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Latest news and features from theguardian.com, the world's leading liberal voice

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    Conservative MP says ministers also preparing to stop tax relief limits on philantrophy after recent reversal on 'pasty tax'

    Hopes have been raised that the government will back down on controversial plans to limit tax relief on big charity donations after a Conservative MP said ministers were preparing the ground for a U-turn.

    The limit on tax-free philanthropic giving was among the most unpopular to emerge from the last budget, which has already triggered a run of U-turns. Decisions to drop the widely ridiculed "pasty tax" on hot snacks such as pasties sold at above room temperature, to slash proposed VAT on static caravans, and to make concessions on key measures in the justice and security bill on Monday were seized on by campaigners as sign that the government could make further concessions. Labour said it added to a sense of "omnishambles" in the coalition.

    On Tuesday Conservative MP David Ruffley, a member of the Treasury select committee, told the BBC minsters were "preparing the ground" for another major policy reverse on the plan to limit tax relief for charity donations at £50,000 or 25% of a person's income, whichever was bigger.

    "I think ministers are already preparing the ground for that," he told BBC News. "They said at the time of the budget they would look at how this operates. The point about capping charitable relief is not just to be nice to millionaire philanthropists; it's the charities that actually receive the money. Those are hardworking people in the voluntary sector. Many of them are Conservative supporters; not all of them, of course.

    "I think the political management here really does demand that there is some lessening of the hit to charities that his cap involves. It wouldn't surprise me if in the November autumn statement there is some change in the short run."

    There were mixed signals from Whitehall on any likely rethink following a consultation which is currently underway, the results of which are expected in mid July. One official confirmed there would be concessions but said the details had not yet been confirmed. "I don't know what the concessions might be", the source said. Another warned against reading too much into the fact that a consultation was going on. However charity leaders stepped up pressure on the coalition.

    A Treasury spokesperson said: "The budget made clear that we want to ensure charities that rely on large donations are not hit significantly, which is why we said we'd spend time working with the charity sector and philanthropists on the details."

    The Charities Aid Foundation, which represents the interests of the sector, published new research showing that a majority of Conservative and Liberal Democrat voters believe the cap would undermine the government's "big society" project, to encourage more voluntary organisations to get involved in public services.

    "The government has shown it is prepared to listen on issues like the pasty tax and the caravan tax," said John Low, chief executive of CAF. "Now is the time for them to listen to charities, donors and their own supporters to do the right thing and exempt charitable donations from the damaging tax cap."

    The three announcements, which appeared to have been deliberately timed for when MPs had left Westminster for the Whitsun recess, sparked a rush of pressure for further policy changes:

    • Campaigners against new regulations allowing nests of the endangered buzzard to be destroyed and the birds to be taken into captivity to protect pheasant shoots joined the chorus of renewed hope, heightened by the conservation minister Richard Benyon apparently getting more than 600 direct emails from angry nature lovers.

    • Officials also hinted at official confirmation of a U-turn on the "conservatory tax", a proposed requirement to invest in energy saving measures such as insulating lofts and walls when home owners built an extension, which was very unpopular with some Tory MPs – although this had not been formally announced.

    • Some recycling and waste companies have also been pressing ministers to relent on a massive hike to the landfill tax for some rubble-type waste and grit, which was introduced suddenly just under a fortnight ago by the customs and excise department – including sending skip lorries to Parliament Square last week to sound their horns in protest.

    The government's opponents seized on the latest U-turns as further evidence of what has been dubbed the "omnishambles" of unpopular government announcements and bad headlines, which began shortly before the budget.

    Jon Trickett MP, Labour's shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, said: "If David Cameron and George Osborne thought through their unfair policies in the first place, this government wouldn't have to make so many embarrassing U-turns."

    However, government officials defended the latest announcements. "It's difficult for government because you're supposed to listen to people and engage with people and hear what they have to say: if the arguments are persuasive enough you should act on them, but then you're also 'doing a U-turn'," said one Liberal Democrat source. "You're damned if you do, and damned if you don't."

    .


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    It has a constitution enshrining sustainability, it taxes plastic bags – and its National Trust may win an award for halving energy use

    Wales is fast becoming Europe's testbed for sustainable development and what the UN would call "the green economy".

    Not only does it have three of Europe's pioneering solar cell makers – Sharps in Wrexham, G24 in Cardiff and Dyesol at Shotton – it aims to be totally self-sufficient in renewable energy, it's the only country in the UK to introduce statutory recycling and waste targets, it has put a tax on plastic bags, it has the impressive Centre for Alternative Technology at Machynlleth turning out a new generation of clean energy engineers, and its local authorities are investing heavily in renewables.

    Moreover, it is one only three nations in the world to have sustainable development enshrined in its constitution, and later this year, it hopes to underline its growing divergence from Westminster by passing one of the world's first laws to force all government spending to take into account environment and social needs.

    The country of three million people now stands a chance of picking up another accolade when the National Trust in Wales comes under consideration for a coveted Ashden award for reducing energy use by 46% in just two years.

    Most of the castles, mansions, farms, holiday cottages and other buildings that the trust owns in Wales have been quietly retrofitted since 2009 with better heating, lighting and energy saving systems, with over 0.5MW of solar, and hydro electricity installed along with heat pumps and insulation. The trust now saves £280,000 a year on bills as a result. The £2.2m investment in energy saving and renewable systems is expected to repay itself in nearly eight years.

    Having used Wales as a testbed, the plan now is to expand the retrofit scheme to the whole National Trust organisation with its 29,000 properties elsewhere in Britain, including 39 villages, 88 castles, 300 mansions and 61 pubs.

    But where the Trust in Wales scores highest, is in developing and then trying to share information with the public on the best ways to retrofit older, "difficult" properties which the energy companies shun and which ordinary householders find expensive and laborious to tackle.

    Britain has over 400,000 listed buildings and over five million built over 95 years ago, and Wales alone has about 250,000 homes – some 20% of its housing stock – in the worst two categories for energy wastage. Information on retrofitting them is scarce.

    So what has the trust learned from its pilot programme on retrofitting its old homes in Wales? Keith Jones, the man largely responsible for the Wales pilot scheme, writes a blog most days documenting the progress of the trust's move away from being one of the most profligate energy users in Wales. The key, he says, is not to try to find a technological quick fix, but "to understand how the buildings are used."

    "The technology is the stuff we only do at the end. We have learned to understand the building first. Buildings are being asked to do different things today than when they were built. We've also learned to manage what we have better. The clever stuff comes only at the end."

    The scale of the energy waste was staggering. One mansion, Plas Newydd on Anglesey, used to use 1,500 litres of oil a day to keep warm – roughly what an ordinary house does in a year. Jones and his team managed to reduce that by 40% with better boilers and insulation, but now they hope to install a marine source heat pump which could reduce costs by £65,000 a year.

    Also up for recognition at the Ashdens are the University Hospital of South Manchester, which has cut emissions by 28% over five years and saved the hospital £390K last year; Yorkshire-based Ellergreen hydro, which has constructed five hydro projects with a total capacity of 620 kW, with a further 17 due for completion over the next three years, Energy4all which manages eight community-owned co-operatives with 7,690 members, who collectively own the equivalent of over 20 MW of capacity in UK wind farms, and Parity projects, a London company helping home-owners and social housing providers gear up for the government's energy efficiency scheme, the Green Deal.

