesses and any other producers of waste when they are considering how to manage waste. The north London authorities therefore want to minimise the use of landfill now and in the future.
Around 530,000 tonnes of waste was treated at the Edmonton EcoPark Energy from Waste facility in 2012/13. Energy recovery is financially a more attractive option for disposing of waste than landfill, as there is no tax to pay. In addition, rather than burying the waste in some else’s area outside of London, energy recovery enables an urban authority like NLWA to dispose of its own rubbish locally where it is produced and generate electricity and possibly heat too. The current Energy from Waste facility at the Edmonton Ecopark generates enough electricity to power all the operations on the site and the rest is exported to the National Grid, enough to meet the annual electricity demand of 72,000 homes. The supply of electricity generated by burning the waste also provides an income for NLWA’s wholly owned contractor, LondonWaste Ltd. This means that the income from the sale of the electricity can be used to offset the cost of waste management services for the north London boroughs and their tax payers. In the future NLWA would like to see heat captured and used, as well as the electricity that is generated.
In 2012/13 NLWA re-used recycled and composted approximately 211,000 tonnes of north London’s rubbish equivalent to about 32% of the area’s household waste. Whilst we want to keep energy recovery as our preferred option for disposing of waste that isn’t recycled or composted, we also want to reduce the amount of waste we landfill by increasing the proportion of the waste that is recycled and composted.
As a result of the different environmental impacts, compared to landfill, recycling and composting are higher up the waste hierarchy and in a preferable position.
This is because as processes they produce less carbon dioxide than landfill and rather than burying the primary materials contained within the products in the ground recycling and composting ensure that they are captured and used again and again. For example some electrical products contain metals which are increasingly rare so by recycling these products the raw materials can be used again and again. Composting also produces a valuable product which can be sold to local farmers (see picture). In north London the compost is available free of charge to local community groups and allotment holders. So rather than rotting in a landfill site and producing landfill gas, the waste can be put to good use growing plants and crops. Recycling also generally saves money compared to landfill, both in north London and elsewhere across the country. Although the value of recyclable material goes up and down as global demand for recyclable material changes, recycling is generally and on a long term basis less expensive than disposing of waste to landfill because even if it generates little income it doesn’t attract any landfill tax. Recycling and composting are also better for the environment than landfilling:. For example valuable metals can be recovered through recycling and some materials can be used again and again. In 2013/14 NLWA passed £2.7 million in income from the sale of recycling back to the six boroughs using its service. (This sum includes 4th quarter 2014-15 provisional figures).
Preventing waste from being produced in the first place and re-using things that were intended to be waste are the two best options for dealing with waste, from both a cost and environmental perspective. In 2013/14 NLWA estimates that its waste prevention programme across the north London area prevented 8,000 tonnes of material from going to recycling, composting, energy-from-waste or landfill disposal. NLWA’s current waste prevention programme expects to divert 20,000 tonnes of waste from other types of waste management over the two years.
The ‘waste hierarchy’ is the term that is used for the preferred order of options for dealing with waste, with waste prevention being the most attractive option and landfill the least attractive. The EU Waste Framework Directive states that “the waste hierarchy generally lays down a priority order of what constitutes the best overall environmental option in waste legislation and policy”. The term ‘recycling’ in the waste hierarchy includes recycling and composting and ‘recovery’ includes energy recovery facilities such as that proposed at the Edmonton EcoPark.
The waste hierarchy is shown in the diagram below.
The waste hierarchy is the basis for much of UK waste policy and legislation and it is a key element in the EU Waste Framework Directive and the EU Landfill Directive which aim to increase the amount of waste recycled and composted and reduce the amount of waste that we send to landfill across the European Union. The Waste Management Plan for England sets out more broadly where we are now in terms of the waste we generate in England and how we manage those materials and the plans for the future. The focus on waste prevention is also outlined in the Waste Prevention Programme for England . At a regional level the Mayor of London’s municipal waste management strategy ;for London sets out the Mayor’s ambitions for managing waste in London in compliance with national requirements.
In the future we want to move further up the waste hierarchy, through more waste prevention, reuse and recycling and less landfill disposal. The North London Joint Waste Strategy sets out the objectives for doing so. In particular we want to minimise waste to landfill by reusing, recycling and composting half of the waste that we manage by 2020.
The challenge for NLWA and the constituent boroughs is that landfilling is relatively easy to do because it simply requires local residents and businesses to put their waste in a single container. Prevention and recycling rely on everyone’s participation in the process from the smallest business to largest family and for everyone to reduce their waste as much as possible and recycle everything that they can. However, we are still only reaching around 32% recycling in north London so we need to do more. The North London Heat and Power Project will help us to reach our goal of reducing waste to landfill but as recycling and prevention save money and are better for the environment we’ll also be doing more to achieve our target in this area too.
Examples of ongoing activities to increase reuse and recycling:
Want to know more? Annual Monitoring Report of the North London Joint Waste Strategy
North London Joint Waste Strategy
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