London needs to reduce its plastic bottle use. Here’s how

What a waste. Image: Getty.

A Labour member of the London Assembly on the city’s plastic problem.

The huge amount of waste created by single-use plastics is a scourge on our capital – and the main culprit is plastic water bottles which are disposed of in their tens of millions each year. Picture this: if the 480bn plastic drinking bottles sold worldwide in 2016 were placed end to end, they would extend more than halfway to the sun.

Worryingly, if urgent action isn’t taken, Euromonitor International have predicted that this figure will rise to 583bn in the next three years. In London, the issue of plastic waste is particularly acute. Londoners consume more plastic bottled water per person than anywhere else in the UK, and last year, the Thames 21 waterways group revealed that plastic bottles make up 10 per cent of all litter found in the Thames.

However, there has been some progress this month with the mayor’s announcement of an extra £6m of funding to go towards reducing plastic waste and improving green spaces. In addition, Network Rail also confirmed plans to install water refill stations in all of its ten London termini stations, including Waterloo and King’s Cross.

One of the solutions to encourage Londoners to think again – before disposing of their plastic bottles after one use – Is to install a network of water refill stations across the capital’s public spaces. This is one of the measures that I have been campaigning for as Chair of the London Assembly Environment Committee, and it was welcome to see the mayor commit to it in his draft London Plan. A portion of the additional £6m of funding that the Mayor recently announced looks to add more public refill stations on top of the 20 originally proposed.


Earlier this month, after ruling out the possibility only months ago, Network Rail performed an abrupt U-turn and announced its intention to provide places to refill water bottles. It is now time for Transport for London (TfL) to consider how they might follow suit. The costs of installing water refill stations could well be a price worth paying when we compare it with the cost of continuing to push our environment to the brink.

However, tackling the deluge of plastic waste in our capital is not just the responsibility of the mayor and transport networks. Small businesses and entertainment venues also have a very significant part to play in ditching single use plastic cups and cutlery. I will be taking a lead on this and lobbying local businesses and venues in Merton and Wandsworth, the area that I represent, to commit to a plastic free pledge.

The facts are stark and should be enough to convince any responsible business owner to take action. Some 38.5m plastic bottles are used every day in the UK. Sadly, according to campaign group Recycle Now, only over half make it to recycling plants, while every day more than 16m are dumped into landfill, burnt or leaked into the environment and oceans.

Providing public water refill stations is an integral facet of the wider strategy to tackle the burgeoning levels of waste and pollution in London. There is a collective responsibility to clean up our streets, parks and rivers – but let’s hope that the major players who can make the biggest difference act on their pledges and don’t bottle it.

Leonie Cooper is a Labour London Assembly Member for Merton & Wandsworth, and the Labour group’s spokesperson on the environment.

Still thirsty? Check out this podcast we did on cities and water shortages.

 
 
 
 

How US planners experimented with “the iron hand of power” over colonial Manila

Manila in ruins, 1945. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

In 1904, Manila must have appeared to its new overlords a despairing prospect. Racked with poverty and disease, it was still recovering from years of war, epidemic and a fire that had left 8,000 homeless.

For architect Daniel Burnham, it was an opportunity to put to work the radical ideas he had dreamed of in America.

He was among those asking how America’s unprecedented wealth at the turn of the century could be reconciled with the lives of the country’s poorest. Like many, he admired the ideas of harmonised city-planning articulated in Edward Bellamy’s bestselling science-fiction Looking Backward (1888).

At the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Burnham constructed the “White City”. Built across 686 acres of parkland, boulevards, gardens and neoclassical structures rendered a spray-painted plaster vision of the future – all laid out to one comprehensive plan.

It was impressive – but implementing grand designs where people actually lived meant laborious negotiations with citizens, businessmen and politicians.

Instead, opportunity lay in America’s new overseas territories. As Daniel Immerwahr describes in How to Hide an Empire: A Short History of the Greater United States, “They functioned as laboratories, spaces for bold experimentation where ideas could be tried with practically no resistance, oversight, or consequences.”

An architect’s dream

The US had gone to war with Spain in 1898, taking advantage of an empire-wide insurrection. It ended up controlling the entire Philippines, along with Guam and Puerto Rico.

As a “territory”, the Philippines existed outside the protections of the constitution. Congress could impose any law, proclaimed the attorney general in 1901, “without asking the consent of the inhabitants, even against their consent and against their protest, as it has frequently done.”

Which is how Burnham, upon invitation by the Philippine’s new rulers, came to wield what the Architectural Record called “the iron hand of power” over Manila.

 Burnham’s plan for Manila. Click to expand.

Where Burnham’s Chicago plan was complex, took years and entailed collaboration with hundreds of citizens, Burnham spent six months on the Manila plan, and just six weeks in the Philippines. And with no voters to persuade, there seemed little reason to register Filipino input in his designs.

In 1905 Burnham submitted his Report on Improvement of Manila. It described filling the toxic moat of the Spanish fortress Intramuros and developing a rectangular street system modelled on Washington D.C., with diagonal arteries which even Chicago lacked.


Central to his plan was the city’s beautification through monumental buildings, waterfront improvements, and parks – “wholesome resorts” to “give proper means of recreation to every quarter of the city”

Burnham charged William E. Parsons as the omnipotent “Consultant Architect” to interpret his plan, who relished its authority over all public building as an “architect’s dream”. When concerned with the extent of his purview, he also chose to standardise a number of public buildings.

“I doubt if this method would bear fruit in our own city improvement plans, in which everything depends on slow moving legislative bodies,” reported the Architectural Record’s correspondent.

Despite Burnham’s colonial sentiments his biographer concluded his plan was “remarkable in its simplicity and its cognizance of Philippine conditions and traditions.”

His plans did not shy from asserting the colonial government’s authority, however. The Luneta, a favourite park, was to become the nuclei of government. The city’s avenues would converge there, for “every section of the Capitol City should look with deference toward the symbol of the Nation’s power.”

Unusual monumental possibilities

Burnham also worked on a summer palace for US administrators at Baguio, 150 miles north in the mountains. On land inhabited by Igorot people, Burnham saw an opening “to formulate my plans untrammelled by any but natural conditions”.

Baguio’s “unusual monumental possibilities” were facilitated by a road whose construction employed thousands, risking death from disease and falling off cliffs. Civic buildings would “dominate everything in sight” and a golf course would rival those of Scotland.

“Stingy towards the people and lavish towards itself,” griped La Vanguardia, the government “has no scruples nor remorse about wasting money which is not its own.”

As enthusiasm for US empire soured in the States, local power was relinquished to Filipinos. Parsons resigned in protest in 1914. He was replaced by Manila-born Juan Arellano, whose rebuke to imperialists was the mighty, neoclassical Legislative Building which hosted the elected Philippine Legislature. Arellano upheld Burnham’s plan, producing a beautified city bearing resemblance to Burnham’s White City.

But the Legislative Building, along with Burnham’s great edifices and almost everything else in Manila, was levelled as US troops recaptured it in 1945, this time ousting the Japanese in a brutal battle. “Block after bloody block was slowly mashed into an unrecognizable pulp”, recorded the 37th Infantry Division as they exercised their own “iron hand” over Manila.

American artillery had transformed Manila into ruins. “It was by far the most destructive event ever to take place on US soil,” writes Immerwahr, even if few soldiers realised they were liberating US nationals at the time. Burnham’s expansive vision was lost in the debris, and though some buildings were rebuilt a majority were replaced. Today, Manila’s pre-war architecture is remembered with fondness and nostalgia.