    International finalists include the Australian social enterprise group Barefoot Power is rolling out a wide range of solar power products at speed across Africa, Ibeka, which has installed 61 hydro schemes installed so far in Indonesia, and MyShelter Foundation which is lighting up dark rooms in poor urban homes in the Philippines through its pioneering use of clear plastic drinks bottles as skylights.


    guardian.co.uk © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


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  • 06/06/12--16:01: M&S becomes 'carbon neutral'
  • First major UK retailer to meet its sustainability targets says results show there is also a strong business case for going green

    M&S has become the first major UK retailer to become fully 'carbon neutral', the company said on Thursday, five years after launching its sustainability project, 'Plan A'.

    But despite the company's progress in meeting many of the targets in its programme, its management admit disappointment at its failure to meet some of the more ambitious challenges, such as tripling sales of organic food and drink.

    The 2012 How We Do Business Report, published on Thursday, sets out in detail the progress of the 180 commitments set out to ensure sustainable policies are at the heart of every aspect of its business, including its complex international supply chain.

    The social and environmental issues addressed by M&S range from energy saving and carbon emissions to Fairtrade and animal welfare; from waste management to sustainable sourcing of timber and fish.

    In 2010 it announced an extended Plan A with 80 new commitments to achieve by 2015 and the ultimate goal of becoming the world's most sustainable major retailer.

    The new report reveals that 138 commitments have been achieved and a further 30 are 'on plan', ie on target to be met within the specified timescale. Overall the net benefit of Plan A to the business last year was £105m – a 50% increase on the £70m delivered in 2010/11.

    The company says it is now fully carbon neutral, after reducing energy usage by 28% through more efficient refrigeration, and counting renewable energy tariffs and offsetting.

    The company also now recycles 100% of its waste. Of its food waste from stores, 89% goes straight to anaerobic digestors to generate energy and the rest is composted. And 31% of M&S products – £3bn worth — now have a Plan A attribute such as Fairtrade, organic or made from recycled material. The longer-term goal is that by 2020, all M&S products – nearly three billion sold annually – will have at least one sustainable characteristic.

    The retailer had aimed to triple sales of organic food and drink by 2012. But while sales of Fairtrade products have increased by 88% -and organic products are popular in its 300 cafes – sales of organic products in store remain broadly the same as in 2007.

    And it has also fallen slightly short of its target that by 2012 100% of wood, such as kitchenware and furniture, would be FSC or equivalent or recycled, reporting that the figure was 84%.

    Mike Barry, head of sustainable business at M&S, said: "There are a couple of disappointments but these are challenging economic times and M&S deserves eight out of ten for making some substantive achievements in the first five years of Plan A. This detailed evaluation shows the powerful business case for the initiative. We look forward to working further with our 21 million shoppers to make further progress by 2020."

    Most recently, M&S expanded its existing partnership with Oxfam through the launch of 'shwopping' – promoted by actress Joanna Lumley, which encourages shoppers to hand over an item of discarded clothing when they buy something new.


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    Figures show almost half of Wales's municipal waste was recycled or composted in 2011-12, ahead of the rest of the UK

    Wales is surging ahead of the rest of the UK on recycling rates as it bids to become a "zero-waste" society, according to government figures published on Thursday.

    The average household in Wales recycled 48% of their waste during the financial year 2011-12, representing a 4% increase on the previous year. The announcement puts the country firmly on track to reach its 2012-13 statutory target of 52%.

    England currently recycles on average around 40% of its household waste but the year-on-year increases have been getting smaller and it still faces an uphill struggle to reach EU targets.

    Welsh environment minister, John Griffiths, said: "I am delighted that the people of Wales are managing their waste in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner. I congratulate local authorities across Wales for their important role in achieving this impressive result."

    Conwy and the Vale of Glamorgan have seen the biggest improvements over the 12 months, with both authorities increasing their recycling by 10%. Elsewhere, Brigend has gone from recycling just 31% of municipal waste to 54% in the last two years.

    Wales has implemented an ambitious Towards Zero Waste strategy that aims to recycle or re-use all waste by 2050.

    "The key thing now is that we continue to build on our recycling success so that we can meet our challenging targets of 70% recycling by 2025 and zero waste by 2050," said Griffiths. "I am very hopeful that this summer will see us breaking the 50% barrier."

    The EU waste framework directive requires the United Kingdom to recycle, compost or reuse 50% of household waste by 2020. However, Wales is currently the only country in the UK to have introduced statutory recycling targets for municipal waste, as well as operating separate food and green waste collections in all local authorities.

    It has also been ahead of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland in being first to introduce the landfill allowances scheme, which limits the amount of biodegradable waste that can be sent to landfill sites.

    "One reason for our good progress is that every local authority in Wales offers weekly food collection services," explains Griffiths. "Separating out food waste not only diverts significant waste away from landfill, it also makes us far more aware of the food we are wasting, which can often result in reduced waste and lower food bills."


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    Recycling firm hopes to improve profits by bypassing informal network of bottle collectors

    Beijing's vast army of plastic-bottle scavengers will get an automated rival later this month, when the city introduces its first reverse vending machines that pay subway credits in exchange for returned containers.

    More than 100 recycle-to-ride devices will be installed in an attempt to reduce the environmental impact of the informal bottle collection business and improve the profits of the operator, which works in an industry thought to be worth billions of dollars.

    Donors will receive between 5 fen and 1 mao (about 1p) on their commuter passes for each polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottle they insert into the machine, which then crushes them to a third of their original size and sorts them according to colour and type.

    "It will be as easy to use as an ATM," said an employee of the operating company, Incom, who declined to give her name. "We hope to put one at every station on the route [subway line 10] and later expand to other lines, bus stops and residential areas."

    The firm currently processes 50,000 tons of bottles a year, most of which it buys from informal collectors who roam the city's streets looking for discards, which they pack on to carts and bicycles.

    With the machines, the firm hopes to collect directly from the public and generate extra revenue from government subsidies and sales of advertising shown on the machine's screens. Incom says it plans to approach Coca-Cola and other beverage retailers.

    Similar devices have been used in several countries, including the US, Japan and Brazil, but they have benefited from civic mindedness, convenience and widespread ignorance about the true value of PET.

    Waste-trade experts are sceptical that the same business model will work in China, which already has a vast and highly competitive PET recycling industry. Nobody knows the numbers of collectors, but estimates range from 500,000 to 20 million. Many go from door to door, or come when called.

    Adam Minter, a Shangai-based blogger and author of an upcoming book on China's scrap business, reckons that recycling may be the second most popular profession in the country after farming and that the PET market alone is worth billions of dollars.

    More significantly, he says the motives are also different, which will mean the reverse vending machine operators will have to offer competitive rates or they will struggle to attract takers.

    "In the west, recycling is seen as a green activity. In developing Asia, it is an economic activity," Minter says. "One thing is guaranteed. If donors are not paid market price, it is not going to work."

    A similar device was launched in Shanghai several years ago, but has not made any noticeable dent in the informal industry.

    Incom says, however, that environmental benefits should be considered alongside economic factors.

    While most informal PET recycling workshops re-use the plastic for clothes and create pollution during their largely unregulated activities, the company says it makes the cleanest and most efficient use possible of the plastic for new bottles.

    Environmental activists said they would wait to see whether the devices were energy intensive and waste-producing before passing judgment.

