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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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Bamboo house: easy to build, sustainable Cubo wins top prize

Bamboo house: easy to build, sustainable Cubo wins top prize


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Bamboo house: easy to build, sustainable Cubo wins top prize” was written by Sandra Laville, for The Guardian on Thursday 22nd November 2018 00.01 UTC

The creator of a house made of bamboo that can be put together in four hours to solve the chronic shortage of affordable accommodation in the Philippines has won a £50,000 top prize to develop cities for the future. Earl Forlales, 23, a graduate in material science engineering, took inspiration from the bamboo hut his grandparents lived in outside Manilla.

Forlales was awarded first prize by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (Rics) for his house, known as Cubo, for its use of low-cost, sustainable material, and the speed at which it could be constructed.

John Hughes, the competition head judge and Rics president, said: “The world’s cities are growing all the time and there is a real need to make sure they are safe, clean and comfortable places to live for future generations.

“There were many exciting, original designs among the submissions. However, Earl’s idea stood out for its simple yet well thought through solution to the world’s growing slum problem.

“As we look at our entrants, who are our next generation of leaders, I believe that real progress will be made in tackling the world’s biggest issues.”

Ever wondered why you feel so gloomy about the world – even at a time when humanity has never been this healthy and prosperous? Could it be because news is almost always grim, focusing on confrontation, disaster, antagonism and blame?

This series is an antidote, an attempt to show that there is plenty of hope, as our journalists scour the planet looking for pioneers, trailblazers, best practice, unsung heroes, ideas that work, ideas that might and innovations whose time might have come.

Readers can recommend other projects, people and progress that we should report on by contacting us at theupside@theguardian.com

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Forlales’s house could be manufactured in a week, constructed in four hours and costs £60 per square metre. Its use of bamboo – which releases 35% more oxygen into the environment than trees – was praised by the judges. The ability of the houses to be constructed in any bamboo-producing area was one of the key attractions.

Cubo
A bedroom inside the bamboo house built by Earl Forlales.
Photograph: Handout

Forlales has already identified a suitable area of land to start building his Cubo houses. He plans to begin work next year with experts from the Rics in an attempt to help relieve the huge pressures on housing in Manila, where a third of the 12 million population live in slums.

He said: “This is a huge step forward to helping the people of Manila. The state of housing in the city is at crisis point, and will undoubtedly get worse with this new influx of workers.

“Cubo started as nothing more than an idea, conceived while spending time at my grandparent’s house – it is incredible to think that it now will become a reality.

“I would like to thank Rics for the opportunity to develop the idea, and look forward to working with them to put this money to good use in Manila, and then hopefully elsewhere around the world.”

The Cities for our Future competition launched in January 2018 aiming to find practical solutions to problems that the world’s cities face. There were more than 1,200 entries, which were narrowed down to 12 finalists, who were given a mentor from the Rics to help them develop their idea over several months. The final judging took place this month.

Cubo
Earl Forlales hopes to start building his Cubo homes next year.
Photograph: Handout

Dr Beth Taylor, a competition judge and the chair of the UK National Commission for Unesco, said: “One of the reasons Earl’s entry stood out from the other finalists was through its use of traditional, sustainable technologies and materials, to solve an issue facing modern cities across the world.”

  • This article is part of a series on possible solutions to some of the world’s most stubborn problems. What else should we cover? Email us at theupside@theguardian.com

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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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Surfers Against Sewage ride the wave of the ‘Harry and Meghan effect’

Surfers Against Sewage ride the wave of the ‘Harry and Meghan effect’


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Surfers Against Sewage ride the wave of the ‘Harry and Meghan effect'” was written by Caroline Davies, for The Guardian on Sunday 17th June 2018 12.14 UTC

Despite its eye-catching name, Surfers Against Sewage probably owes its existence to plastic. “The advent of panty-liners meant you could really see sewage slicks. Condoms, panty-liners and other plastic refuse made for a visceral, and visual, reminder of pollution,” Chris Hines, surfer and co-founder of this small charity in Cornwall, recalled in Alex Wade’s book, Surf Nation.

Sick of ear, throat and gastric infections, he and others called a meeting in St Agnes village hall. A who’s who of the most committed, passionate surfers in Cornwall – and just about the whole village – turned out. It was 1990 and Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) was born.

