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The zero-waste revolution: how a new wave of shops could end excess packaging

The zero-waste revolution: how a new wave of shops could end excess packaging


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “The zero-waste revolution: how a new wave of shops could end excess packaging” was written by Stephen Moss, for The Guardian on Sunday 21st April 2019 13.00 UTC

The smell in Natural Weigh, a zero-waste shop that opened a year ago in Crickhowell in mid-Wales, is lovely. The shop – filled with pasta, grains, seeds and dried fruit served from hoppers to avoid plastic packaging; washing-up liquid and laundry products that customers pump into their battered old squeezy bottles; fair-trade coffee and chocolate, plus an array of environmentally friendly products, such as bamboo toothbrush holders, plastic-free dental floss and vegan leather snack pouches – looks lovely. The little town itself, which prides itself on having the best high street in Britain, is lovely, too. I am captivated.

Natural Weigh is part of a quiet revolution. Over the past two years, well over 100 of these stores have sprung up across the UK. Precise numbers are hard to come by, but some in the business say there are almost 200, many in environmental hotspots such as Brighton, Bath, Bristol and north-east London, but also in plenty of other less obviously fertile areas. Zero-wasters are in touch with each other on Facebook, and have their own bible in Bea Johnson’s book Zero Waste Home.

Chloe and Robin Masefield started Natural Weigh, which they say is Wales’s first zero-waste shop, in March 2018. “We got the idea in August 2017,” says Robin. “We saw a shop down in Totnes” – Earth.Food.Love, which opened in March 2017 and presents itself as Britain’s first zero-waste shop – “and thought we should go for it.” Chloe and Robin worked in the environmental sector – Chloe for the Woodland Trust, Robin in the fishing industry – and saw a plastic-free shop as a natural extension of their environmental concerns.

The shop is part of what used to be a pub. When it closed, it was earmarked for redevelopment as a supermarket, but local people bought it instead – raising a cool £500,000 – and the site houses an antique shop and a cafe as well as Natural Weigh. Crickhowell is fiercely protective of its independence and taste for non-supermarket shopping. The high street also includes two high-quality butchers and two greengrocers – one reason the Masefields don’t sell organic veg alongside their dried goods, as many zero-waste shops do. They don’t want to undermine their neighbours.

Herbs and spices on sale at Natural Weigh.
Herbs and spices at Natural Weigh. Photograph: Dimitris Legakis/Athena Pictures

It cost the Masefields more than £40,000 to set up the store, and Robin says it is on track financially, although he has carried on working part-time to supplement his income. There is a steady stream of shoppers on the Monday morning I visit. Ann Williams is a regular. “I liked the concept,” she says. “We have far too much waste these days.” She buys all her washing and cleaning materials here, as well as lots of dried goods. She says she has always been careful to recycle, and sees zero-waste shops as a return to the days of grocers decanting products from large containers. “I don’t know why we ever moved away from that,” she adds. “Supermarkets are the problem. I do hardly anything in supermarkets now.”

Pip Mumford says she buys into everything Natural Weigh represents – healthy eating, local shopping, ethical sourcing, zero waste. She is trying out the shop’s eco cleaning products for the first time, filling up a bottle from the pile that the shop keeps for customers to use, and also stocking up on ingredients for her homemade muesli. “It tastes much nicer,” she says.

Hugo Tewson is running round the shop, grabbing nuts and cereals, and using the nut grinder to make peanut butter. “It’s great fun to shop here,” he says. “The washing-up liquid is great. I’ll be back tomorrow with my own bottles to fill up. That’s very satisfying. I need turmeric for my arthritis and it’s great to be able to buy it in proper quantities. The nut butter is wonderful. I hate shopping, but this is a different experience.” The performative aspects of zero-waste shopping, which children and middle-aged men with an aversion to conventional shops particularly enjoy, are not to be underestimated.

This part of Wales has quite a few second homeowners and a degree of affluence that makes it possible to raise half a million quid to see off a supermarket.

Some view zero-waste shops as inherently middle class in their combination of healthy eating and social concern, but Masefield hopes his shop can reach a broader demographic. Liz Maglaras, another regular at the shop, believes it can. “Most people think it costs more to shop here,” she says, “but that’s not true. Sometimes it’s the same and sometimes it can be cheaper. Occasionally, it costs more, but that’s because I’ve got an addiction to those really nice chocolates over there. I’m not on a high income, and I don’t think it’s only for the rich. It doesn’t have to be anyway, and I know all sorts of people who shop here.”

The Clean Kilo opened in Digbeth in central Birmingham last June. The location is significant: Digbeth is the Shoreditch of Birmingham – a rundown area that now has a millennial buzz and a taste for social entrepreneurship. The two social entrepreneurs who set up the shop, using their own savings plus money from crowdfunding, are Tom Pell, a 32-year-old chemist who got the zero-waste bug in Australia (which is at least a decade ahead of the UK in environmentalism), and a 28-year-old fashion designer, Jeanette Wong.

Jeanette Wong and Tom Pell at the Clean Kilo in Birmingham.
Jeanette Wong and Tom Pell at the Clean Kilo in Birmingham. Photograph: Adrian Sherratt/The Observer

The shop styles itself as a zero-waste supermarket, selling not just the nuts, pulses, pastas and dried fruits you find in all these stores, but fruit and veg, bread, eggs, cheese, butter, ice-cream – in cones only, no plastic tubs – and vegan chocolate. No meat, of course: a no-no in all zero-waste shops because meat is inherently planet-destroying. When I applaud Morrisons’ decision to allow customers to use their own containers to take home raw meat, Sarah Lewis – who runs the Zero Waster website – looks at me askance. The packaging, she points out, is the lesser problem. Only when we move away from meat, which demands that more and more forest land be cleared for grazing, will we start to confront the climate crisis.

I like the Clean Kilo’s one-stop-shop approach. It makes the store less austere and clinical than some zero-waste shops. It reminds me a lot of Bulk Market in Hackney, east London, which has a similar energy and range. Here I pick up an organic eco Easter egg with minimal cardboard packaging and none of those layers of plastic designed to make the egg look bigger. What you see is what you get.

The Clean Kilo is also busy on the day I visit. Andrew Wall and Kerry Hughes have come over from Wolverhampton, which they say they often do on a Saturday. “We treat it as our Clean Kilo day,” says Wall. They say they have always recycled as much as possible, but they are trying to cut the amount they recycle, too. As Masefield points out, recycling alone is not the answer because it uses a lot of energy, and the recycled packaging that emerges is of lesser quality. “Calling it recycling is disingenuous,” he says. “It should really be called downcycling because you can’t retain the same quality of plastic unless you introduce virgin materials to retain that quality.”

Joanna Fursman has cycled across to Digbeth from the suburb of Edgbaston in south-west Birmingham and is busy refilling a bottle with additive-free shampoo. “I’ve been trying to reduce the amount of waste I produce for quite a few years,” she says. “I come from a family who grow their own vegetables, and supermarket shopping has always felt a bit odd.”