    "Using better technology for recycling is a good thing, generally speaking," said Feng Yongfeng of the Green Beagle NGO. "But bottle recycling is not an urgent problem in China. We already have a mature system for that. Our real need is to complete a comprehensive recycling system."


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    British consumers have an estimated 1.7bn items of clothing left hanging unused in wardrobes for at least a year

    British consumers have an estimated £30bn worth of clothing that they have not worn for a year in their wardrobes, a new report from the government waste body Wrap reveals today.

    The average UK household owns around £4,000 worth of clothes, but around 30% of that clothing – 1.7bn items – has not been worn for at least a year, most commonly because it no longer fits.

    With more than two-thirds of consumers willing to buy and wear pre-owned clothing such as jeans and jumpers, the report identifies additional opportunities for the clothing industry. The research also suggests that our obsession with disposable fashion may be on the wane. Only 21% of consumers say they consider the latest trends in fashion as influential when buying clothes, while they rank value for money as their top purchase criterion.

    Clothing accounts for around 5% of the UK's total annual retail expenditure, with consumers spending £44bn a year on clothes - around £1,700 per household and second only to food and drink in terms of expenditure on consumable goods.

    The report does not advocate that people should stop buying clothes, but that the active life of clothing is extended and the amount going into in landfill is cut back. Just under one-third of clothing at the end of its life goes to landfill every year - around 350,000 tonnes, worth £140m every year, based on Salvation Army estimates of their value.

    Wrap said that extending the average life of clothes by just three months of active use per item would lead to a 5-10% reduction in their carbon and water footprints.

    Liz Goodwin, chief executive officer of Wrap, said: "The way we make and use clothes consumes a huge amount of the Earth's precious resources, and accounts for a major chunk of family spending. But by increasing the active use of clothing by an extra nine months we could reduce the water, carbon, and waste impacts by up to 20-30% each and save £5bn."

    The report cites the recently launched M&S and Oxfam "Shwopping" initiative as evidence of retail awareness and customer interest in new approaches. Retailers are being urged to set up "buy back" schemes that would enable customers to sell retailer own-brand clothes they no longer want back to the retailer to prepare for re-sale.

    Lord Taylor, minister for environment, said: "Making better use of our resources is integral to economic growth, cutting carbon emissions and building a strong and sustainable green economy. This report shows that there is a huge potential for both businesses and households to save money and the environment by thinking differently about the way we produce, use and dispose of clothes. Used clothing has a massive commercial value, yet over 430,000 tonnes is thrown away in the UK every year."


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    Join us on Friday 13 July to find out from our expert panel how to run a successful recycling social enterprise

    Recycling goods – and reselling them – is a popular form of social enterprise. It can often deliver many forms of social impact: reducing waste, providing employment for marginalised groups, and giving poorer communities access to consumer goods.

    But it's also a crowded field, with competition from mainstream business - and social enterprises have problems trying to scale up.

    In this live Q&A we'll take a look at:

    • opportunities in this sector for social entrepreneurs
    • barriers to scaling up, and how best to overcome them
    • successful recycling social enterprises - and how they did it.

    You can read about a couple of success stories ahead of the live Q&A on the links below:

    • Brighter Future Workshop, recyclers of mobility equipment and winners of the Guardian Social Enterprise Award 2011, featured on our network earlier this year.
    • Recycle-IT - a community interest company and one of the largest UK-wide not-for-profit IT recyclers - were one of the featured companies from our social enterprise directory last month.

    Do get in touch if you'd like to be a panellist – email Joe Jervis for more details.

    Also, if you'd like to leave a question, please do so in the comments section below, or come back to ask it live – and follow the debate – on Friday 13 July, 1200 - 1400 BST.

    Remember - in order to be on the panel and also to participate, you need to register as a member of the Guardian social enterprise network, and log in. Click here to register.

    Panel of experts

    Nikki DiGiovanni - national co-ordinator, ScrapstoresUK

    Nikki has been working with scrapstoresUK since 2010 and has developed the charity into a thriving network that connects the 90+ scrapstores across the UK. These independent scrapstores are run for community benefit by staff and volunteers who divert waste from businesses that would be destined to end up in land-fill and distribute it to schools and over 74,000 community groups to use for arts, crafts and play. As well as the fun, every year scrapstores prevent thousands of tonnes of waste from being burned or buried and make a huge impact on reducing the UK's carbon footprint.

    Alex Harvey - manager, Giveacar

    Alex Harvey is a manager at Giveacar. He studied European History at Manchester University, graduating in 2009 - then working overseas in China and for an NGO in Brussels before joining Giveacar in 2011. Giveacar is a not-for-profit social enterprise that raises money for charity by accepting donations of old cars. Launched in January 2010, it was the first service of its kind in the UK and allows charities to tap into a brand new source of funds.

    Benita Matofska - founder and chief sharer, The People Who Share

    Benita Matofska is a former TV executive, social innovator, social entrepreneur and the founder and chief sharer of The People Who Share, a social enterprise dedicated to building a Sharing Economy. The People Who Share are the company behind compareandshare.com the first one-stop destination for the sharing of resources and National Sharing Day.

    Jenelle Montilone - creative activist and designer, TrashN2Tees

    Inspiring others to consume less and recycle more with her sustainable handmade wares, Jenelle has been able to divert more than 2.5 tonnes of clothing/textiles from the landfill. Her business recently expanded to include clothing recycling collections with local agencies and organizations in her own community as well as hosting DIY upcycling/repurposing workshops. In November she will be releasing an app & hosting the create Change. Pledge event, instigating a movement that will change the way we consume and create. Twitter: @TrashN2Tees

    Emma Hallett - operations manager, REalliance

    Emma is the operations manager of REalliance. REalliance supports and represents social and community enterprises working to use and manage resources sustainably. She previously was general manager at the Community Recycling Network and managed a three year capacity building programme for social enterprises in the reuse/recycling/composting sector. Twitter: @ReallianceEmma

    Robert Jones-Mantle - company secretary, Magpie Recycling Co-operative

    For two decades Robert, as a member of the Magpie Recycling Co-operative, has rescued thousands of tonnnes from landfill which has itself created significant empowered employment. Our model has evolved from a from a time when there was little service provision for businesses and households wanting to be smart with their waste to the present where all waste firms claim to be smart with your waste. Find some community owned solutions at the magpie.coop or at facebook.com/verdiculture.

    Tim Edwards - integration and transformation manager, Furniture Mine

    Furniture Mine collects unwanted furniture and white goods and passes them on to people who are on benefits or low incomes, helping the local community and the environment by extending the life span of furniture and reducing landfill. Furniture Mine was recently acquired by north Staffordshire-based Aspire Group, which comprises housing association Aspire Housing and social enterprise group Enterprising Futures. Tim is leading the integration and transformation of Furniture Mine into the Aspire Group.

    This content is brought to you by Guardian Professional. To join the social enterprise network, click here.


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    All you need to know from the experts in our recent live Q&A on social enterprise and recycling

    Nikki DiGiovanni - national co-ordinator, ScrapstoresUK

    Know your waste: It is important to note that there are waste regulations which differ between household and business waste.

    More grassroots work: Running a social enterprise is hard often thankless work for the people behind it. The essence of a social enterprise is about social or environmental change and I would like more of them being run at a grass roots level.