Today the sewage has mostly gone, thanks to measures such as the EU’s Urban Waste Water Treatment directive. But SAS still exists, transformed from single-issue pressure group to marine conservation charity.

Plastic is the new sewage. And SAS’s fight against marine plastic pollution has just been massively boosted by “the Harry and Meghan effect”.

“A complete bolt from the blue,” said Hugo Tagholm, SAS’s chief executive, on the charity being chosen as one of seven to receive wedding gift donations by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

The unexpected royal patronage has seen a four-fold increase in donations (the charity cannot reveal how much that is), a surge in website hits, and priceless reputation enhancement. “Suddenly, people don’t think we’re just a bunch of surfers in a shack down at the beach. Suddenly, Surfers Against Sewage isn’t just a niche, quirky, little NGO. Suddenly, people realise we’re a really serious marine conservation charity.

“The global interest is phenomenal. We have never reached that many people in all of our history, ever,” said Tagholm.

SAS is still based in the old tin mining workings of Wheal Kitty, outside St Agnes. Its office – where its small staff of 19 staff are based – is on a headland where five-minute stroll can yield slowworms and adders and a spectacular view over Trevaunance Cove beach and passing dolphins on the north Cornish coast.

Hugo Tagholm after a surf at Porthtowan Beach, St Agnes.
Hugo Tagholm after a surf at Porthtowan Beach, St Agnes. Photograph: Peter Flude for the Guardian

“Being here gives us authenticity rather than being marooned on a busy city street,” said Tagholm, who takes the Truro to Paddington sleeper about twice a week. He delights in creating a national and international agenda “from this far-flung corner of the UK”.

Back when it was formed, the SAS message spread via vanloads of surfers traversing the country chasing the waves. Soon activists were donning wetsuits and gas masks “and waving a six-foot inflatable turd underneath politicians’, councillors’ and local water authority apparatchiks’ faces whenever possible,” said Wade, surfer, lawyer, author, and SAS trustee. One water company’s annual awards was enhanced by activists invading the stage wielding a golden bog brush, he recalled.

“It’s gone from punk-like, very rootsy and edgy – sort of ‘Life’s a beach, and we want to sort the beach, but we still want to party’ – to a much slicker, really well-run professional campaigning organisation whose remit is well beyond just surfing,” he said.

Surfing has evolved too. No longer niche, now high street retailers sell trendy surfing apparel. Hardcore surfers still live their idyll of chasing endless sun around the world in board shorts. But “weekend warriors” – city professionals who descend on beaches in leisure time – are part of the community too.

Add in kayakers, swimmers, sailors, walkers, and SAS, which transformed from NGO to charity in 2012, believes it has unique reach. “You don’t have to be a hard core surfer from St Agnes to be part of SAS, you can be Mr Smith living in Birmingham, interested in protecting beaches,” said Tagholm.

“I think we attract an audience that any other charity would struggle to attract,” he said, boasting an energetic, committed, cooler demographic than many others, and helped by being the nominated charity to a number of festivals, and through alignments with musicians such as Ben Howard and Jack Johnson.

“We are really small. Nationally and internationally, it’s a micro-business,” said Tagholm. With a turnover of £1.3m, it’s a “small charity with a big voice” that likes to punch above its weight. Which means, he said, the impact of the “Harry and Meghan effect” is far greater than it would be on larger organisations.

Since 2008, when Tagholm became chief executive, volunteer numbers have soared from 1,000 to 70,000. These are the “canaries in the coal mine” – people who actively use the coastline, see its toxic tidelines and the impacts of climate change and coastal developments.

SAS’s 155 regional volunteers reps organise beach cleans – 1,200 beaches last year – and help orchestrate campaigns. The idea for the most recent, a Plastic Free Parliament, came to Tagholm while stirring his coffee with a plastic spoon in the Houses of Parliament after a meeting of the Protect Our Waves all-party parliamentary group set up by the charity to discuss marine conservation. It aims to eliminate single-use plastic from parliament by next year.

World Oceans Day, on 8 Jun, saw a relaunch of its first international campaign, Plastic Free Communities. So far 350 communities – in villages, towns and cities collectively representing 24 million people – are working towards gaining plastic-free status. It involves a five-step guide, inspired by the Fair Trade status scheme.

Plastic Free Galapagos is another initiative. And, since the royal wedding, SAS has been contacted by groups and communities from across the globe asking for help and co-operation in adopting similar schemes. It’s been swift to embrace these opportunities. Nifty, quick on its toes, and able to respond swiftly are among the attributes of being so small, said Tagholm, compared to large, perhaps more risk averse charities.

