Every Londoner makes footprint the size of eight football pitches

Londoners are running up a huge debt on the Earth’s resources, with each person in the capital city during 2000 requiring an area of 6.63 hectares – roughly equivalent to eight football pitches to provide for their levels of consumption and to dispose of their waste, says new research published on 10 September.

According to City Limits, a research project carried out by environmental consultancy Best Foot Forward, this is the first time that a major city has calculated its resource consumption in such detail. The results showed that the biggest contribution to the city’s footprint comes from materials and waste, and food, with transport and energy and water consumption relatively low contributors. Around 41% of the footprint comes from food, 44% from materials and waste, 10% from energy, around 5% from transport, with water contributing only 0.3% and degraded land 0.7%.

“For the first time we have an overall picture of London’s metabolism, how resources are used and where action might be taken to increase our efficiency and become more sustainable,” says Mayor of London Ken Livingstone. “The report reinforces the challenges that face us but also provides vital clues to ways in which we can reduce our impact on the wider world.”

In 2000, the population of Greater London was 7.4 million. The city’s total ecological footprint for the year was 49 million hectares (just under 190,000 square miles), 293 times its geographical area and twice the size of the UK.

Londoners consumed 154,000 GigaWatt hours of energy – the equivalent of nearly 13.3 million tonnes of oil, producing 41 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. They consumed 49 million tonnes of materials – 6.7 tonnes each, and generated 26 million tonnes of waste, 58% from the construction and demolition sector, 30% from the commercial and industrial sector, and 13% from households.

Londoners consumed 6.9 million tonnes of food – 81% from outside the UK, and travelled 64 billion kilometres – 69% by car. Water consumption reached 876 billion litres, 28% of which was leakage.

“Londoners are running up an environmental debt that will have to be paid for by increased spending on clearing up waste and restoring the environment,” said Chairman of the City Limits Steering Group Oswald Dodds.

According to a separate study from 2000 of the per capita footprint of a number of countries around the world, London’s per capita footprint is by no means the largest. That achievement can be claimed by the United Arab Emirates, with a per capita footprint of nearly 16 hectares. Other countries, such as Singapore, the US, Denmark, Kuwait and New Zealand, also have considerably larger per capita footprints.

However, London’s footprint is slightly larger than the average for the whole of the UK, and well above the 2.2 hectare average for all 152 countries listed. Within the UK, Oxfordshire and Guernsey are documented as having larger footprints than London.

What can be done? According to the report, a revolutionary reduction in the size of London’s footprint by 35% by 2020 could be achieved by sourcing 48% of electricity from renewable sources, 100% recycling for household paper, card, plastic, glass, ferrous metal, aluminium and compostables, and 66% recycling for other materials. However, such a high level of recycling is probably unfeasible, says the report, which means that waste minimisation should become a priority.

For transport, 50% of car and van passenger kilometres should be switched to low carbon fuel, and road freight should be shifted to rail so that 15% of food freight is transported by rail.

The collection of rainwater would save London 18% of its household water consumption, and the use of grey water recycling systems could save 30%.

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