    Scrap stores should be encouraged: There are 90 scrapstores across the UK, they support 74,000 community groups with art, craft, play, education and environmental resources. Collectively our resources reach 6.1 million children. The charity ScrapstoresUK was created by the scrapstores themselves to be a voice and to negotiate national contracts with big businesses.

    Scrap stores only take what they can reuse: Most have very little residual waste as they are usually a linchpin for connecting other waste organisations in their locality. It is also one of the conditions of low risk waste protocol we have with the Environment Agency, by only taking what we can reuse - we don't waste resources.

    Start-up or other funding: Register on Funding Central and you'll get an email each week with funding matches. Find your nearest Community Foundation as they process a lot money and new things are often easier to fund than existing ones that need core funding. Lots of banks and retailers have funding to give to local community organisations.

    More CSR must be encouraged: Currently scrapstores work with 3,500 businesses most do not pay anything towards the collection costs. This something I am trying to persuade them to change as we believe in developing these relationships for the long term and in a more cohesive way so that everyone in the company knows how they are working with us and why.

    Connecting with donors: Identifying them and target them. There are lots of free resources out there and even more cheap ones. For donations of furniture have a look at Choose2Reuse – a reuse campaign I ran with charity shops and furniture reuse orgs. All the lessons are available/shareable.

    Run events: We did "inside out events" in places where they would be most unexpected. Make sure you've got some good signs explaining what you do and make people come and talk to you. Door drop flyers in target areas where you know people are more likely to donate. If you don't have the personnel to door drop most free papers will deliver them for approximately £16 per 1000.

    Future events: We have some exciting things coming up including exhibiting at the largest waste event in Europe RWM in partnership with CIWM at Birmingham NEC. Check out the website – tickets are free. We are also looking to secure our financial future and have our national conference so that should keep us busy.

    Benita Matofska - founder and chief sharer, The People Who Share

    Van share: For those needing a cheap vehicle, rather than purchase a vehicle, access a shared one. Check out compareandshare.com to find one. There are currently over 100,000 car sharers in the UK and this is a great way to use less carbon.

    Funding resource: UnLtd have small grants for early stage concepts and also provide support, workshops and connections. We received a Level 1 Grant last year for £3,000 and it really made a difference and helped us get started.

    Future event: We are running Global Sharing Day on 14 November. The aim is to increase awareness about the sharing economy, to inspire people to share in their communities, to help foster a culture where we swap, exchange, reuse, borrow, lend... We are just starting to sign up partners, let me know who is interested.

    Importance of networking: We also founded the Global Sharing Economy Network to connect people who are working in this area around the world. By connecting the different projects and initiatives and promoting them, this has helped in our mission to build a sharing economy.

    Reduce before we reuse: We need to reduce – massively. We've already destroyed a third of the world's natural resources in our quest to consume. We are tackling big culture change that encourages people to access rather than own, to share resources rather than own them. The ideas around collaborative consumption are really taking hold and what we are doing is building a global network that connects everyone working in this space so people can easily find what they need through shared resources.

    Partnerships are key: Another great opportunity is the Innovation Lab are working in partnership with Peabody to bring together social entrepreneurs, innovators and the local community to develop enterprise skills and grow innovation. The aim of the project is to build sustainable communities. There is a great hook up with all of your recycling ventures for this project.

    We need to build partnerships across sectors to really get our messages out there. We work on a community level with our crowdshare activities but then engage corporates in other strands of our work. We rare currently building a partnership with M&S. Their Shwopping campaign with Joanna Lumley has inspired people to recycle clothing and lots of it. High street retailers are able to reach the mainstream population in a way that if we were working alone we would't be able to.

    Utlilise space: At the end of the summer we will be working from a Peabody space near Victoria that has been a disused office space next to the community housing. We'll need some furniture for the space but I'm also thinking about how the community can benefit from the various surplus you all have. This is an opportunity to put some of this to good, and much needed, use.

    Resource: Eliot Stock at www.ditto.do are free cycling and are looking to mainstream reuse, trying to make it cool and aspirational etc.

    Jenelle Montilone - creative activist and designer, TrashN2Tees

    Recyclables app: America Recycles Day is also November 15th- The Create Change Event correlates to an app that I'm currently developing. The app will be compilation of creative tutorials-  giving you recycling inspiration & how to directly at your fingertips. It is going to revolutionise the way people view their garbage and inspire you to find creative ways to repurpose what we no longer need- injecting colour, texture, personality, and wonder into our lives and communities.

    Get the kids involved: How about partnering with youth groups, which collect and sell the organic and recyclable waste?

    Room for growth: General reports rave about recycling rates and landfill closures but the fact that 70% of the items in our landfills can be recycled/reused. More specifically clothing and textiles- Many people would be surprised to find out that textile and clothing waste takes up around 5% of our municipal waste stream. Of these items 95% can be reuse in one way or another, whether it is reused as second hand clothing, rags or for low-grade fibre products.

    Scaling to profitability: There is certainly opportunity for recycling social enterprise in America. The challenge is scaling to profitability and making them accessible to general public.

    Forthcoming event: I am hosting a 'Create Change Pledge' event in November- with the idea that if everyone reused/repurposed one item for one day it would keep more than 3,117,956 tons out of the landfill in just the US alone.

    Emma Hallett - operations manager, REalliance

    Four main community resource and recycling networks in England: Community Composting Network (CCN), Community Resource Network UK (CRN UK), London Community Resource Network (LCRN) and Furniture Re-use Network (FRN). All are shareholders of RElliance.

    Big challenges: I would agree that there are big challenges out there now for social enterprises in recycling. While this could be seen as a success of the sector - what was once a "niche" activity has been mainstreamed. However, there still remains the challenge of how we recycle and the push to move up the waste hierarchy (reduce before reuse before recycle).

    Relationships with LAs: I think there need to be different ways of working with LAs and their waste contractors, and we are beginning to see some examples of this, including Bulky Waste.

    Multi-faceted social impact: The specific areas social enterprise has recently targetted are furniture reuse (including some white goods), wood reuse and small scale composting. There are both environmental (wates/resource related) objectives but often also social ones of providing employement, training and volunteering opportunities and low cost products to households.

    Job creation: This has traditionally been a key objective of social enterprises working in the "waste" sector. The FoE report looked at all waste management and found that if the whole of Europe recycled/ reused more, there would be a large net increase in jobs (about half a million if I remember correctly).

    Replicate schemes nationally: One of the challenges for us nationally is to understand what is working well and how it can be replicated in other locations.

    Localism Act opportunities: There may be some opportunities for social enterprise in using the new Localism Act "right to challenge" but it won't be straightforward and I suspect will be used only in cases where LAs are keen to see a change.

    Communities and shared values form bedrock: Some of the recent work by Waste Watch is very interesting in this area. They have based their work on the "values and frames" concept. Basically they believe you have to start where people and on the topics that are important to them.  Only by working to build a sense of community and shared values can you begin to influence resource related behaviours.

    Donation difficulties: One of the changes the economic downturn has taken is that people are holding onto their stuff for longer. While this is good for overall consumption patterns and reducing our environmental impact, it does make it harder for those who are trying to reuse what is thrown away.

    Waste industry key to social enterprise expansion: I think the opportunities that lie ahead for social enterprise (in England at least) will mostly be in the waste prevention and reuse field. These activities are by definition more labour intensive which enables social enterprises to provide social benefits too.

