Canals could hold key to London’s waste woes

As traffic congestion and fuel costs rise, transporting London's waste by barge is becoming an increasingly realistic economic prospect, according to a waste expert addressing his peers in the city this week.

Paul Dumble, waste freight co-ordinator at Transport for London, told colleagues at a London Remade networking event that whilst costs and time pressures had made restoring the capital’s canal network an unattractive prospect, we had reached the point when it would make economic and environmental sense to do so.

Transporting the huge quantities of waste from the rapidly-growing city by road would become more an more difficult, he said, with very real problems of lack of road space and pollution to consider.

And while the focus of waste debates tended to be on the processing facilities, he said, the method of transport chosen could have a huge effect on the environment – and the public purse.

“Waste represents about 8% of freight transport in London and makes a big contribution to climate change,” he said.

“The business case of waste to water has changed over the last couple of years.”

In the past transporting by barge has been considerably more expensive, he said, but now there was a rough parity between the costs of road versus canal transport, and real saving could be made if one combined the two.

He outlined trials taking place in the capital, where refuse collection vehicles stored waste in a removable box rather than the traditional fixed one, which could be lifted off and loaded onto barges or huge flatbed trucks to reduce the number of journeys to processing facilities.

This ‘inter-modal’ transport of waste would prove cheaper than an either-or option, as well as having significant environmental benefits in terms of carbon reductions and cutting pollution from road freight.

“There’s an opportunity to use this resource, London can reduce its CO2 impact by putting its waste onto the canals,” he said.

Mr Dumble challenged skeptics, acknowledging it was a big undertaking and the capital expenditure to renovate the canals would be large, but arguing that the figures stacked up and the pay back would only be four or five years.

“The canals are 200 years old or older, a lot of infrastructure is going to need to be developed,” he said.

“But if we don’t take this opportunity to move 5-10million tonnes of materials down the canals [every year] in the next four or five years, we’re never going to get them down the roads because they will be blocked.”

He said it did not have to stop at municipal waste and that the canal network was ideally placed to be used to bring materials in – and waste aggregates out – of the Olympic site and countless other developments.

The economic and environmental arguments were on his side, said Mr Dumble, and he was confident that the canals would once again be the arteries of the city in the near future.

“I’d give up being an environmentalist if I can’t get a scheme like this to work,” he said.

Sam Bond

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