Natural Weigh and the Clean Kilo both get their cleaning products from SESI (Sustainable Ethical Supplies Initiative), a fast-growing social enterprise based in Oxford that was set up more than a decade ago by Rina Melendez and Paul Godden. It originally supplied ethical wholefoods to schools and farmers’ markets, but started campaigning on plastic packaging and in 2013 developed a range of biodegradable vegan detergents. “At the time there was a niche interest in having properly refillable zero-waste household detergents,” says Godden. “The main issue for retailers was that it was a bit messy, so we went away and developed our own manual pump-based dispensing system.” They now supply 70 zero-waste shops and have another 40 on their waiting list. “We have really only pushed this hard in the last year, and we’re finding it’s an open door,” he says. “Demand is huge now.”

Bulk Market in Dalston, east London.
Bulk Market in Dalston, east London. Photograph: Sarah Lee/The Guardian

The commercial opportunities have not passed others by. A franchise called the Source Bulk Foods, which has more than 50 shops across Australia, is setting up in the UK. There are already two stores in London owned by Patrick Cermak and Makayla Drummond, who have the master franchise for the brand in the UK and Ireland, and are looking for partners to develop a chain of shops here. “I walked into one of the Source Bulk Foods stores in Australia and I fell in love with it,” says Drummond, an Australian-born accountant based in the UK. “I knew that they had nailed the concept of it – of bringing an old-school idea and modernising it to make it appealing to this generation. I was really excited and thought: ‘We need this in London. I must bring this to London.’”

Supermarkets, too, are waking up to consumers’ growing awareness of the environmental impact of plastic packaging. Blue Planet II and other programmes demonstrating the dangers of plastics to marine life have had a huge impact many of the customers I talk to mention the Attenborough effect – and recent stories such as the dead whale washed up in the Philippines with 40kg of plastic in its stomach are keeping the crisis at the forefront of the public’s mind.

Iceland Frozen Foods, which tops Greenpeace’s league table ranking supermarkets’ efforts to take on the scourge of plastic, has vowed to eliminate plastic packaging on its own-brand products by 2023. Richard Walker, Iceland’s managing director, says the fact he is a surfer – and so all too aware of the rubbish floating in the sea – has made the issue a personal crusade. “I’ve seen the problem of plastic get worse,” he says, “but I also knew I was part of the problem. Supermarkets are leading contributors to plastic waste, and I was keen to stand up and do something about it.”

Rival chains are also making the right noises. Morrisons, which is trialling a move from plastic bags to paper, says that by 2025 at the latest all its own-brand plastic packaging “will be reusable, recyclable or compostable”. Marks & Spencer is running a trial at its large food store in Tolworth, south London, to see to what degree it can “remove packaging without affecting food quality and freshness”. And even Sainsbury’s, the butt of a Greenpeace April fool lambasting its poor performance on plastic, points out that it has reduced its own-brand packaging by 35% since 2005, and that nearly 40% of its packaging uses recycled content. Hopeless, says Greenpeace, which puts Sainsbury’s at the bottom of its plastics league table, but a start.

The dilemma for the new breed of zero-waste shops is that they want the supermarkets to see the light, but they don’t want them to get so good at it that they drive the little shops out of business. “It’s a double-edged sword because it will mean more competition,” says Masefield, “but my principles mean I still want supermarkets to do it. In any case I don’t think they will do it to the same level as us, or offer the personal touch or the same shopping experience.”

Jeanette Wong at the Clean Kilo reckons shoppers will spot shopkeepers who are jumping on the zero-waste bandwagon or engaging in “greenwashing” – paying lip service to environmental concerns – a mile off. “If it’s a generic shop and the owners don’t really know about zero waste, you get that feeling,” she says. “Customers will know very quickly.”

At Hetu, a small zero-waste vegan shop in Wandsworth, south-west London, I discover a test for whether shopkeepers really are activists, too. When I hand my business card to Laura Boyes, who started the shop in December 2017, she takes a photograph of it and hands it back to me. “Zero waste!” she says triumphantly. If you truly buy into zero waste, it affects your whole attitude and lifestyle.

Like many zero-wasters, Boyes sees herself as an agent of social change as well as a business person. This is social entrepreneurship in its purest form. Some zero-waste shops use plastic hoppers for their products, but she insists on glass. She also makes her customers aware that paper and cardboard have their own environmental downsides, and will suggest they reuse their paper bags rather than chuck them in the recycling. Every alternative to plastic has disadvantages, and bioplastics are far from being the easy answer they are cracked up to be because many don’t easily compost, so reuse beats recycling every time. “Our motto is: planet and purpose over profit,” she says without a hint of smugness. And if supermarkets get really good at it, she says she will happily give up and do something else because the battle will have been won.

On my mini-odyssey, something significant strikes me. I get the first inkling of it when I talk to Helen Bird, a strategic engagement specialist with the waste reduction charity Wrap, which oversees the UK Plastics Pact that most supermarkets have now signed up to – it commits them to eliminating “unnecessary single-use plastics” by 2025. Bird is fascinating on many points, not least in her assertion that plastic should not be seen as inherently the enemy – without it, food waste would be enormous. It simply needs to be used with discrimination. But the real insight she gives me is that the war on waste should be seen in the round. Fast fashion is also wasteful, and we discuss the irony that some people who deplore the use of plastic are also fond of online shopping for clothes that may be worn just once or twice before being discarded.

Ethical toothbrushes at Natural Weigh.
Ethical toothbrushes at Natural Weigh. Photograph: Dimitris Legakis/Athena Pictures

The new generation of zero-waste stores are a delight and have the potential to change the way we shop and help revive the high street, but Bird makes me realise that the charity shops that many people see as disfiguring town centres and spelling decline for high streets are themselves performing a zero-waste function, ensuring that clothes and other goods are reused rather than sent to landfill.

This sends me on a fresh line of inquiry – talking to co-ops such as the True Food Co-op in Reading, FareShares Food Co-op in south London and the Shrub Co-op in Edinburgh, none of which is strictly speaking zero waste or plastic-free, but all of which try to minimise waste packaging and, more importantly, have an ethos that puts the use of local products, the empowerment of local communities and social justice at the heart of what they do. They are crucial in understanding the nexus of social action and environmental concern, whether supporting local charities and running environmental workshops for schoolchildren in Reading, repairing bikes next to the community store in Elephant and Castle in London, or running a swap shop and food-sharing hub in Edinburgh.

Discovering Nottingham Fixers, which is run by Sarah Maloy, who also has a zero-waste shop called Shop Zero in the city, was important, too. It’s a simple point, but if you repair something it does not go to landfill. Ugo Vallauri, an Italian who cofounded the Brixton-based social enterprise the Restart Project, which had a hand in getting Nottingham Fixers off the ground, makes a strong case for the “right to repair” being essentially political. Manufacturers don’t want consumers to repair things, he says. They want us to buy them all over again, so they make parts hard to get, don’t supply proper instructions on how products work and encourage us to see them as black boxes that have to be chucked away if they go wrong. Vallauri would like to see products “that are designed to be fully repairable, reusable, longer-lasting and not turning into unnecessary electrical waste after a few months”.

I finish my journey in Brighton, where environmental concern is deeply embedded, every other person is a social entrepreneur, cafes have “no-laptop tables” to encourage proper mindfulness and hairdressers advertise themselves as “eco salons”.

Here, I find Infinity Foods, a co-operative established in 1971 that runs a vegetarian supermarket, a bakery and a cafe. It is not completely plastic-free, although it is doing what it can to minimise packaging, and plans to return to the hoppers for rice and pasta that it originally had in the 1970s. Ironically, those were removed because customers didn’t like spending time queueing while other shoppers filled their containers. Convenience was king, and the supermarket ethos had taken over, even among the cognoscenti of Brighton. Now, tastes have come full circle.