    A success story: Also one to watch not mentioned so far is the London Reuse Network which aims to make London as a city where reuse is easy, popular and the norm. That maximises the community, economic and environmental benefits of reuse. With unrivalled reuse infrastructure that becomes the international model for reuse management.

    Tim Edwards - integration and transformation manager, Furniture Mine

    Training opportunities: Although we're relatively new in this area we feel there is a good fit for us. Ours was an existing charity similar to many schemes of their type providing reused furniture for those in need. It fits us well as we have a substantial local training company PM Training where we can provide increased training opportunities through our project as well as extending the services to others in need

    Trading relationships: As grants have been squeezed we've moved to a trading relationship which values the goods and services more that we've providing, however the LA contracts for bulky waste for example are a useful contributor to the overall business model

    Scaling up is tricky: We need to be very clear on the segments that we can best work in. The larger mainstream contractors will have scale but we can provide local added value especially in areas such as training, community engagement and values. Our approach is to develop a cluster of activities with common support and stability to grow within a group. However, the translation into a sustainable business with capacity in the current environment is challenging.

    Robert Jones-Mantle - company secretary, Magpie Recycling Co-operative

    Create a drop-off space: Use empty commercial premises on the high street for people to drop in their unwanted items for others to collect, and if they haven't gone in a week use a recycling/reuse facility to dispose of them in as environmentally friendly as possible way.

    Offer free collection: And only take what you know we can redistribute or afford the costs on the risk of disposal. We don't allow an "abandoned" drop off as we vet these deliveries but do not charge if delivered in.

    When waste loses its label: There is niche where the waste can be owned locally longer in the life cycle. Examples are composting (strictly recovery, not recycling) but changes to waste protocols mean paper, metals and glass can lose their "waste label" and be products eligible for manufacture. These could be ripe for small-scale alternatives to the big waste recyclers out there. Firms such as May Gurney are edging to the fringe of social enterprise but they leak profit into the debt pond we live in.

    Focus on community: I cannot accept, in the current climate, a firm not owned by the community it serves as being a genuine social enterprise. It seems little to do with entrepreneurship when profit share distribution is denied to the community that paid for it.

    Paul Scott - social entrepreneur

    I am currently in the process of starting up a small social enterprise in a "deprived rural area" with long term goals to bring employment into the area, reduce waste and promote recycling.

    Biggest hurdle: Insurance and start-up funding have been the biggest hurdles so far for us. I have finally managed to get insurance sorted out thanks to a rather excellent local independent insurance company. Almost ready to send funding application for processing. Once the paperwork is done, if the weather stays good I can get on with building the workshop premises.

    Successes abroad: When I lived in Amsterdam many years ago there was a group that turned old milk floats into human powered taxis with electric assist for when they were taking tourists out of Centrum with lots of luggage. Although it was not a social enterprise, and was purely for profit of the company, it did work very well.

    Catronia Fletcher, Freegle

    Resource: Freegle networks are growing. Check out the Freegle website. There is funding floating about for community projects that improve community cohesion and address local social issues combined with reuse initiatives; take a look at this from NESTA.

    This content is brought to you by Guardian Professional. To join the social enterprise network, click here.


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    Leaner, greener and cleaner could be London 2012's motto as sustainability and ecology are pushed to the forefront

    As befits someone who began his career as an ecologist studying tortoises, David Stubbs is a patient man. Sitting beneath a bleaching sun in the European flower garden of the Olympic park, he does not look like an individual with the disposal of 8,500 tonnes of rubbish on his mind, or, come to that, like one struggling with the ecological implications of the site's 10,000 temporary loos.

    However, as Locog's head of sustainability, he has been pondering such matters for the past eight years, and is all too aware of the scale of the task. "We seem to be dealing in the tens of thousands for all sorts of things here: the scale of this operation is enormous," he says.

    To help it cope, Locog is employing 100,000 contractors to deal with waste, cleaning and catering. "It's glib to say it's the largest logistical exercise in peace-time, but it really is," he adds.

    "You're dealing with 205 nations competing; that's more than there are United Nations members; you've got 10,500 athletes; double that number of media; a workforce of 200,000; 11m ticket spectators plus all the broadcast interests and sponsors, so it's a massive undertaking. On food alone, it's 14m meals."

    As Locog has committed itself to staging the first Olympics to shun landfills, one of the highest hurdles facing Stubbs and his team is the thousands of tonnes of rubbish that the Games will generate in the form of discarded bottles, food packaging and general litter.

    "We've estimated the quantity of Games-time waste we've got as something like 8,500 tonnes or thereabouts," he says. "That is an estimate and the more we get into it, the more we'll find out in real time what we're actually managing, so there's flexibility in the programme if the number's up or down a bit."

    By working with the site's caterers, packaging suppliers and waste-management providers, Stubbs and his colleagues are confident that they have an "end-to-end process" that will give them a precise idea of what comes into the park and what goes out of it.

    The key to the Olympic disposal and recycling lies in the 4,000 or so colour-coded bins that dot the park – and, later in the Barking waste-sorting site where it will all be processed.

    "The bins are very striking and are hard to miss," he says. "We're hoping that people will just take half a second to read the labels on them and realise that the orange mark on their cup or plate actually represents the orange of the compostable stream and that goes in there with the food waste and then the bottles and any dry paper go in the recycling bin."

    Once the bins are full, the colour-coded sacks are taken to a "materials recovery facility" in Barking which is the dedicated destination for all London 2012's Games-time waste.

    Equally pressing given the gargantuan amount of human waste that the Games will produce has been the need to sit down and think about how the park's 362 toilet blocks work and how much water they will use. According to Stubbs, a variety of technologies old and new have been deployed to save water and honour London 2012's long-term commitment to reduce the amount of potable water consumed.

    He points to the Velodrome's low-flow appliances and waterless urinals, and to the rainwater-harvesting apparatus installed in some venues. But perhaps the park's biggest water-saving device is the new treatment plant that opened earlier this year, and which helps cut water use in the first place.

    The plant, which mines raw sewage direct from the Northern Outfall sewer that runs along the southern end of the site, uses biomembranes to clean the sewage to a non-potable standard. Thanks to a dual pipe network, the resultant water – "it's clear but you wouldn't want to drink it," says Stubbs – is then used to flush loos in the park and to irrigate the four, continentally-themed flower gardens.

    Although he concedes that no two host cities are the same, Stubbs hopes that many of the technological approaches and sustainable philosophies that have underpinned London 2012 will help the organisers of future Games. That may explain why he is so oddly enthusiastic about what happens when the Games finally end.

    "It's almost like washing up after a party," he says. "It's not the most pleasant thing but in a perverse way, I'm actually quite looking forward to that because I think we've got a great story to tell and I really want to get some of the detail to flesh it out and then to do that transfer of knowledge because there are so many valuable tricks of the trade that we don't just want to wither away and then let others have to rediscover from zero."


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    Waste management group Biffa is target of a £520m offer from consortium including Chinook Urban Mining and JP Morgan

    A consortium has made a £520m cash offer for Biffa, the debt-laden waste management group that has contracts with numerous local councils.

    The Guardian understands that the group's private equity owners have received a bid from a consortium of Chinook Urban Mining, the London-based recycling specialist, private equity investor Clearbrook Capital and US bank JP Morgan.

