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.
Plastic recycled in the UK could supply nearly three-quarters of domestic demand for products and packaging if the government took action to build the industry, a new report said on Thursday.
The UK consumes 3.3m tonnes of plastic annually, the report says, but exports two-thirds to be recycled. It is only able to recycle 9% domestically.
Measures including increased taxes on products made with virgin plastic, and mandatory targets for using recycled plastic in packaging, could encourage an additional 2m tonnes of plastic to be recycled in the UK, the report from Green Alliance said.
The analysis said simply collecting plastic and sending it abroad for recycling does not solve the problem of the global scourge of plastic pollution.
“The UK does not have an adequate system to capture, recycle and re-use plastic materials,” the report said.
It recommends three new measures to ensure more plastic is recovered in the UK and used as raw material in manufacturing. These are:
Mandatory recycled content requirements for all plastic products and packaging;
Short-term support to kickstart the plastic reprocessing market; and
a fund to stabilise the market for companies investing in recycling plastic domestically.
Green Alliance produced the report for a group of businesses that have formed a circular economy taskforce.
Peter Maddox, director of Wrap UK, said the UK had to take more responsibility for its own waste.
“Our mission is to create a world where resources are used sustainably. To make this happen in the UK, we need to design circular systems for plastics and other materials that are sustainable both economically and environmentally. This will require some fundamental changes from all of us.”
The report said government action is necessary to create and support a secondary plastic market in the UK. “The government is uniquely placed to address the market failures that have led to unnecessary reliance on virgin materials to the detriment of the environment, industry and the economy.”
But voluntary pacts were not enough, the report said, and government action was needed.
“A secondary plastic market … could recycle an additional 2m tonnes in the UK and fulfil 71% of UK manufacturing’s raw material demand … Voluntary initiatives like the UK plastic pact … only thrive when supported by a credible prospect of government regulation if industry does not deliver.”
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.”
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.”
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.
Have you got any other examples? Add them to the comments below or tweet them to us @GuardianSustBiz.
The idea has the backing of global drinks company Coca-Cola and comes amid warnings that the worldwide plastics binge poses as serious a threat as climate change.
Sue Hayman, Labour’s shadow environment secretary, urged the government to take swift action. “A deposit return scheme would have widespread public support and would go a long way to ensuring that we recycle as much of our waste as possible,” she said.
Kate Parminter, environment spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, said momentum was growing behind calls for a deposit return scheme. “Earlier this year, Coca-Cola said to the Scottish parliament they would back a well-designed deposit return scheme,” she said. “Now that industry are backing this scheme, it is high time the UK government began to throw their weight behind it.”
According to an unpublished parliamentary report, more than 4m plastic bottles a week could be prevented from littering streets and marine environments in Britain if authorities adopted the kind of deposit return schemes that operate in countries like Germany and Australia.
The Conservative party’s manifesto did not mention such a scheme in the run-up to last month’s general election, but a spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the idea was being considered as part of a wider litter strategy launched in April.
“We have made great progress in boosting recycling rates for plastic bottles, with their collection for recycling rising from less than 13,000 tonnes in 2000 to over 330,000 tonnes in 2015,” the spokesman said. “We are considering further the practical ways in which we can deal with the worst kinds of litter, including plastic bottles.”
However, Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion and co-leader of the Green party, said ministers must do more.
“The government is under growing pressure to take action on the plastic bottle crisis,” she said. “With such a slender majority in the House of Commons, and with the public swinging behind the campaign against plastic waste, there is a real chance that ministers will consider introducing a bottle deposit scheme.
“For a government desperate to salvage its reputation, taking such a simple step forward isn’t just the right thing to do – it serves their self-interest too.”
In Scotland, support is growing for a deposit return scheme. Last week, the Scottish National party launched a detailed study into how such a scheme for bottles and cans would work.
Roseanna Cunningham, the Scottish environment secretary, said: “Clearly there are a number of issues for the Scottish government to consider when it comes to deposit return schemes, which can only be addressed by carrying out work to understand the design of a potential system.”
Recycling rates for plastic bottles in Britain stand at 59%, compared with more than 90% in countries that operate deposit return schemes, such as Germany, Norway and Sweden.
Coca-Cola in Britain and Europe has made a U-turn on deposit schemes and now supports their adoption in the UK, after pressure from environment and anti-waste campaigners. “We believe a new approach is needed,” the company said in a report to the environmental audit committee before its inquiry into plastic bottles was dropped after the dissolution of parliament.
“From our experiences in other countries, we believe a well-designed, industry-run drinks container deposit return scheme could help increase recycling and reduce littering,” Coca-Cola added.