Infinity, which is also one of the country’s leading wholesalers of organic and natural foods, stocks magazines that bring home just how large and well-organised this movement is: Ethical Consumer; Positive News (the cover story of which proclaims “The Joy of Fix: Claiming the Right to Repair”); Permaculture; Stir: the Magazine for the New Economy; and PlantBased (a magazine specialising in vegan recipes). What we eat and how we shop have never been more political, and the growth of the new generation of zero-waste shops should be seen as part of a 50-year struggle to change (and, the consumer revolutionaries would say, save) the world.

Then it’s lunch at Silo, widely acclaimed as Britain’s first zero-waste restaurant, where bins are banned, the food is locally sourced (I especially appreciate the garnish of wild alexanders foraged from the beach) and anything left on the plate goes to a local farmer to turn into fertiliser. But my most telling meeting was an accidental one – with Siobhan Wilson, who runs a store called the Fair Shop.

“The implications of climate change call for consumer change,” declares the sign outside the shop, while a poster inside asks: “Who made my clothes?” Wilson has been running the store for 10 years, and its longevity is a little surprising given that she encourages customers not to buy too much. This is the opposite of fast fashion: slow, ethically sourced fashion; clothes built to last. Leather jackets made from end-of-line leather that typically would have been thrown away; T-shirts made from organic cotton, the growing of which involves no pesticides and uses only 10% of the water used in conventional cotton production; and tights made from recycled polyester. Wilson is wearing an intriguing-looking necklace, and when I ask her about it, she says it was made from bullets collected in farmers’ fields in Ethiopia, produced by a women’s collective, bought from a market in Addis Ababa and marketed here by Cred jewellery. Now that really is zero waste.

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Ikea to sell refurbished furniture to boost culture of recycling

Ikea to sell refurbished furniture to boost culture of recycling


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Ikea to sell refurbished furniture to boost culture of recycling” was written by Sarah Butler, for The Guardian on Thursday 7th February 2019 18.04 UTC

Ikea is trialling the sale of used, patched-up furniture in the UK as part of its efforts to become more environmentally friendly.

An earlier trial in Edinburgh will be expanded to Glasgow in June.

The Swedish retailer is also launching a textile recycling scheme across the UK.

Ikea said the two schemes were a step towards creating a circular business model in which materials and products were reused or recycled.

Customers in Edinburgh have been able to exchange used Ikea furniture for a reward voucher for more than a year. The items are refurbished and sold in the bargain area. The idea will be tested in Glasgow and the company is considering expanding the scheme elsewhere.

Hege Sæbjørnsen, sustainability manager for Ikea in the UK, said the furniture and textile schemes were a step towards creating a greener operation. The company has launched a pilot scheme in Switzerland where it leases its products, although there are no immediate plans to bring it to the UK.

“We are almost in startup mode, testing business models,” Sæbjørnsen said at the launch of Ikea’s greenest store yet in Greenwich, south London.

As well as being run on 100% renewable energy including solar panels on its roof, the Greenwich store has space for workshops where locals can learn how to refurbish furniture.

Sæbjørnsen said there was a lot of interest in learning how to fix items and developing these skills in the community was part of creating a culture around reusing and recycling.

“We are building the foundations towards [leasing and reuse] so we can scale quickly,” she said.

Ikea began testing textile recycling in Cardiff nearly two years ago Customers have been able to bring in old clothes, curtains or other furnishing fabrics to be repaired or cleaned and sent on to a homelessness project or recycled.

Milton Keynes and Greenwich also offer the service, which will be extended to all UK stores over the next few months.

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UK power stations’ electricity output lowest since 1994

UK power stations’ electricity output lowest since 1994


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “UK power stations’ electricity output lowest since 1994” was written by Adam Vaughan, for The Guardian on Thursday 3rd January 2019 00.01 UTC

The output of British power stations fell this year to levels last seen almost a quarter of a century ago, while renewables achieved a record share of the UK electricity supply.

Electricity generation in 2018 was the lowest since 1994, when Tony Blair became the leader of the Labour party.

The reduced need for power came despite there being 8 million more people living in the UK. Analysts said the figures were a sign of increasingly efficient use of energy and the country’s changing economy.

electricity generation graph

The UK website Carbon Brief, which analysed government and industry data, found that 335 terawatt-hours were generated by power plants last year, down by about 1% on the year before. Since 2005 the level has fallen by 16% – or the equivalent of two and a half Hinkley Point C nuclear power stations.

Simon Evans, policy editor at the group, said: “It could be a combination of more efficient appliances, energy-saving lightbulbs and, more recently, LEDs. Then there’s supermarkets installing better fridges, industry using more efficient pumps. Across all of those businesses, efficiency will have been going up. And of course there’s the changing nature of industry in the UK.”

The financial crisis could also have played a role in making homes and businesses more careful with their energy use, he added.

While generation fell almost every year between 2008 and 2014, it remained stable between 2015 and 2017, before resuming its downward march in 2018.

Previous research by the government’s climate change advisers has found that more energy efficient appliances helped save the average household £290 a year between 2008 and 2017.

Continuing to use energy more efficiently would help the UK reach its binding climate goals, Evans said. “Using less as an end in itself isn’t the point. But it is the case that meeting carbon targets is made easier if we use energy efficiently.”

UK electricity mix graph

Separate data from the National Grid showed that 2018 was the greenest year to date for electricity generation as more power is sourced from renewable sources and less from coal. The carbon intensity from electricity generation was down 6.8% last year and has more than halved since 2013.

The analysis by Carbon Brief found that renewable sources including biomass, hydro, solar and wind power supplied a record 33% of electricity this year, up from 29% last year. Renewables were just 6.7% of the mix in 2009.

Green energy was boosted primarily by new windfarms connecting to the grid, as well as new biomass plants, which included the conversion of a coal unit at Drax power station in north Yorkshire and the conversion of a former coal plant at Lynemouth, Northumberland.

Meanwhile the coal-driven output was down 25% despite warnings of a coal comeback driven by high gas prices. Nuclear power also had a weak year, with generation down 8%, mainly due to ageing reactors being taken offline for safety checks. Gas remained the top source of electricity supplies, but fell 4%.

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Rugeley coal plant to be transformed into a sustainable village

Rugeley coal plant to be transformed into a sustainable village


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Rugeley coal plant to be transformed into a sustainable village” was written by Adam Vaughan, for theguardian.com on Monday 19th November 2018 13.01 UTC

An old coal power station is set to be transformed into a “sustainable village” of 2,000 homes powered by solar panels, in the biggest redevelopment yet of a former UK power plant.

French firm Engie said it had decided against selling off the Rugeley site in Staffordshire and would instead build super efficient houses on the 139-hectare site as part of its bid to “move beyond energy”.

Half of the energy required by the new homes will come from green sources, predominantly solar, which will be fitted on rooftops, in a field and even floating on a lake.

The company is planning for 10 megawatts of solar capacity in total, equivalent to one of the UK’s smaller solar farms.

Batteries will be used across the site, both in homes and at a communal power storage facility, to balance out electricity supply and demand.

The firm is also claiming the homes will be so efficient they will use nearly a third less energy than average new builds. Heating will come not from gas boilers but electric devices such as heat pumps.