    Biffa is under pressure to pay back £1.1bn of loans and has contracts with local authorities including Portsmouth city council, East Hampshire district and Winchester city council, and the Isle of Anglesey county council.

    The offer was submitted last week to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the advisers to the 76 banks and financial institutions that lent funds to Biffa's current owners, Montagu Private Equity and Global Infrastructure Partners. The fate of Britain's second largest waste management group once again raises the role of private equity funds acquiring assets by buying the loans of troubled companies at a discount and burdening them with debt. Other distressed debt funds are also understood to be circling Biffa, but are not yet thought to have submitted a bid.

    Biffa has been struggling with its debts since the private equity firms acquired the company for £1.2bn in 2008 and its owners have written off their investment in the company.

    The Chinook-Clearbrook-JP Morgan consortium is understood to believe that they can restore Biffa to profitability by implementing a renewable energy plan that will convert waste into energy.

    None of the bidders, the owners, or the lending banks would comment when contacted by the Guardian, although the bid is understood to have been presented by PwC last Friday at a meeting with Biffa's senior management and the lenders to discuss its debt refinancing strategy. The lenders have formed a steering committee comprising HSBC, GE Capital, Dexia and Prudential M&G to consider the approach.

    Biffa is not facing an imminent liquidity crisis but its performance has been under pressure on several fronts, notably government changes to landfill tax. The company provides collection, treatment, recycling and disposal services across the municipal and commercial sectors.

    The group, which was a public company as recently as 2008, was founded 100 years ago by the Biffa family as a haulage business largely dedicated to the collection of ashes, dust and clinker from coal-fired power stations in the London area, but the business has developed over the past century and in the 1960s moved into the industrial waste market.

    In the year to April 2011, the group made a pre-tax loss of £127.5m on revenues of £775.1m.

    "This is a serious offer and the only firm bid on the table, but some of the bankers appear to be blocking it and it is difficult to get a consensus among so many banks," said a source close to the negotiations. A source close to Montagu insisted that the bid was being considered.


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    Government urged to impose bans to stop waste of natural resources as survey finds UK dumps materials worth £650m

    At least £650m worth of valuable materials are being thrown into landfill or burned in the UK each year, despite rising costs of natural resources, campaigners and industry warned on Monday.

    A coalition of business groups and environmentalists said products ranging from steel, wheat and rubber to rare earth metals necessary for making goods such as mobile phones will become increasingly costly, threatening UK productivity.

    The coalition, which includes the manufacturers' organisation EEF and Friends of the Earth, is demanding the government develop an urgent action plan to preserve valuable resources, including policies to improve recycling and a ban on reusable materials going into landfill.

    It comes after a survey by EEF found that four-fifths (80%) of senior manufacturing executives thought limited access to raw materials was already a business risk and a threat to growth, and for one in three companies it was considered the top risk. Last year, the EU's commissioner for the environment told the Guardian that the waste of valuable natural resources threatens to result in a fresh economic crisis.

    The groups warned the cost of raw materials had surged in recent years, with increases in prices expected to escalate as three billion people join the middle classes across the world, demanding more consumer goods and putting huge pressure on already-overstretched natural resources.

    But hundreds of millions of pounds worth of reusable materials were being buried in landfill or burned in power plants that generate energy from waste, they said.

    The groups urged the government to ensure that resources are used more efficiently, a move which would create thousands of new jobs, boost the economy and protect the environment.

    Ministers should create a new "office of resource management" to co-ordinate Whitehall action on tackling the resource crisis, set up a task-force to review targets and recommend policies to boost recycling and ban recyclable materials from landfill and energy from waste plants.

    The existing resource security action plan, published in March, did not go far enough, they warned.

    EEF's head of climate and environment policy Gareth Stace said: "We live in an age where demand for resources is surging with prices increasing and concerns about shortages mounting.

    "While the current action plan was a step in the right direction, it currently falls short of meeting the challenges we will face where obtaining new resources will become more difficult and costly.

    "Government must now step up its ambitions and produce a wider plan of action that deals with the challenges not just now but in the longer term.

    "This is vital not just from an environmental perspective but to ensure the long term sustainable future for manufacturing and the wider economy."

    Friends of the Earth resource campaigner Julian Kirby warned ministers must take action to "prevent a growing resource risk becoming a catastrophe for our economy and the environment".

    He said: "The UK buries and burns at least £650m a year of valuable materials, wasting billions of pounds of business and public money.

    A spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: "The resource security action plan we published this year sets our plans – including a new circular economy task force led by the Green Alliance to encourage better ways of keeping materials in supply chains, a competition to come up with new methods of re-using or recycling precious materials, and further work by Wrap (Waste and Resource Action Programme) to better understand the flow of critical materials in the economy.

    "We are working with businesses to strengthen our approach to protecting our economy against materials supply risks, and welcome the EEF's contribution."


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    It's sobering what the Bank Holiday music crowds leave behind. But it doesn't get thrown away

    The aftermath of English summer festivals can look like a cross between a battlefield and a raggedy camping exhibition, but that's less likely to be the case at the Leeds event this Bank Holiday weekend.

    The local charity Everything is Possible which specialises in organising volunteering has got 60 young people staying from all over Europe to act as scavengers when the hordes have debunked from Bramham Park.

    Working with Festival Republic who run the event, they will salvage abandoned camping equipment whose scale is usually something of an object lesson on how the prosperous West treats goods which could be a lifesaver elsewhere in the world. Last year saw 700 tents in perfectly usable condition collected from the site after everyone had gone home, along with thousands of bits and bobs of camping gear.

    Bob McDougall, responsible for the project, says:

    We only collect camping equipment in perfect condition to be reused. Many people buy a tent just for the festival and then leave it all there.


    Everything is Possible keeps its emphasis local and the salvage will go to community groups and people in Leeds through a 'community exchange' sale on Wednesday 29 (groups) and Thursday 30 August (individuals). In exchange for a small donation, the charity will give out bargain equipment, including large and pop-up tents, sleeping bags, mats and of course those indispensable items for the UK festival-goer, wellies.

    Money raised will help develop international projects for young people with fewer opportunities to take part in such things than others in the UK and around the world. Local community groups can apply to Everything is Possible to join the salvage at Bramham Park and fill their vehicle with recycled equipment for free.

    Separately, all left-over and unused food collected during the festival will be given to St George's Crypt in Leeds to help feed homeless and disadvantaged people.

    Clair Brown, co-founder of Everything is Possible, said:

    This is a fantastic opportunity to give to young people who couldn't normally access this kind of event the chance to see their favourite bands while helping the local community and environment. A lot of organisations working with young people or the homeless, for example, could really make use of this equipment.

    Photographs courtesy of the excellent Volunteer at Leeds Festival Blog


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    I shudder to think of the resources used to produce the London 2012 Olympics. How bad was it?

    It might have been billed the One Planet Olympics, but the Games were always going to be in a different orbit of energy and resource demand. So the first trick was to reduce drastically the virgin resources needed – difficult to do when building a massive Olympic park. Yet the build impresses: the stadium, for instance, used half the steel of comparable venues and included recycled granite, pipelines and concrete. And 90% of build waste was reused and recycled.

    Extensive use of LEDs and energy from renewable sources will have brought the stadium's carbon footprint down. Throughout their 77 days in total, the Olympics and Paralympics are projected to generate an additional 3.4m tonnes of CO2 (the annual UK average is 550m tonnes of CO2).

