Three people are working at cardboard recycling center. There is a wall of cardboard made up of three layers, one above the other. They are all wearing high vis yellow and a protective hat

Reinvigorating London’s recycling

Recycling is vital to a circular economy. It feeds materials such as plastics, paper, metal and glass back into manufacturing and reduces the need for virgin materials, saving both money and carbon in the process.

We work closely with London’s boroughs and waste authorities to drive up recycling both locally and regionally, creating actionable insights for councils, businesses and waste management companies to help them recycle more. And for all that to work, it needs engaged, knowledgeable citizens – so we run the Mayor of London’s recycling campaign, ‘London recycles’, to drive awareness and behaviour change across the capital.

Increasing London’s recycling rates

London’s current household recycling rate is 33% – and its non-household recycling rate is 48% – which nets out at a recycling rate of 41%.

The Mayor has set a target of 65% recycling by 2030 in the London Environment Strategy – which means we need to get household recycling up to 50%, and non-household up to 75% by 2030.

These are challenging targets, but through its work ReLondon aims to make a contribution of 15% additional recycling to make sure they’re reached.

London faces a number of unique challenges in its efforts to increase recycling. The UK’s capital is a complex, dense urban environment with 9 million residents and counting – and is split into 32 boroughs and the City of London, each of which operates its own waste and recycling services.

While some outer London boroughs – like Bromley or Bexley – are already recycling more than 50% of their household waste, others struggle to reach 30%. A number of factors need to be taken into consideration as we try and improve recycling rates:

  • Deprivation levels – the lowest performers in London tend to be those boroughs with the highest levels of deprivation, as well as high population density.
  • Highly transient population – low levels of home ownership and growth in privately rented, short-term accommodation are having an impact across the capital. Homeowners tend to recycle more whereas communities with larger numbers of highly mobile renters don’t.
  • A high percentage of flats – whether high-rise, house conversions or flats above shops – presents challenges both to residents and to council collection teams. Flats account for up to 80% of housing stock in some boroughs and those numbers are set to keep rising.
  • Audience research shows that the audience segments that recycle least and contaminate the most make up a disproportionately high percentage of the resident population in inner London boroughs. These segments are made up of higher proportions of younger people (18 – 34-year-olds), who recycle less than older, more settled demographics.
  • The number of residents aged 20-29 continues to rise, now making up almost half (49%) of the total population of large city centres; and students account for a quarter of all residents in city centres.
  • London is culturally diverse, with more than 100 different languages spoken in almost every borough, making it a much more challenging environment to communicate recycling service information to residents.
  • London has a huge swell of daytime visitors (c. 1 million daily commuters plus tourists), creating extra litter and waste for collection.

When we recycle, used materials are converted into new products, reducing the need to consume natural resources as well as the carbon emissions associated with materials extraction and production. Right now, recycling in the UK saves us around 18 million tonnes of CO₂ a year, which is equivalent to taking 5 million cars off the road.

Recycling is the simplest contribution you can make to help tackle the climate crisis. Whether you live in a house, a flat conversion or a block of purpose-built flats, there are recycling facilities and collections available to you, run by your council.

Make sure that you have a separate bin inside our home just for your recycling – when we spoke to Londoners about this, we discovered that over one third of us would recycle more if we had more than one bin at home. So get a separate bin, or ‘hack’ one out of a cardboard box, bag or other container that you’ve got at home. Recycling is so much easier when you have a separate bin, bag or box to put it in.

Find out more on our London Recycles website.

While every London borough can set its own rules for what can and can’t be collected for recycling, there are some standard materials that every council collects:

  • Plastic bottles
  • Tins and cans
  • Paper
  • Cardboard

Most London boroughs also collect glass, plastic pots, tubs and trays (such as yoghurt pots, fruit trays and margarine tubs) and food waste.

Check our handy London Recycles ‘services at a glance’ guide to find out exactly what you can recycle where you live.

Recycling resources

https://relondon.gov.uk/resources/toolkit-food-waste-recycling-communications
Small Change, Big Difference food waste campaign - brightly coloured food piled up on a market stall

Food waste recycling resources

Communications resources to boost residents’ food waste recycling Read more
https://relondon.gov.uk/resources/toolkit-commercial-waste-services-communication-assets
London waste recovery crew emptying large commercial bins

Commercial communications toolkit

Download assets to help increase recycling from business premises Read more
https://relondon.gov.uk/resources/report-tackling-contamination-improving-the-quality-of-household-recycling-in-london
Arial shot of someone recycling two glass jars

Improving recycling quality

Learnings on how to tackle contamination and increase recycling quality Read more

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