Rugeley power station cooling towers at night.
Rugeley power station cooling towers at night. Photograph: Northern Nights Photography/Alamy

Wilfrid Petrie, Engie UK’s chief executive, said: “We are positioning ourselves as going beyond energy into place-making. It’s an example of us closing down our coal power plant and, instead of selling off the land, we’ve decided to regenerate it ourselves.”

Rugeley, which stopped generating electricity in the summer of 2016, is one of several coal plants to close in recent years due to economic pressures and environmental regulations.

There are seven operational coal power stations left in the UK, but all are due to shut by a government deadline of 2025, raising questions over what happens to the sizeable parcels of land afterwards.

While some energy companies are hoping to build gas plants on or adjacent to the old coal sites, others will need to be decommissioned for other uses.

In Shropshire, regeneration firm Harworth is planning to turn the 97-hectare brownfield site of a former power station into a development of homes and commercial units.

Engie said it was eyeing other sites around the country. “There’s a list of similar sites, which we are looking at. It’s not in the hundreds, but there are several,” Petrie said.

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Peter Atherton, an analyst at Cornwall Insight, said putting local electricity generation at the heart of new housing projects was almost becoming a prerequisite for developers to get through planning.

“It is the way of the future. There is no doubt large scale housing developments going forward are going to have some form of local generation because it is all the craze,” he said.

Around 30% of the Rugeley project will be classified affordable homes, though it is not clear how much the green energy measures and high building standards will add to the upfront cost of the properties.

Consultation on the scheme starts this month, with construction due to start next year and demolition of the former coal plant – including the cooling towers – due to finish in 2020, with plans for the first people to move in the year after.

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Air pollution fears fuel fight against new London cruise ship terminal

Air pollution fears fuel fight against new London cruise ship terminal


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Air pollution fears fuel fight against new London cruise ship terminal” was written by Matthew Taylor Environment correspondent, for The Guardian on Wednesday 26th September 2018 10.30 UTC

A huge new cruise ship terminal planned for the river Thames would lead to a surge in dangerous levels of air pollution in the heart of the capital with unknown health consequences for hundreds of thousands of people, campaigners have warned.

Under the proposals, which have been given planning permission, up to 55 giant cruise ships would dock in London every year. Each ship would need to run its diesel engines round the clock to power onboard facilities, generating the same amount of toxic NO2 emissions as almost 700 continuously running lorries.

“As we find out more about the damage air pollution is doing to people’s health it is unthinkable that something like this can go ahead,” said local resident Laura Eyres, who is one of those leading the fight against the development.

“There is simply no justification for having these huge ships sitting here right next to busy residential areas and schools, belching out this level of pollution with all the associated damage to people’s health that have now been proven.”

Cruise ship pollution

There has been growing concern about the scale of the air pollution crisis in recent months. A slew of new research has highlighted the health risks associated with toxic air – from reduced intelligence to a rise in asthma deaths; heart disease to spikes in Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

In London, the mayor, Sadiq Khan, has announced a range of measures including plans to introduce a low emissions zone banning the most polluting road vehicles from a large swath of the city from 2021.

However, the Thames does not fall under his jurisdiction and campaigners fear it has become a “wild west” in terms of air pollution.

“The fumes that are emitted on the river simply would not be allowed if they were coming from a road in London,” said Eyres. “It is really worrying to think what damage these fumes are causing local residents, and if the new terminal goes ahead that is only going to get a lot worse.”

The Port of London Authority (PLA) controls traffic on the Thames and admits the “marine sector” has lagged behind in terms of tackling air pollution.

However, it says it is catching up and earlier this year it produced its first air quality strategy. It points out that the Thames is only responsible for 1% of London’s air pollution and says emission levels will improve in the years ahead as clean marine technology comes into force.

Martin Garside from the PLA said it was working with the the mayor and local authorities “to secure strong environmental standards”.

He added: “With a single barge carrying the loads of 50 lorries – the Thames helps reduce traffic and pollution on London’s congested roads. Over four million tonnes of cargo is transported between river terminals – removing about 300,000 lorry movements from the roads.”

The proposed new cruise terminal at Enderby Wharf in Greenwich is owned by Morgan Stanley, which was given planning permission for the terminal and wider residential development by Greenwich council in 2012 and updated permission in 2015.

Now the council has changed its mind and is backing campaigners’ calls for Morgan Stanley to come up with a greener alternative for the cruise terminal.

A huge new cruise ship terminal is planned for the River Thames.
Local residents want the ships to be forced to turn off their engines when they are docked, meaning that they must be capable of drawing power from a shoreside connection. Photograph: Maritime View

Residents want it to be “zero emissions”, only allowing ships that can plug into an onshore power point so they can turn off their polluting diesel engines.

Eyres said: “With 55 cruise ships planned annually and each staying for three days we face huge amounts of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter being released into our homes every day of the summer with potentially devastating health implications.”

One of the big cruise ship companies, Viking, said its ships were already fitted with the “latest technology that meets the strictest environmental regulations”.

A spokesman added: “If shore side power were available then we would consider using it. In fact, we are already prepared to use shore power. Our newest ship, launched this year, has a built-in connection, and we are updating our other four ships to use shore power in order to have the capability fleetwide.”

Campaigners wrote to Morgan Stanley earlier this month raising their concerns again and arguing the current plans were at odds with the company’s stated commitment on environmental sustainability.

A spokesperson for the company said it had received the letter and was working on revised plans for the development.

“We acknowledge East Greenwich Residents Association’s concerns and can assure [them] that our new proposals will take these concerns into account.”

However, Eyres said local residents needed more than encouraging words. “We can’t rest until we see a concrete commitment from Morgan Stanley that their plans for a polluting cruise port are dead in the water.”

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Meet the anti-plastic warriors: the pioneers with bold solutions to waste

Meet the anti-plastic warriors: the pioneers with bold solutions to waste


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Meet the anti-plastic warriors: the pioneers with bold solutions to waste” was written by Tim Lewis, for The Observer on Sunday 22nd April 2018 07.00 UTC

Among retailers and manufacturers, they talk of “the Blue Planet effect”. The BBC series, screened late last year, was the moment that many of us realised the catastrophic impact our use of plastics was having on the world’s oceans. Scenes such as a hawksbill turtle snagged in a plastic sack, the albatrosses feeding their chicks plastic or the mother pilot whale grieving for her dead calf, which may have been poisoned by her contaminated milk, are impossible to unsee.

It’s a crisis that affects us all, and the facts make for dispiriting reading. If nothing changes, one study suggests that by 2050 our oceans will have more plastic swimming around, by weight, than fish. It’s already estimated that one third of fish caught in the Channel contain plastic; another piece of research found that “top European shellfish consumers” could potentially consume up to 11,000 pieces of microplastic a year.

Suddenly our use of plastics is firmly on the political and cultural agenda. While impassioned individuals have been pushing to reduce our use of plastics for a few years, the volume of the debate has been turned up dramatically in recent months.

There is hope, too, that the message is getting across. The 5p charge on carrier bags, introduced in 2015, has led to an 85% drop in their use across England; an astonishing 9bn bags. Here, we highlight pioneers who are tackling the issue of plastics in creative ways.