    The second trick is to ensure that materials are reused and recycled. Fitting out an Olympic village for 16,000 Olympic athletes and then 6,200 Paralympic athletes required 64,000 bed sheets, 9,000 wardrobes and 6,500 lurid green bean bags, for starters. Where are they now?

    Rather than going to landfill, Olympic matter stripped from the sites (the same will happen after the Paralympics) is sent to vast warehouses in Tilbury, Essex to be split up and sold. Functional items – those bean bags can be had for £15 – are on sale through remainsofthegames.co.uk, heritage items such as a torch carried by Bradley Wiggins (£13,000) through memorabilia.london2012.com.

    Prompted by emails from upcyclers (who turn waste materials into new products to extend their life span) asking how to obtain London 2012 materials such as canvas banners, I visited Tilbury. Among the hurdles and chairs I found a few banners, and more were expected. Some stuff is already spoken for: the elastomer panels that wrapped the stadium are to be reused as shelters in Uganda and Brazil. Things are selling fast. Organisers are relying on this garage sale to meet an overall target of reusing, recycling or composting 70% by weight of all waste. The average rate for a large-scale event is just 15%.

    But remember that EDF provided the renewable energy, the Coca-Cola Company recycled the plastic bottles, Dow developed the recyclable stadium wrap and McDonald's its eco uniforms. So the green podium has to be shared with companies of less-than-glowing ethical reputation. That may take the shine off.

    Green crush

    I thought I'd fallen out of love with eco homesteads – they had started to take on a "seen one, seen them all" quality – but then I came across architect Torsten Ottesjö's Hus-1 eco lodge. It's small, covering just 25m2, but beautifully formed from two convex walls. Spending time inside has been compared variously to living in a hallway, being a snail (endearing) and living in an intestine (less endearing). It's compact, bijou, close to no amenities (it's on the west coast of Sweden and designed to fit into the natural landscape) and, frankly, magical.

    Go to ottesjo.se for details


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    The Big Scavenge continues today, as the throwaway society does its stuff on the muddy fields of Bramham Park

    Last week the Guardian Northerner brought you news of the startling number of tents abandoned at last year's Leeds Festival – over 700 – and the imaginative community trading scheme which collects and resells them.

    Here's how things are going this year, with sixty volunteers from all over Europe scavenging the dumped stuff in spite of bucketing rain and the traditional English summer festival sea of mud.

    They have so far reclaimed 72 pairs of wellies (what did their owners wear to trudge out?), 177 portable chairs, 164 mats and 238 tents, including the pop-up type. A lot of the kit is new and some of it was deliberately donated, but the rest was just too much for tired and soaked shoulders to hike with back to the buses or a hitching spot.

    The Green Messenger project, organised by the Everything is Possible group, will now pass the equipment on to community organisations and individuals in Leeds and in the Yorkshire at a community exchange sale this week. Scavengers from countries including Italy, Poland, Portugal, Estonia, Spain and across the UK got a good deal for their good work, a free ticket each to the three day event, and everyone seems to be happy.

    Carmen Avoledo, from Italy, says:

    I enjoy the project because it is a good thing to do for the society. It increases awareness of the waste problem. I will never throw anything away anymore. I am also learning a bit more of the culture of the other volunteers.

    Salvage continues today and the community exchange will take place on Wednesday 29 August (for organisations) and Thursday 30 August (for organisations and individuals) at ReWork ethical office furniture in Leeds from 10am to 4pm. Equipment will be passed on for a small donation, with money raised going towards developing international projects for young people with fewer opportunities in the UK and all around the world. The project was supported by the festival's organisers, Festival Republic, the British Council and the European Union.


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    Phoebe Doyle speaks to a primary school that's organically cultivating green-fingered pupils and a environmentally-friendly ethos

    At Little Kingshill Combined Primary School in Buckinghamshire they're seriously green. Having achieved its Green Flag Eco School accreditation in 2009, the school is now working to fundraise for solar panels to be installed on the roof. Teacher Helen McCammond said: "All being well, these will be on and working by around Easter next year."

    Here, teachers organise an Eco Week each year; a chance for the entire school to do nothing but green projects. Helen said: "Last year my class did activities relating to their local environment. We also have visitors in, talking about their travels and about environmental impact. Basically, inspiring our children to think of the world in which they live."

    "The school had a visit earlier this year from Re-cycler." Helen explains: "This is a robot and 'friend' who come in to a whole school assembly to teach the children about the importance of reducing what we use and reusing before recycling. Of course the children adored this and, fun as it was, it also reinforced all they'd learnt."

    While the school had, for years, had green as a goal, the big eco push started soon after Helen joined the school in 2008. "We have the full backing of the headteacher, Mrs Grishma Sutaria." Grishma has a hybrid car in the car park and is clearly on-message and sharing in Helen's passion.

    "Back in 2008 the first project we tackled was to transform an area of wasteland in the school into an eco garden," said Helen. This project commenced with clearing days at the weekends, when parents came and helped, alongside their children, to clear the area. Then the children designed what they wanted and, as Helen said: "Through fantastic co-operation, what they wanted was achieved. We ended up with an eco garden and an outdoor classroom."

    Building on the level of all-round positivity the environmental projects were accumulating, it seemed logical to run a specific club for green issues each week. Helen runs the Environment Club (and, she tells us, she's even talked her dad into helping her) for children from year one to year six.

    They have a packed schedule. "We do different things each week, we're always busy; we might be taking cuttings for growing, or discussing ideas around how to improve the school site." There's often arrangements made for litter picking or putting up new hanging baskets, or planting in certain areas. Helen explains: "It's about getting them to think about the school environment, respecting it and, ultimately, taking ownership of it."

    With gardening and planting comes tools. With tools come responsibility. Helen said: "The children relish using the tools, it feels so grown up. They soon pick up the correct names for them as well as the skills they need to protect themselves."

    "We love to plant fruit and veg and everything we grow is organic." They've planted potatoes, strawberries, tomatoes, raspberries, beans, spinach, rhubarb - the list goes on. "This becomes a fantastic science lesson. They learn how to look after the plants so they give the best yield. The children experience caring for living things, about when to harvest and which parts of the plant are safe to eat. Seeing the children's faces when they harvest the first potatoes is priceless - especially those who think that all food comes pre-packed from the supermarket."

    What's more, all this growing, has the knock-on effect of boosting healthy eating. "One of my own highlights is when we harvest some of the vegetables and then together cook them. The children find they are trying (and actually liking) things they wouldn't usually. "My class made rhubarb crumble this year, as well as leek and potato soup for Comenius visitors (teachers from five European countries) as well as spinach and runner bean soup - surprisingly tasty."

    "Recycling's on our list of priorities too", says Helen. They currently recycle plastics, tins, paper, school uniform, printer cartridges, mobile phones, and "lots more". They compost their fruit peelings from the key stage one fruit scheme and then use the compost on their crops.

    Speaking to schools that push for a greener environment all mention this notion of team work, of pulling together. Little Kingshill sees this as one of the most fundamental gains. Helen notes that at the eco club all the children work well together, across both year groups and genders. She delights in the fact that they all love to be busy working towards a shared, hugely positive goal.

    We would love to hear about environmental initiatives going on at your school. If you would like to see your school profiled on our green pages, email Emma Drury.

