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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 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. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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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 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. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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UK power stations’ electricity output lowest since 1994

UK power stations’ electricity output lowest since 1994

Powered by 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%. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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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 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.

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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.

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.

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 © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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£60m ‘greenery drive’ to plant 10m trees in England

£60m ‘greenery drive’ to plant 10m trees in England

Powered by article titled “£60m ‘greenery drive’ to plant 10m trees in England” was written by Adam Vaughan, for The Guardian on Monday 29th October 2018 18.40 UTC

More than 10m trees will be planted across England with the injection of £60m of new funding over five years, as part of what the government billed as its “drive to preserve the country’s greenery”.

The bulk of the money, £50m, will pay landowners for planting trees that lock up carbon, which observers said raised questions over how accessible those woodlands would be to the public. That fund, the Woodland Carbon Guarantee scheme, should pay for 10m trees.

The other £10m will be targeted at planting in cities and towns and should fund at least 100,000 more trees.

The Woodland Trust, a conservation charity, said the money was a step in the right direction in terms of tackling climate change and wildlife losses, but not enough in total. “The problem is greater than just having the funds to deliver increased tree-planting,” said Abi Bunker, the group’s director of conservation.

The government said it would also back a study into the possibility of creating a new “Great Thames Park” in the Thames estuary, which experts have said could be ready by 2020. Ministers have pledged to plant 11m trees between 2017 and 2022, approximately the same number that were planted under the five years of the coalition.

England’s tree-planting record is poor compared with other European countries. About 1.6m trees were planted in England with government support in the 2017-18 financial year, covering 895 hectares. By comparison, Scotland planted 7,100 hectares in the same period.

Conservationists have pointed out that because England’s 120m ash trees are threatened by ash dieback, a deadly fungus that arrived in 2012, the country is on track to suffer a net loss of trees over the next five years. The mix of species to be planted under the government’s new funding announcement will be decided at a later date. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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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 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.” © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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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 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/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/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.” © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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Will the Labrador energy switcher make you switch suppliers?

Will the Labrador energy switcher make you switch suppliers?

Powered by 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. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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Pollutionwatch: wood burning worsening UK air quality

Pollutionwatch: wood burning worsening UK air quality

Powered by 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. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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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 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. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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