Chelsea Briganti and Leigh Ann Tucker: ‘Imagine a lemon-flavour straw and a grapefruit cup or a vanilla straw for your iced latte’

Leigh Ann Tucker, left, and Chelsea Briganti
Leigh Ann Tucker, left, and Chelsea Briganti inventors of Loliware, edible and hypercompostable straws and cups. Photograph: Christopher Lane for the Observer

Across the US, around 500m plastic straws are used and discarded every single day. “We could fill 125 school buses,” says Leigh Ann Tucker, co-founder of Loliware. The straws are made from polypropylene, a petroleum by-product, which is technically recyclable in large formats, but this is practically impossible with something the size of a straw. “So they end up as landfill or ocean pollutants,” Chelsea Briganti, Loliware’s other half, chips in. “We’re drowning in our plastic.”

Britain sucks, too. Here, we throw away an estimated 8.5bn straws annually, easily the most in Europe. In London alone, more straws are used than the whole of Italy. Most campaigns focus on getting rid of plastic straws or using longer-lasting or biodegradable alternatives and these have had considerable traction – now the UK government has announced a consultation on banning plastic straws.

However, Briganti and Tucker have a more playful solution. This summer in the US, and next year in the UK, they are launching the Lolistraw, a straw that you can drink from and then eat – they call it “biodegr(edible)”.

The main ingredient is seaweed, which can have different flavours or nutrients added. The material can also be fashioned into cups and lids, all of which can be munched on after you’ve finished drinking.

“Imagine a lemon straw with a blood orange lid and a grapefruit cup,” says Briganti, in a call from Beacon, New York, where Loliware has its offices in an old silk factory. “Or a flavoured vanilla straw for your iced latte. There’s an inherent idea that there needs to be a trade-off, but actually we can offer something more exciting. We want to invigorate the discussion of ‘What does sustainability mean now? And how does that benefit me?’, rather than asking people to compromise as a consumer.”

The neologisms do not end there: Loliware has also created a designation called “hypercompostable”. “We wanted to distinguish ourselves from industrial compostable materials such as PLA [polylactic acid] plastic, which is often made from GM corn, because we wanted to show people what real compostability means,” explains Briganti. “If this cup or straw ends up in a waterway, it’ll simply dissolve; if it ends up in the natural environment, it will break down in 60 days.” PLA, meanwhile, though technically biodegradable, can take a long time to decompose (anywhere from 100 to 1,000 years in a landfill) and also needs to be kept separate when it’s recycled because it can contaminate the recycling stream.

Loliware launched in March 2015, but Briganti and Tucker had been working together since they’d met a few years earlier at the Parsons School of Design in New York. Their first product was an edible cup and it immediately caused a stir. In October 2015, Loliware pitched on Shark Tank – the US version of Dragons’ Den – and there was a “shark brawl” as all of the entrepreneurs tore strips off each other to invest.

The original cup proved popular – deals were sealed with the Four Seasons hotel group, 60,000 were bought by Absolut and so on – but at nearly a unit, it was too expensive for mainstream penetration.

That has changed with a new material they call Lolizero, which is “cost-competitive” with paper and PLA. Loliware is currently in discussion with global chains in the coffee and fast-food sectors, as well as more upmarket chains, about using its cups, lids and straws. “Just to give you an idea,” says Tucker. “One big account, replacing 10% of their straws, is so significant it’s in the hundreds of millions.”

Briganti and Tucker are confident their products will make a big dent in the single-use drinks market – and they’re especially proud to have made an impact as a pair of female innovators.

“Women solving the challenges for Mother Earth, if you will,” Briganti says with a laugh. “We have a direct connection with her.”

Vin and Omi: ‘People ask “Is this silk?” No, it’s 11 small Evian bottles’

Fashion designers Vin and Omi photographed in London.
Eco-fashion designers Vin and Omi, who use recycled and salvaged plastic, photographed in London. Photograph: Katherine Anne Rose for the Observer

The eco fashion designers Vin and Omi are tricky men to pin down. They don’t like to use their real names. They are vague about their ages and where they live, though it’s usually either London or New York. It’s not impossible to find photos of them, but they often wear masks or, as was the case at end of one catwalk show, cardboard boxes with holes hastily punched for their eyes. “The Daily Mail called us the Banksys of fashion,” says Omi with a giggle, the slighter of the pair and originally from Singapore, when we meet at the Andaz hotel in east London.

Perhaps inevitably, the pair dislike the tag “fashion designers” too, though they concede this objection is getting harder to sustain now they have shown their clothes a dozen times at London fashion week. They also have enough celebrity admirers to fill Grazia many times over: Michelle Obama, Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus have all worn Vin + Omi. Walking in their shows they’ve had rappers, Jane Horrocks, the boxer Nicola Adams and “someone from Made in Chelsea”.

But what’s certainly true is that Vin and Omi do not really fit in the fashion world. In an industry famed for waste, excess and ethically dubious practices, they try to do things the right way. They started in 2004, working with latex – “really organic and sustainable!” says Omi – and a doomed attempt to make it breathable. This led them on to plastics and a quest to make beautiful, tactile garments from recycled materials.

“We’re on the cover of Recycling & Waste World soon,” mock-boasts Vin, who has a background as a sculptor and in public art projects.

“It’s brilliant,” adds Omi; away from work, the pair have been married for 17 years. “Instead of Vogue, we get Waste World.”

And yet perhaps the day when they appear in both those market‑leading publications isn’t too far away. Scattered around the hotel room are a selection of clothes, made from 12 fabrics unique to Vin + Omi. They are vibrant and outlandish, some are plain bizarre, but what’s really surprising is how enjoyable they are to hold. Most are made from recycled and often salvaged plastics, but there’s also a no-kill fleece and a “leather-esque” vest made from chestnut skins.

“When the first T-shirt made from plastic came back we were amazed – it was softer than a normal cotton T-shirt by far,” says Vin. “That had to come from Canada, which was a shame, but people would ask, ‘Is this silk?’ And we’d say, ‘No, it’s 11 small plastic Evian bottles.’”

Perhaps their biggest champion is Debbie Harry. Last year, they created the wardrobe for Blondie’s world tour: 12 pieces all made from recycled or salvaged plastic included blouses, capes and an especially eye-catching smock inscribed with “Stop Fucking the Planet” in block capitals. “Debbie said, ‘Just design me anything,’” recalls Vin. “And we said, ‘Are you sure? Right, it’s going to be Stop Fucking the Planet and you’re wearing it.’ And she did.”

Vin and Omi certainly enjoy a mischievous stunt. They are currently collecting Coca-Cola bottles. The beverage giant sells more than 110bn single-use plastic bottles every year according to Greenpeace, and has promised to collect and recycle the equivalent of all its packaging by 2030, but has been lambasted by the environmental group for not setting a target on reducing the amount of plastic it production. When they have enough bottles, Vin and Omi will create a lavish garment and hand-deliver it to Coca-Cola’s CEO. Omi smiles, “The note will say, ‘Look, we can help bring your quota down. You can use this for your marketing.’”

Until now, Vin and Omi have concentrated on one-off, high-fashion pieces, but in the next year or so, they would like to open a shop in London selling more affordable designs. They also hope that more established labels will start to follow their path. “Eventually, plastic will be banned,” predicts Vin, “but in the interim period, if all designers did what we were doing on a larger scale, there would be no plastic in the ocean. They would pay to have salvage operations, because they’d get free raw material. It’s a lot of planning, but it’s worth it.”

