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Article – How local authorities can move to a circular economy in practice

Establishing a low carbon, circular economy can not only save people money today, but also build wider resilience against the cost of living and climate crises for the long-term – by reducing energy usage, creating jobs of the future and building vital skills. But it requires a mass shift in behaviour, which is not easy to achieve. How do you do it in practice?

It is of course partly about raising awareness. The message is simple: we must waste less – while reusing, repairing, sharing and recycling more. But communications campaigns aren’t always effective on their own. Getting people to experience changes for themselves is much more powerful than just telling them about them.

That’s why the best tactic is to start local – direct and physical interventions are key to unlocking behaviour change. At ReLondon, we collaborate with local authorities and businesses to do this, by co-creating projects with target communities that are designed for their lifestyles.

We recently undertook a flats recycling project on four estates in Lambeth, south London. To pinpoint the specific problems that needed fixing, we researched residents’ existing behaviours and attitudes to recycling; and learned more about how they lived and worked. Thanks to these insights, we were able to co-create a scheme tailored precisely to their needs. The results speak for themselves: recycling rates increased 152%.

In another example, we’re currently working with residents and the London Borough of Hounslow to create a year-long programme to engage the community with new ways of reducing their waste, saving money and getting to know their neighbours. It includes repair workshops, rental and sharing apps, second-hand pop-ups and interactive circular economy events. By involving the community in the planning, and keeping it super-local, it can maximise the likelihood of long-term behaviour change.

ReLondon also works with over 300 London-based innovative SMEs through our business support programme, matching them with localised grant-funding to build a more resilient and sustainable local economy. It’s a great way for local authorities to engage with businesses in their borough and to employ more local people in ‘green’ jobs.

Moving to a circular economy might seem like a huge undertaking, but starting local and making it hands-on is key. In many cases, circular alternatives are often better, cheaper and more efficient than new options, particularly if accessed locally. Community-based initiatives are essential in encouraging people to form new habits while helping councils and businesses to create thriving neighbourhoods – delivering both environmental and economic positive outcomes.

This article was first published in the Local Government Chronicle.

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