Matthew Pencharz, deputy Mayor for environment & energy at GLA, said the Authority would be drawing up new specification requirements and publishing a “circular economy hierarchy” for suppliers as part of this process.

Speaking at a circular cities workshop at London’s City Hall on Friday (4 March), Pencharz said this would send a strong message out to the market – particularly as London’s collective public sector procurement spend amounted to about £11bn a year. “I hope the set of work we’ve set out will set a good policy base of how we can have good procurement frameworks for the circular economy,” he said.

Going forward, the GLA will also look at reframing other policies such as planning, infrastructure and transport to encourage greater reuse of materials and asset utilisation.

Pencharz said that by 2050, London would need 40 new waste facilities to keep pace with its accelerating population – but that these facilities would be based around more industrial materials recovery and remanufacturing than traditional mass burn. “We’ve tried to focus more on materials and less on Airbnb-type products, at least for the first iteration,” he said.

Scaling up

In association with the London Waste & Recycling Board (LWARB), the GLA has undertaken modelling work to map the social and economic benefits a circular city would deliver for the capital.

It recently published the first part of this work, a route map, setting out how circularity could be scaled up at city level. Priority focus areas include the built environment, food, textiles, electricals and plastics. According to Pencharz, the circular economy could general net annual benefits for London of at least £7bn by 2036, creating 12,000 new jobs in the process.

Peter Lacy, global managing director for sustainability services at Accenture Strategy, also spoke at the event. He expressed concern on the level of misunderstanding surrounding the circular economy. “The real definition of a circular economy is not waste,” Lacy said. “Even talking to relatively sophisticated audiences, I have to keep coming back to that point. To understand the value and power of the circular economy, it must be seen as a four-dimensional economic systems problem and opportunity.

“It is about wasted resources, but it is also about wasted capacity – the under-utilisation of economic assets. This is about reframing economic systems … it is not about the next generation of waste management alone.”

Behaviour change challenge

The notion of circular cities is gathering pace in the UK. Peterborough is aiming to also demonstrate leadership in this field, and held a workshop this week to develop a manifesto for a ‘circular Peterborough’. The city council, together with Opportunity Peterborough, is working with 60 early adopters from business/academia and Forum for the Future to co-create the document.

The manifesto will be supported by four initial pilot projects. These include a built environment initiative which is looking to integrate materials management and better design for increased life span of roads, and tackling food poverty through the elimination of food waste.

Speaking to edie, Peterborough City Council’s environment, transport & future city manager Charlotte Palmer said part of the challenge was around engagement – to make the concept accessible to citizens at every level.

“It’s about creating behaviour change and a different way of thinking,” Palmer said. “And every one of our 190,000 residents can play a part. Just one small action from each person … whether that is reusing something, renting or borrowing instead of buying, or thinking of better ways to use waste, we can all contribute to a more sustainable, healthy and thriving economy in our city.”

Late last year, a report from produced by WRAP for the London Sustainable Development Commission (LSDC), London Waste Recycling Board (LWARB) and the GLA revealed that an improved circular economy model in London could create 40,000 new jobs by 2030 as well as lowering unemployment and providing financial incentives.

Maxine Perella

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