Rodrigo García González and Pierre-Yves Paslier: ‘Corporations think they can keep on with the current system but people are desperate to try something else’

Pierre-Yves Paslier, left, and Rodrigo García González with their Ooho! water pouches.
Edible packaging inventors Pierre-Yves Paslier, left, and Rodrigo García González of Skipping Rocks Lab, with their Ooho! water pouches. Photograph: Antonio Olmos for the Observer

When people hear the concept for Ooho!, they often assume it’s a joke. Much like the notion of food pills, the idea of water delivered in a transparent membrane you swallow whole seems too futuristic for 2018. “When we started crowdfunding, people called us fake news,” says Pierre-Yves Paslier, the 30-year-old French co-founder of Skipping Rocks Lab, the east London-based startup that makes Ooho!. “They couldn’t believe it was a real thing.”

“We had to organise events for investors,” adds 33-year-old co-founder, Rodrigo García González, a Spaniard, “so they could touch it, taste it and see it was real.”

I can confirm that Ooho! very much exists, but there is definitely something bizarre about popping the little pouches in your mouth. First, you explode it in your cheek and get a pleasant rush of filtered water. Then you decide what to do with the membrane, which is made from seaweed – you can spit it out – it is biodegradable in four to six weeks – or you can chew it. “It has a bit of texture, it doesn’t really have a specific taste,” explains Paslier. “It’s a texture found a lot in south-east Asian food, but we are not very familiar with it in the west.”

García González and Paslier met while studying for a masters in innovation design engineering, offered jointly by the Royal College of Art and Imperial College London. The idea for Ooho!, says García González, was borrowed from the natural world: “In nature, to contain liquids, such as fruits or eggs, they normally use membranes. It’s the most efficient way to contain any type of liquid, because you need the minimum amount of material.” This led them on to spherification, a process invented in the 1950s that was then used to make fake caviar and had a revival in 2003 at Ferran Adrià’s modernist restaurant, elBulli. Since their discovery, Skipping Rocks Lab has been working out how to refine and package its offering.

There is obviously a market to disrupt here. It’s estimated that 1m plastic bottles are bought every minute around the world. García González and Paslier cheerfully accept that it would be better if everyone carried reusable bottles and there were plenty of water fountains. However, until that’s the case, they believe Ooho! can fill a gap at music festivals, running events, offices and takeaway lunch spots. Ultimately, sachets will be delivered by an on-site dispenser like a coffee machine. These should start rolling out later in the year.

Skipping Rocks Lab believes its technology could be adapted to face other challenges such as disposable cutlery or coffee cups. And its experience of crowdfunding suggests that there is public demand. Recently, it set out to raise £400,000 via Crowdcube; in the event, 900 investors pledged almost £850,000. “People are ready for an alternative,” says Paslier. “The corporations think they can keep on with the current system but people are desperate to switch to something else.”

It might seem surprising that a European-led company would choose Brexit Britain as a base, but García González and Paslier insist they are happy here. They have received strong support from Imperial College and Innovate UK and have a close relationship with other startups such as Aeropowder, which creates new materials from waste feathers. “It’s still really great to be here,” says Paslier. “The clean-tech sector is booming.”

Siân Sutherland:‘What we’re asking for is difficult, but we have to turn off the plastic tap’

Siân Sutherland from A Plastic Planet.
Siân Sutherland, whose campaign group A Plastic Planet wants a plastic-free aisle in every supermarket. Photograph: Sonja Horsman for the Observer

“I’m probably your least likely eco-warrior,” says Siân Sutherland, a 56-year-old British entrepreneur and co-founder of the campaign group A Plastic Planet. I have an idea what she means – she has glitter on her jacket and bag and her blond hair is flecked with blue – but I ask her to clarify. “There’s a bit of a mould isn’t there, where you think, ‘She’s a right old activist.’ You know, knitted armpits, sandals. But there’s a whole new wave now – it doesn’t have to define your look.”

For most of her life, Sutherland had given little thought to the environment. In her 20s, she opened and ran a Michelin-starred restaurant in Soho; she has also set up a design and branding agency and founded a skincare brand for pregnant women. “I did that for 10 years in the UK and the US, so you can imagine that my personal plastic footprint is huge,” she says. “It’s a very competitive space and I didn’t really think about what happens to those white plastic bottles afterwards.”

A Plastic Planet was born when she was asked by an old friend, Frederikke Magnussen, to help with the launch of a documentary, A Plastic Ocean. This was 2016 and, says Sutherland, you had to “strong-arm” anyone to take any interest in the subject. But she and Magnussen quickly realised that this was a problem that went far beyond the oceans and started their campaign.

“You go to your supermarket and it’s a sea of plastic and you have no choice,” says Sutherland. “It’s almost like this human right has been taken from us. So this is really about two unreasonable women saying, ‘Why can it be that we’re now made to feel bad about our shopping habits and we have no choice?’”

Right now, A Plastic Planet has a very straightforward goal: a plastic-free aisle in every supermarket. It focuses on this area because this is where Sutherland and Magnussen believe they can make the greatest difference. In Europe in 2016, 40% of all plastic was used for packaging, and nearly half of that wrapped food and drink. Earlier this year, a Guardian investigation estimated that British supermarkets were responsible for more than 800,000 tonnes of plastic packaging waste every year; that’s enough to bury Greater London 2.5cm deep.

“It’s indefensible for us to use something that is so indestructible as plastic, which we now know is going to exist on the planet for centuries, to just wrap our perishable food and drink in,” Sutherland seethes. “It makes no sense. We just got it wrong.”

A Plastic Planet’s campaign has already made global headlines. The world’s first plastic-free supermarket aisle opened in February in Amsterdam. Ekoplaza, a Dutch chain, had around 700 products at its pilot launch and everything was packaged, just in glass, metal, cardboard or a compostable, plant-based biofilm.

“We really had no idea it would be the media storm that it was,” says Sutherland. “Personally I did 55 interviews in 24 hours. But the story is not: the people of Amsterdam can buy plastic-free; this is a message to the world that we don’t need to wait five years. We don’t need to wait 25 years definitely. I’ll be dead. Half the planet will be dead. We can do it now.”

In the UK, Sutherland has not yet spoken to Theresa May or Michael Gove, the environment secretary, though she offers them both an open invitation. But she has had discussions with the firm Iceland, which has committed to eliminate plastic packaging for all its own-brand products by 2023, and also the Co-op, Asda, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer: “I love the fact that this is not an affordability issue and it can’t be.” A Plastic Planet also receives inquiries from around the world – recently Portugal, Korea and China. “China will save the world in my opinion,” she says.

Sutherland does not lecture individuals – “I’m no plastic saint” – but she thinks the main thing we can do is support any supermarket with a plastics-reduction scheme.

“The quicker they do this, we the public have to make it a success,” she says. “Because I know what we’re asking for is difficult; it is inconvenient, it might have a cost implication. But it’s essential. We can’t hide behind words like ‘recycling’ any more. They are not the solution. We have to turn off the plastic tap.”

