Matthew Pearson

Recycling in London: Not a Waste of Time

You’d have thought London would be at the forefront of any UK recycling revolution. It’s metropolitan, modern, always on the move. But Londoners are lagging behind the rest of the UK when it comes to the amount of household waste we recycle.

  • The amount of household waste we’re recycling in London is actually dropping.
  • In some London boroughs, we’re recycling under 20% of household waste.
  • The UK-wide goal is to recycle 50% of household waste by 2020.
  • London Mayor Sadiq Khan is aiming to get the city up to 65% by 2030.
  • There’s lots to be done.
In this article, we’re going to point you in the direction of some London-based schemes aiming to help Londoners and visitors reduce, reuse and recycle. No pressure, but the future of the planet depends on us.

Use reusables

This is a hard-sell for many. Having used coffee cups and lunch boxes leaking lunch sauce all over your bag isn’t what anyone wants. But saving the world was never going to smell that great. We’re talking about waste after all. Pay extra for a lunchbox with a vacuum release valve system, and you can fling that thing around without worrying about leakages. Coffee cup-wise, the rCup is a great no-spill option. And businesses are incentivising this kind of preparedness. Marks and Spencer have recently launched an eco-discount for those who use their own lunchboxes to pick up meals from the M&S Marketplace. You get 25p off each meal. Work that out over a year and you’ve made... a profit. Get yourself a reusable water bottle too and fill it up at the...

Water fountains

Yes. Because toss-away water bottles are one of the main contributors to our plastic problem. London is getting a load more water fountains on high streets, at train stations, on sports fields and in shopping centres. We should have had them years ago, but previous pledges by previous mayors came to nothing. This new breed of water fountain are marked on top by a big blue water drop, making them hard to miss. Big blue water drop, or big blue tear of a seagull if you keep using plastic bottles and lobbing them at them. Not sure. Twenty were unveiled last year. There should be another 100 by the end of 2020. Also, get the Refill app. The Refill campaign has been persuading businesses to allow members of the public to refill bottles using their taps. The app tells you where your local Refill centre is. It could be a little shop or a chain restaurant. And you're under no obligation to buy anything. What's more, the Refill campaign get money each time you refill.

Go plastic packaging-free

M&S (who, like we said, are introducing positive plastic-fearing measures in-store) were rightly ridiculed when they introduced their ‘Cauliflower Steaks’. The plastic-wrapped slices of cauliflower were wasteful and extortionately priced. But people complained, and bye-bye Cauliflower Steaks. But the problem of plastic packaging is prevalent all over supermarkets. The worst offender: stores providing prepackaged versions of produce they are also selling loose. It’s nuts. Prepackaged nuts.

Farm out responsibly

So wave off the supermarkets for a bit (at least until they get their plastic problem in order) and head to a farmers' market. From Bloomsbury to Balham, Earls Court to Walthamstow, there are plenty of good farmers' markets in London. Cut and picked just before coming to market, the goods here are often organic and locally-sourced. You'll be ticking plenty of eco boxes while cutting down on packaging. Find a farmers' market close to you right here. Also, Borough Market, perhaps the most famous fresh produce market in the country, is aiming to go plastic-free in the near-future. They’re introducing biodegradable and compostable packaging and have installed a number of water fountains for shoppers to use.

Guilt-free zones

London also has a great set of plastic-free and zero waste stores. You bring your jars and other containers, weigh them, fill them with what you need, weigh them again, then pay for the weight minus the weight of your container. It’s even easier than that sounds. These places tend to specialise in dried goods like pulses, grains, nuts and pasta, as well as oils, vinegar, coffee and tea. Alongside these store cupboard items, you’ll often find toiletries, cleaning productions and reusable utensils. Classics of the genre include Bulk Market in Dalston and Unpackaged at Planet Organic in Islington, Westbourne Grove, Torrington Place and Muswell Hill.

Milk it

Since everyone’s addicted to nostalgia these days anyway, why not start ordering your milk from a milkperson (not milkman...times have changed since door-to-door milk stopped being so commonplace). They use plastic milk bottles instead of plastic, so you get some waste-free satisfaction with your cereal. Many services now use fleets electric milk floats too, and some even deliver milk alternatives along with the dairy stuff. Parker Dairies serve Central and East London and have had a huge uptick in business over the last year or so. Because there’s no use crying over a ruined planet.

Recycle instore

Further incentivising recycling in London are instore schemes to hand over your unwanted items. You often get money off in return for dropping in with clothes, phones and tech you don’t want anymore. In the textile world, Weekday, H&M and Nike are among the many stores offering discounts for those who recycle their old goods in store. The ones in usable condition might be resold, some will be refashioned and up-cycled to be sold again. Others will be recycled into everything from building materials to wash rags. Cruelty-free cosmetics company The Body Shop has recently introduced a scheme where, upon bringing in five washed containers, you get a £5 discount. They recycle some, and others are turned into new objects, like children’s playgrounds, kitchen utensils and park benches. Looking for tips for an eco-trip to London? Look no further.
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