It has campaigned on plastic bags ban and deposit return schemes, sets up Ocean Club and Ocean schools on beaches for children, and has a place at the table at international marine conservation conferences.

Perhaps more in tune with its original objectives, SAS still keeps a wary eye on water quality. Surfers swallow 10 times more sea water than swimmers, which makes them the perfect candidates for testing. “Beach Bums” is “an interesting and intimate” survey testing rectal swabs from 300 volunteers researching antibiotics resistance.

Like sewage, said Tagholm, plastic needs an “upstream solution”. Unlike sewage, where there are a finite number of water companies and easily visible pipes, the plastic comes from everywhere.

Hugo Tagholm, Dominic Ferris, Ellie Ewart, Sally Fish and Harry Dennis (left to right) collect pieces of plastic pollution and other litter along Porthtowan Beach.
Hugo Tagholm, Dominic Ferris, Ellie Ewart, Sally Fish and Harry Dennis (left to right) collect pieces of plastic pollution and other litter along Porthtowan Beach. Photograph: Peter Flude for the Guardian

In reality, the beach clean-ups, though good for raising awareness, can make little lasting difference when the sources of the plastic pollutants remain.

“We can’t pick our way out of this one,” It needs “brave legislation” and incentives, and a thorough overhaul of our systems which show we are “doing thing wrong”, he said. He is optimistic, placing his faith in technology as being part of the solutions. “Plastic is the one pollutant that has truly galvanised every part of society.”

On nearby Porthtowan beach, as he and his team nip out for a quick lunchtime surf, the sands looks clean. Bend down, though, and examination of one small square foot, revealed hundreds and hundreds of “mermaids tears” – the tiny lentil-sized nurdles, or pellets, used to make nearly all our plastic products. They escape from factories, or ships. “They’re known as mermaids tears because they are on the beach, and the mermaid’s aren’t happy,” said Tagholm.

This is truly the plastic age. As it all grinds down to dust, it will, he predicts, leave a rainbow-coloured layer of sediment for future geologists. “Hopefully, a very thin layer, if we manage to wean ourselves off plastics.”

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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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Pollutionwatch: wood burning worsening UK air quality

Pollutionwatch: wood burning worsening UK air quality


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Pollutionwatch: wood burning worsening UK air quality” was written by Gary Fuller, for The Guardian on Thursday 1st February 2018 21.30 UTC

A new study shows how home wood burning is worsening air quality in UK towns and cities. Wood burning is adding between 24% and 31% to the particle pollution emitted in Birmingham and London. Many people think that this is a harmless form of heating, but it is often hard to see the impact of a pollutant until it is taken away.

That’s exactly what researchers did in three studies. Between 2005 and 2007, 1,110 old wood stoves were replaced in the small town of Libby, Montana. Wintertime particle pollution reduced by 28% and children had less wheeze, respiratory infections and sore throats. After banning wood burning on 100 of the most polluted days in California’s San Joaquin Valley in 2012, between 7% and 11% fewer old people were admitted to hospital with different types of heart problems. Finally, particle pollution dropped by 40% in Launceston, Tasmania when many wood-burning homes were converted to electric heating. Death rates in the over-65s fell by about 10%, an effect most clearly seen in men. In contrast, there were no matching health changes in nearby Hobart, which was outside the conversion scheme.

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Weatherwatch: can we keep the lights on when the wind fails to blow?

Weatherwatch: can we keep the lights on when the wind fails to blow?


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Weatherwatch: can we keep the lights on when the wind fails to blow?” was written by Kate Ravilious, for The Guardian on Tuesday 9th January 2018 21.30 UTC

Last year was one of the greenest for power in the UK. Nearly one-third of all electricity came from renewable sources, and wind and solar provided more power than coal on 315 days of the year. Rapid growth in both solar and wind (the UK now has more offshore wind power capacity than any other country in the world) has enabled the UK to achieve these impressive statistics, but will the rise in renewables also make UK power more vulnerable to the whims of British weather?