Between 5m and 13m tonnes of plastic end up in the world’s oceans each year, to be ingested by sea birds, fish and other organisms, and by 2050 the oceans will contain more plastic by weight than fish, according to research by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
Campaigners say plastic is polluting every natural system and an increasing number of organisms on the planet, with some of it already finding its way into the human food chain.
Britain was falling in love with coffee just as Adam Fairweather was exploring ideas for new products and materials. Ten years ago, Starbucks stores were opening on every corner, followed by the burgeoning industry of artisan coffee roasters.
Fairweather, a designer by training and expert in recycling technologies and materials development, now develops materials from coffee grounds and uses them to design products including furniture, jewellery and coffee machines.
A poll of 2,000 Britons by Douwe Egberts in 2012 found 69% spent between £1 and £5 in coffee shops five days a week. “We use coffee as a moment to take a break, it’s a luxury product,” says Fairweather. “The idea that it already had this high value but we only use a little of it, that was interesting because I felt that there was a way of tapping into this perceived high value the product has intrinsically.”
On average, we use just 18% to 22% of the coffee bean when we make a cup of coffee but Fairweather says that coffee waste is not “the biggest problem”. “There are already massive recycling programmes in the UK that manage organic food waste very well. My interest is that we can use materials that have a perceived value to them, to communicate and get people excited about the idea of sustainability and social change and environmental management.”
Fairweather first tackled coffee waste by helping to develop the Greencup scheme, which provides offices around the UK with Fairtrade coffee and then collects their waste coffee to turn it into fertiliser. His new venture, Re-Worked, works with Greencup, so he has a ready supply of waste coffee grounds and a list of potential clients who may be open to the idea of other products made from their coffee waste.
Google uses Greencup’s service and has bought designer furniture from Re-Worked, created with a hybrid material made up of 60% used coffee grounds. “They’re all very quick sales,” says Fairweather. “It’s five or six conversations rather than hundreds, because we already have a relationship with the catering facilities management.”
Re-Worked has also teamed up with Sanremo, which uses a material made of 70% coffee grounds for the decorative housing of its Verde coffee machine. Fairweather says they have sold 300-400 of these each year since it was launched in 2013 and they are currently being installed in Wyevale garden centres around the country. High-end jeweller Rosalie McMillan makes use of another of Re-Worked’s materials, combining it with gold and sterling silver for her Java Ore collection.
Scaling up for profit
Re-Worked is a non-profit and Fairweather says the quest for funding has been one of his biggest challenges. “I’m really under-resourced. Because it’s been pioneering work, it’s made it quite hard to get the buy-in from people. We’ve never had huge amounts of wealth in the background to make things happen quickly.”
Re-Worked does generate revenue from trading, which it invests back into the business but Fairweather says the organisation still relies on grants. “In all honesty it’s not been massively profitable. The way we sustain ourselves is by getting government support.” This funds ongoing research into new materials and better production processes.
Fairweather says the process of making materials from coffee grounds would be economically viable if Re-Worked were to scale up. “Doing the life-cycle analysis of materials, is a very good way of seeing whether or not something stands up. If it’s more environmentally friendly, generally it’s more economically-friendly, because it means that you’re using less of everything.”
Fairweather only wants to scale up, however, if he can maintain true to the original aim. He says the company explored the option of developing a low-value product, making fuel pellets out of coffee, to act as a staple to keep the business running. That hit a stumbling block when he realised they would have to take waste coffee from other sources and not just Greencup.
“It’s about promoting the idea of a circular business, if we started to offer the service to Nero, then we add value to their business, but we don’t promote the idea of this circular business model that excites people. It just becomes a service that people use.”
He admits he is not particularly commercially minded and that is, perhaps, why Re-Worked is not a million-pound business. “I’m not a marketer I’m more of an inventor. I like to invent the stuff. I like to work problems out.”
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The Lib Dems on Friday proposed changes to the upcoming plastic bag charge that they claim will remove an extra 3.5bn plastic bags and 328m papers bags from circulation each year, and save small businesses £300m annually. Plastic bag use has risen for four years running, with 8.3bn given out in 2013.
Clegg said: “The facts are simple; single use bags blight our towns and countryside, they trap and suffocate wildlife, and plastic bags take hundreds of years to degrade.
“The countdown to charging has begun, and by the time it arrives this autumn, reusable bags should increasingly be commonplace. As we get used to it, the hundreds of millions raised from the charge will go to charities.
“But we need to do much more. We need to go further and faster.”
The business community was supportive of the move.
Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said: “The BRC has always maintained that the charge should apply to all retailers and all bags. It makes sense to improve on the current proposal now rather than waiting until the next parliament. The proposal as it stands is confusing and will not send a clear message to shoppers.”
John Allan, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said: “The FSB supports the introduction of charges for plastic bags. Many small retailers believe this measure could be good for business, good for the environment and good for their customers and community. However, we agree with the widely held industry view that imposing complex reporting requirements on smaller businesses is overly-burdensome and unnecessary.”