Bex Band and Erin Bastian: ‘Every change that’s happened in the history of mankind has come from individuals taking a stance’

Erin Bastian, left, and Bex Band of Paddle Pickup. Photograph by Antonio Olmos for the Observer
Erin Bastian, left, and Bex Band of Paddle Pickup, who clean up Britain’s waterways by kayak. Photograph: Antonio Olmos/The Observer ( With thanks to The Pirate Castle, Camden for equipment)

For the inaugural Paddle Pickup last year a group of women kayaked from Bristol to London. They covered 300km in 15 days, negotiated 151 canal locks and collected 3,240 pieces of plastic pollution. “We pulled out all sorts of weird stuff,” says 29-year-old adventurer Bex Band, who came up with the idea along with Erin Bastian, also 29. “We found a Santa Claus, chairs, bikes, a rubber duck, Viagra. A bag of class A drugs … ”

What did she do with those? “I disposed of the contents and took the plastic away,” Band laughs. “And I thought: ‘Maybe that’s not the right thing to do. Maybe the fish wouldn’t appreciate that.’”

Band first made contact with Bastian, a sea kayak guide and founder of Evoke Adventure, after seeing her website: “We’re both in the adventure scene and it’s quite a small scene,” says Band. The idea for Paddle Pickup came up in that first conversation and two months later they were on the water. The trip was great fun, but their main takeaway was the realisation of just how dirty Britain’s waterways have become. “I had a day in Reading where it was so bad we weren’t even scraping the surface,” says Bastian. “And you can’t help thinking, ‘What difference are we actually making? It’s not even 1% of the plastic that’s there.’”

“It’s a constant battle, where I’m trying to fight this hopelessness,” adds Band. “But if we don’t have hope, we have nothing. People say ‘What’s the point?’ But every change that’s ever happened in the history of mankind has come from individuals taking a stance.”

So, undeterred, Paddle Pickup returns at the end of May and this time they are kayaking from one end of Wales to the other, via the river Severn, again collecting plastic as they go. This trip is 240km, and it’s divided into three, five-day sections. A few places are still available; no previous kayaking experience required.

Why just women? “A lot of women struggle to get involved in adventure because it’s such a competitive and masculine environment and they’re lacking in confidence,” says Band, whose company Love Her Wild specialises in all-female expeditions. “So by making it all women, it breaks down that barrier.”

If last time is anything to go by, the trip will be hard but rewarding. And it might just be the start of something: one woman from the 2017 Paddle Pickup is now cycling around New Zealand, speaking in schools about plastic pollution; another is rowing across the Pacific Ocean. “It’s a ripple effect,” says Bastian. “You go on one adventure and then you’re like: ‘Now I can think bigger.’”

Band and Bastian hope they can inspire informal Paddle Pickups all over the country – and that, as word spreads, change will follow. Band says: “My favourite message from the last trip was one guy who said that he’d read about us in the local paper. He went to buy his lunch that morning as usual and he didn’t buy a water bottle, he used a reusable one. And he said he wasn’t going to buy a [disposable] water bottle again. That’s amazing: we can take away the plastic, but that doesn’t solve the long-term problem. We need people to change their habits.”

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Will the Labrador energy switcher make you switch suppliers?

Will the Labrador energy switcher make you switch suppliers?


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Will the Labrador energy switcher make you switch suppliers?” was written by Adam Vaughan, for The Guardian on Sunday 11th March 2018 16.13 UTC

A device that plugs into a home broadband router and automatically switches supplier when cheaper deals become available is set to revolutionise the home energy market.

The launch of Labrador comes as more and more people are changing their energy companies.

The company’s free service is primarily targeted at the growing number of households which have smart meters, which automate readings. More than 8m have been installed in the UK so far, and energy suppliers have to offer one to every home in the UK by the end of 2020.

Unlike conventional price comparison sites, which require people to actively search for a better deal and input their details and energy use, Labrador will automatically switch people’s accounts when it finds a cheaper tariff.

Jane Lucy, founder and CEO of Labrador, said: “We’re not about behaviour change: we assume consumer lethargy will remain.”

Flipper is a similar service that launched in 2016, relying on accessing a customer’s energy bills, which might be estimated. Labrador believes it will be more accurate, as it use a device that plugs into a customer’s broadband router and talks wirelessly to their smart meters, taking readings direct from them.

While Flipper charges an annual £25 fee, Labrador makes its money like a switching site, by being paid an acquisition fee by suppliers.

Lucy said she expected customers would be switched 1-3 times a year and save on average £300 a year. They are given the choice to tailor their preferences, for example, to just green energy tariffs.

The company has signed up about 500 customers since a soft launch in February, but aims to take 3% of the switching market within five years. In the future the company may branch out into home automation and helping consumers identify individual energy-guzzling appliances, Lucy said.

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An eco-friendly cuppa? Now teabags are set to go plastic-free

An eco-friendly cuppa? Now teabags are set to go plastic-free


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “An eco-friendly cuppa? Now teabags are set to go plastic-free” was written by Rebecca Smithers, for The Observer on Sunday 28th January 2018 00.04 UTC

The war on plastic waste is extending to the UK’s favourite beverage, with a major retailer in the final stages of developing a fully biodegradable paper teabag that does not contain plastic.

The Co-op is to make its own-brand Fairtrade 99 teabags free of polypropylene, a sealant used industry wide to enable teabags to hold their shape, and the guilt-free brew is due to go on sale by the end of the year.

The scale of the problem is huge. According to the trade body the UK Tea and Infusions Association, teabags account for a whopping 96% of the 165 million cups of tea drunk every day in the UK. Anti-plastic campaigners have been appealing to consumers to use loose tea or “greener” options such as Japanese-style “pyramids” made of 100% compostable corn starch, but these are more expensive than mainstream mass-produced teabags.

The Co-op, which sells 4.6m boxes of tea a year (367m teabags) has joined forces with its tea supplier, Typhoo, and Ahlstrom-Munksjö – specialists in sustainable fibre solutions – to develop a method of heat-sealing bags to eliminate the more widely used plastic seal.

The biodegradable bag will undergo rigorous testing next month and could be on shelves later this year. It is intended to be rolled out across the Co-op’s entire own-label standard tea range and will be fully compostable in food waste collections.

“Many tea drinkers are blissfully unaware that the teabag from their daily cuppa is sealed using plastic,” said Jo Whitfield, chief executive of Co-op Food. “Even though it’s a relatively small amount, when you consider the 6bn cups of tea that are brewed up every year in the UK, we are looking at around 150 tonnes of polypropylene – that’s an enormous amount of accumulated plastic waste that is either contaminating food waste compost collections or simply going to landfill.”

But the UK Tea and Infusions Association warned of higher prices for consumers. A spokesman said: “The UK tea industry has been experimenting with non-plastic sealing methods, but those methods are costly. The raw material cost and upgrades to machinery would increase the cost of a bag by about eight times if we were to move to a non-plastic sealing procedure now. We know that a significant price rise would have a severely negative effect on sales and seriously reduce the income of farmers from some of the poorest tea-growing regions of the world.”

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Tattooed avocados and shampoo bars: the businesses curbing plastics waste

Tattooed avocados and shampoo bars: the businesses curbing plastics waste


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Tattooed avocados and shampoo bars: the businesses curbing plastics waste” was written by Tess Riley and Guardian readers, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 29th August 2017 06.00 UTC

The first global analysis of all mass–produced plastics refers to the “near-permanent contamination of the natural environment with plastic waste”.

From shops offering individually-wrapped bananas to apples packaged in tubes, plastic is everywhere. And news that fish are mistaking plastic debris for food, is just one example of the negative environmental impacts.

So where is progress happening? We asked readers to send us examples and here we explore three ways businesses are trying to curb plastics use. Do you have other examples? Add them to the comments below or tweet them to us @GuardianSustBiz and we’ll share the best examples on our Twitter feed over the coming week.