Researchers working on the European Climatic Energy Mixes project have been investigating future risk by assessing how the UK would fare with a repeat of the unusually cold winter of 2009-10. From mid-December 2009 a southward-displaced jet stream allowed cold air to pour in from eastern Europe, bringing widespread snow and plunging temperatures. The mean UK temperature for the entire winter was just 1.5C, the lowest since 1978-79 when it was 1.2C . As a result power demand surged, with electricity consumption between 10 and 20% above average on a number of occasions.

Back in 2010 renewables provided less than 10% of UK electricity. But similar weather now might create a strain. “The low wind conditions in a repeat of winter 2009-10 would lead to a substantial reduction in wind power production over the season, which could lead to increased risks to electricity supply availability when combined with an increased demand due to low temperatures,” writes meteorologist Emma Suckling from the University of Reading. Winters like this might be getting rarer, but we still need a contingency plan when the wind fails to blow.

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The innovators: looped water system for Earth friendly shower

The innovators: looped water system for Earth friendly shower


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “The innovators: looped water system for Earth friendly shower” was written by Shane Hickey, for The Guardian on Sunday 21st February 2016 09.00 UTC

When he was working on an academic project with Nasa, Mehrdad Mahdjoubi, a Swedish industrial designer, realised there could be parallels between sustainability in space and on Earth. The extremes of space required that the vital resource of water be used in the most efficient way possible. Water should also be used like this in the home, he thought.

Inspired by those experiences with the space agency, Mahdjoubi created a shower system that reuses the same water in a circular loop, while two filters take out impurities as it circulates.

This Shower of the Future , from his company, Orbital Systems, can operate on five litres of water. The water constantly circulates for 10 minutes or so – the time of an average shower – in turn saving also on energy.

“The reason that we make it work sustainably in space is because we have to do it,” the Swedish industrial designer said. “What if we try the same things on Earth … [if] the house was like a space capsule, how would we go about it? The most sustainable lifestyle is the one that we have in the most extreme environments and that may be in space or in a submarine where you actually have no choice but to really care for the resources that you have.”

Mahdjoubi said that while savings have been made in how water is used in toilets and washing machines, the same was not true of the shower. “Without changing the technology, we seem to just heat up water and put it down the drain,” he said. In Sweden, where the company is based, the average shower emits 15 litres of water a minute. During a 10-minute shower this amounts to 150 litres, he said.

The Orbital Systems shower starts with five litres of water and adds more if some is splashed out or is taken out of the system by the filters.

Water is first pumped through two filters, one which takes out larger particles such as sand, skin and dust and then a finer filter to extract bacteria, viruses and blood.

From there the water travels through a heater that moderates the temperature, which is set by a wheel control the user can change from hot to cold. The water then exits the shower nozzle as normal.

But when the water trickles through the drain it goes through a sensor which analyses it. If it is contaminated, the sensor recognises this and replaces the water.

The company says water flows at a rate of 20 litres a minute, compared to conventional showers, which typically range between seven and 12 litres a minute.

The shower takes in water from the mains until it senses that there is enough to go in a constant loop, said Mahdjoubi. “Even though the water is clean we would always flush it out before the next user. Comparing [it] to a hot tub where you sit in your own dirt for however many minutes, this is way more hygienic. When you stand in front of one of these showers you completely forget that the water is being recycled. It is the most unremarkable thing.”

The shower unit can be fitted as either an integrated system in the floor or as a standalone cabin with glass walls. The first units were delivered in December with most of the sales to commerical customers such as gyms, residential homes, swimming pools and the Swedish military. Nursing homes and hospitals have also bought them, said Mahdjoubi, because of the filter system.

“Not because they really want to save a lot of water but because you can guarantee that the water is clean and free from Legionnaires’ disease because it is always being filtered.”

How much money is saved depends on the cost of water and energy and how often the shower is used, he said. The company claims that a UK home can save £1,100 a year assuming there are four showers taken a day lasting nine minutes each.

Offsetting this is the price of the shower. The cheaper of the two residential units, where the shower is integrated into the floor of the bathroom, costs £3,300 while the standalone cabin costs £4,100.

As sales increase, Mahdjoubi said, the price would fall to less than £2,000 in three years. “I would say that we are steadily going down in price but we have to start where the market can afford it, that is why we have this premium and commercial focus we have right now,” he said.

A family would need to spend an average of about £110 every year replacing the purification capsules.

So far hundreds of the showers had been sold, said Mahdjoubi, and there had been particular interest from Denmark (location of one of the highest water prices in the EU) and from California, where there had been persistent droughts over recent years.

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