“There will still be an awful lot of bags in circulation, even with the 5p charge. Some of them will get into the environment,” said Stephen. He said the exemption would ensure that more of these bags were biodegradable.
Clegg said he was proud of the Lib Dem’s part in David Cameron’s “greenest government ever”.
“At the beginning of this coalition government we made ambitious promises. Four years on I’m proud to say that we’ve made real changes. From planting new trees, to boosting green travel options in their cities, the powerful steps we’ve taken will conserve our environment now and for years to come.”
Fines for companies caught flytipping on an industrial scale should triple to £9m, the Liberal Democrats have said.
The increased penalities would target businesses that avoid paying landfill tax by dumping rubbish in hedgerows, parks and roadsides, and follows a 20% increase in such incidents in 2013-14.
The measure is part of a suite of environment announcements the Lib Dems have made this week in an attempt to capitalise on what they see as a distinct point of difference against the Tories and Labour.
The current maximum fine of £3m for deliberate dumping that causes serious environmental damage was introduced by the government in early 2014.
But Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, announcing the policy on Wednesday, said the increased fines were still not enough of a deterrent.
The deputy prime minister said the policy was based on a Sentencing Council report that found fines handed to offenders had been “too low and did not reflect the seriousness of the offence committed”.
In 2013 a waste business operator was caught systematically dumping hundreds of tonnes of asbestos without a permit and was fined less than £80,000 – despite an annual turnover of £400,000.
If they were part of the next government, the Lib Dems would ask the Sentencing Council to triple the penalties for the deliberate dumping of waste. The minimum fine will rise to £165,000.
“Commercial flytipping and illegal dumping of waste not only harms British wildlife and the environment, but also means the taxpayer loses out,” said Clegg.
A spokesperson for Keep Britain Tidy said the increase was a good idea but that it should be expanded to target domestic dumpers as well.
“We welcome the Liberal Democrats’ promise to take action on industrial flytipping, which is a major scourge. However, more than three-quarters of all flytipping incidents are domestic. Alongside any stronger regime for penalties, we would urge measures to tackle domestic and small scale flytipping, for example, by unregistered ‘cowboy’ builders and householders who evade their responsibilities to dispose of waste properly.”
Councillor Peter Box, the Local Government Association’s environment spokesman said: “Waste crime costs taxpayers tens of millions of pounds every year and is a burden on businesses, and residents. Councils are remarkably effective in addressing flytipping but the current system works against them. Giving councils tougher powers will enable them to tackle this criminal activity head on. Not only does flytipping create an eyesore for residents, it is also a serious public health risk, creating pollution and attracting rats and other vermin.”
The party’s zero-waste policy announced on Wednesday will also include an action plan to cut landfill by reusing and recycling the vast majority of materials.
Governments across the world should make reducing food waste an urgent priority in order to save as much as £194bn annually by 2030, according to a report.
Cutting food waste leads to greater efficiency, more productivity and higher economic growth, it said, but achieving such an aspiration would involve consumers cutting their own food and drink waste by as much as half.
One third of all food produced in the world ends up as waste, with food wasted by consumers globally valued at more than £259bn per year.
It highlights how practical changes, such as lowering the average temperatures of refrigerators or designing better packaging, can make a big difference in preventing spoilage. Approximately 25% of food waste in the developing world could be eliminated with better refrigeration equipment.
In the UK, the most recent data from Wrap showed that households threw away seven million tonnes of food waste in 2012, enough to fill London’s Wembley Stadium nine times over. Avoidable household food waste in the UK is associated with 17 million tonnes of CO2 emissions annually.
Reducing food waste worldwide can make a significant contribution to tackling climate change, the report said. It found waste is responsible for around 7% of all greenhouse gas emissions globally, 3.3bn tonnes of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) a year.
Wrap estimates that emissions from food waste could cut by at least 0.2bn tonnes CO2e and possibly as much as 1 billion tonnes CO2e per year – more than the annual emissions of Germany.
Dr Richard Swannell, director of sustainable food systems at WRAP said: “Food waste is a global issue and tackling it is a priority. This report emphasises the benefits that can be obtained for businesses, consumers and the environment. The difficulty is often in knowing where to start and how to make the biggest economic and environmental savings.”
Consumers had a vital role to play, he added: “In the UK, where we are based, the majority of food waste occurs in the home.”
Helen Mountford, global programme director for the New Climate Economy, a programme of the commission, said: “Reducing food waste is good for the economy and good for the climate. Less food waste means greater efficiency, more productivity, and direct savings for consumers. It also means more food available to feed the estimated 805 million that go to bed hungry each day.
“Reducing food waste is also a great way to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. These findings should serve as a wakeup call to policymakers around the world.”