1. Minimising packaging

If you’ve been at the receiving end of an online purchase that has come swamped in plastic in an oversized box you’ll know how frustrating it can be. The answer seems simple – pack the product in something smaller and minimise the need for so-called void fillers such as polystyrene chips inside. Yet companies are often constrained by the limited range of box sizes available.

Meet Slimbox, a machine which helps companies create customised packaging boxes in-house to reduce cardboard and filler waste. At €25,000 (£23,100) per machine, Slimbox CEO Filip Roose says he’s aware how important return on investment is to his customers.

“We’ve calculated that if a company sends at least 30 packages a day then it should get a return on investment after approximately two years,” says Roose. “The more they send, the shorter this timeframe.”

As well as reducing costs over time, Roose highlights the environmental benefits: “Yes you reduce packaging use, but you also reduce carbon emissions by being able to transport more packages at once.”

Solution for waste of packaging

Solution for waste of packaging

We always owned a printing company. Finding right-sized boxes was one of our daily struggles. To remedy this problem, we built a machine that customizes boxes in-house in every shape en every size, called the Slimbox. The boxes are only made out of recycled paper and cardboard. By this we want to stop the waste of packagingmaterials and save our planet.

2. Refills

A number of shops now offer people the ability to bring in their own Tupperware, bottles and jars to refill with items like pulses, nuts, grains and washing-up liquid.

Splosh has taken this concept online, enabling customers to buy concentrated laundry and cleaning product refills, which arrive by post in plastic pouches that can then be posted back to the company free of charge for re-use.

“The problem of plastic waste cannot be solved while we still buy from supermarkets, because single-use plastics are essential to their business model,” says Angus Grahame, founder of Splosh.”

Splosh’s refillable concentrates, says Grahame, enable customers to cut plastic waste for most laundry, home cleaning and personal care products by around 95%. “We believe the move to the circular economy is about massive new business model opportunity rather than tweaking decades old systems as the likes of Unilever are trying to do,” he adds. “The value destruction to existing brands when it happens, and it will happen quickly, will be awesome.”

Splosh.com

Splosh.com

Splosh laundry detergent: one bottle you reuse countless times. Refills – v concentrated, which top up with water yourself – arrive in the post. Even better, the refills come in boxes that fit through the letterbox and which can be recycled. Finally, you can send back the pouches that the concentrate comes in to be re-used.

3. Banning plastics altogether

London’s Borough Market has pledged to phase out sales of all single-use plastic bottles over the next six months, offering free drinking water from newly installed fountains instead.

Similarly, some bars and restaurants have started to ban straws in an effort to reduce the volume of plastics that end up in the oceans. The city of Seattle is taking this a step further next month with its Strawless September campaign to get local businesses to switch to paper alternatives where necessary, and ditch straws altogether where possible.

Despite Marks & Spencer’s “apple tubes” and plastic-wrapped plastic cutlery, the company has been exploring innovative alternatives to plastic packaging. By tattooing avocados rather than using produce stickers, for example, it intends to save 10 tonnes of plastic labels and backing paper and five tonnes of adhesive every year.

Cosmetics company Lush takes a very clear position when it comes to packaging: the ideal is none at all (approximately half of Lush products can be purchased without any packaging, according to the company website). By creating a solid shampoo bar, Lush claims it saves nearly 6m plastic bottles globally every year. What’s more, since the bars are more concentrated than liquid shampoo, less is needed per wash, resulting in lower carbon emissions from transportation.

Refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle. Package free soaps!

Refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle. Package free soaps!

Lush Cosmetics follows all of these guiding conservation principles. I'm so glad they offer package-free solid bar products, as well as products packaged in recycled pots and bottles. And they've been doing it for a long time! This is nothing new and I remain hopeful that this environmental consciousness will continue to grow among other businesses.

Have you got any other examples? Add them to the comments below or tweet them to us @GuardianSustBiz.

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Government support needed to unlock billions in green business, says industry

Government support needed to unlock billions in green business, says industry


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Government support needed to unlock billions in green business, says industry” was written by Fiona Harvey Environment correspondent, for theguardian.com on Sunday 4th June 2017 15.59 UTC

The UK could be a green business powerhouse in the next three decades, but only if given proper support by government, a group representing more than 30 low-carbon companies has said.

The low-carbon economy in the UK employs at least 432,000 people, with a turnover of more than £77bn in 2015. This is larger than industries such as car-making and steelmaking, which are frequently given the spotlight when politicians discuss industry and jobs.

Growth in green business is also expected to outstrip other sectors of the economy, as international opportunities open up for low-carbon goods and services. Investments by major developing countries alone are projected to be tn by the end of the next decade, with green business’s supporters arguing that the UK is well placed to take a share of the burgeoning market.

In a letter to the Guardian, a group representing more than 30 of the UK’s green and low-carbon companies forecast that the low-carbon economy would rocket from 2% of the UK’s GDP today to 13% in the next three decades, boosting both manufacturing and services, but only with government support.
The business leaders urged politicians across the spectrum to respond, as the policies of the next government will play a major role in determining how the sector develops and whether job opportunities are realised. They wrote: “Stable policies to grow the UK’s low-carbon market will be essential to turn this potential into reality and ensure our economy remains competitive on the global stage.” Green businesses have been disappointed by the apparent lack of interest in the sector during the general election campaign, and by the absence of strong public commitments in the manifestos. The signatories to the letter concluded: “We call on the new government to put in place ambitious and long-term policies to tackle climate change and improve the state of the environment at the heart of its industrial strategy and vision for the UK.” The letter was coordinated by the Aldersgate Group and also signed by 11 companies including Kingfisher, Aviva Investors, Anglian Water, Siemens, and Scottish and Southern Energy. Nick Molho, executive director of the Aldersgate Group, said the decision by US president Donald Trump to withdraw from the Paris agreement on climate change would not make a major dent in the prospects for growth.
He noted that the shift to a more efficient and lower carbon economy is well under way across the globe, with the cost of clean technologies, such as renewable energy and electric vehicles, falling rapidly, and investment growing strongly. “Following the commitments made by six world leaders at the recent G7 summit, and the news of greater cooperation between China and the EU on climate change, major global players like the UK must continue to build competitive, low-carbon economies and honour their commitments under the Paris agreement.”
Environmental businesses in the UK have been hit in recent years by swings in government policy that have led to job losses and uncertainty among potential investors. These swings include the scrapping of subsidies and harder planning requirements for onshore wind farms; the slashing of support for solar panels and restrictions on solar farms; the abandonment of the “green deal”, which was intended to boost home insulation; the removal of the promised £1bn funding for carbon capture and storage facilities; and the scrapping of the target to make new homes zero-carbon.
Last week, Labour accused the Conservative government of failing to come up with plans on how to achieve the statutory targets on reducing carbon dioxide emissions, set out under the Climate Change Act. Green groups fear that a new Conservative government under Theresa May could scrap the Climate Change Act, leaving the UK without firm targets on cutting greenhouse gases. However, the government has pointed to increased investment for electric vehicles, support for new nuclear power stations, and a boost to offshore wind as evidence of its commitment to low-carbon infrastructure.

Since May 2010, the UK has installed more than 11GW of wind power, generating enough electricity for more than 7.8m homes.

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