    This content is brought to you by Guardian Professional. Sign up to the Guardian Teacher Network to get access to more than 100,000 pages of teaching resources and join our growing community. Looking for your next role? See our Guardian jobs for schools site for thousands of the latest teaching, leadership and support jobs


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  • 09/15/12--16:08: Eyes wide open
  • The sorry state of make-up packaging

    The dilemma Years ago I used refillable tubes of mascara. Then this product disappeared – I assume the company realised it could make more money selling a single-use, disposable version. This is very irritating for a conscious consumer. Vivienne

    Lucy replies The road to a dewy complexion and smoky eyes is littered with single-use plastic receptacles, hygiene layers of yet more composite plastics, rigid boxes and over-engineered mascara wands (some with batteries and integrated mirrors). Globally the cosmetics and personal-care industry racks up some 120.8bn units of packaging a year. It is nearly all of the single-use variety. Even if make-up seems a small part of your life, its trail of debris is nearly visible from space.

    But the tub (as I'm inexpertly naming any cosmetics receptacle) doesn't generate much income for cosmetics companies. In many cases they'd like to minimise this cost in favour of greater margin. Plus, internationally, cosmetic manufacturers increasingly find themselves under pressure from governments and consumers to minimise packaging (it's not just the UK where landfill taxes are growing each year).

    If I were an eco designer I'd be looking at the world of cosmetics to make my fortune. Almost every brand is experimenting with a greener way of delivering its lotions and potions. Procter & Gamble, for example, packages a range in bioplastic derived from "sustainable" South American sugar cane and Aveda claims to save more than 450 tonnes of virgin plastic per year by using post-consumer recycled plastic. Neal's Yard also follows this strategy.

    With so much eco innovation going on, I can't help thinking your much-missed mascara company was a bit hasty in removing your favourite product from sale. Don't be too surprised to see it back.

    While you wait for this happy day, I'm pleased to tell you that there are still refillable mascara tubes on the market such as Tana (from makkicosmetics.com). There's also a recently launched high-end version, Noir G de Guerlain. Its components look over-engineered to me but the headline still stands: it's refillable!

    The courageous brands challenge the very notion of cosmetics swaddled in packaging and dare to go bare. I'm thinking of the semi-naked and naked products of Lush (lush.co.uk). The company campaigns for environmental sanity – when it does resort to tubs, they are later converted into stationery. These are the true beauties. Sadly, Lush doesn't seem to do a refillable mascara.

    Green crush of the week

    Apparently National Nut Day, 22 October, is a big deal in the US, but it is tragically overlooked on these shores. Our nut consumption isn't what it could be either, according to fairtrade-nut producers Liberation Foods. Nuts and "nutty" legumes such as Brazil nuts, cashews, peanuts and walnuts are a helpful low-impact alternative to meat. "A key to sustaining our planet is for the richer half of the world to switch some meat consumption to relatively unprocessed plant-based products such as nuts," says agri-environmental scientist Dr Donal Murphy-Bokern. Distilled advice: go nuts!

    Greenspeak: Diamond dirt {daıemend der:t} noun

    The murky provenance of the stones is well discussed, but this is the secret pollution from the on-site scrubbing of diamond ore in ferrosilicon mix. It is thought to be responsible for cattle deaths in Zimbabwe

    If you have an ethical dilemma, send an email to Lucy at lucy.siegle@observer.co.uk or visit guardian.co.uk/profile/lucysiegle to read all her articles in one place


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    Thousands of Nairobi's slum dwellers daily risk their lives sifting rubbish on the biggest dump in Kenya



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    Campaigners want to close a dump in Nairobi that spreads disease, but thousands of scavengers rely on it for survival

    A man with a sack slung over his shoulder trudges up a mountain of rotting rubbish, where Marabou storks perch like mournful sentinels. In the valley below, a woman pulls a jacket from the rubbish and holds it up, appraising it with a critical eye.

    At Nairobi's Dandora rubbish dump, the working day is in full swing. Men and women pick through a newly arrived truck, looking for plastic, food, clothes, paper and bottles – anything they can sell on or take home to use.

    Robert Ondika, 27, straightens from sifting through the rubbish with an iron hook. He has been working in Dandora, one of Africa's largest rubbish dumps, for three years and earns between 50 and 500 Kenyan shillings a day (between $0.60 and $6). "We come here to earn our daily bread," he says in Kiswahili. "Here, we touch different things, we could step on something sharp. It is only God who is helping us here."

    For these foot soldiers in Nairobi's unregulated rubbish business, the work is perilous and the rewards paltry, to say nothing of the discomfort of spending the day in a smoky, stinking wasteland. But for those who live in the neighbourhoods around the dump, it offers survival.

    That is Dandora's paradox – it is source of life, but also of illness and, occasionally, death. In a report released on Tuesday, Concern Worldwide, Italian development group Cesvi and church group Exodus Kutoka say the dump is "one of the most flagrant violations of human rights" in Kenya.

    The report says the city council of Nairobi, local government departments and the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) bear legal responsibility for the hazardous living conditions in the slums nearby.

    The dump, which lies 8km (5 miles) from the city centre, was declared full in 2001, and since then campaigners, including Concern, have sought to have it decommissioned.

    The report, Trash and Tragedy: The Impact of Garbage on Human Rights in Nairobi City, says the rubbish had polluted the soil, water and air, affecting more than 200,000 people, including up to 10,000 who spend the day seeking treasure from it.

    Most of them do not wear gloves or masks and many suffer from respiratory ailments, such as asthma. Other conditions that have affected workers include anaemia, kidney problems, cancer and frequent miscarriages.

    A 2007 study by the United Nations Environment Programme found that at least half the children in surrounding neighbourhoods had heavy metal concentrations in their blood that exceed the minimum level set by the World Health Organisation. Some estimates say around half the workers on the dump are under 18.

    A site for a new dump was earmarked near Nairobi's international airport, but that idea stalled this year when the Kenya Airports Authority said birds attracted by the rubbish could endanger planes.

    The Trash and Tragedy report says many workers do not support plans to close the dump, where 850 tonnes of waste are deposited each day.

    Father John Webootsa, who lives nearby in Korogocho slum, understands this. "It brings money and it brings death," says the Comboni priest, who has campaigned for years to have the 30-acre dump relocated. He organises vocational training and loans for scavengers to help them escape.

    "We believe this is not a life that human beings should live," he says. "Many [people] have died and others are dying. Others have been burned by the acid, the 'boilers' [contaminated industrial waste barrels] that are there. Beneath that garbage, there are boiling chemicals, and people may be burned if they step on them by accident."

    Korogocho, which means "crowded shoulder to shoulder" in Kiswahili, appears to have been forgotten by the government. On one of the narrow streets, pigs snuffle among piles of rubbish, just yards from the body of a dead dog. Webootsa says people here feel rejected by society and by the government. "Social amenities are not provided, the government is not here. We do not have a public health facility … there are only two schools, and they were built by us," he says.

    But the dump is a source of wealth and power for the men at the top of an informal cartel that runs the site. With no government control, there is plenty of room for gangsters to wield their influence. Visitors must organise and pay for "security" to walk around the site and to take photographs.

    The report says powerful business interests have rallied communities against the decommissioning process. "Most of the anti-decomissioning forces have deeply vested business interests that thrive in the prevailing chaos," it says.

    The report argues that any solution requires a sea-change in Nairobi, a city of more than 3.5 million people where recycling is non-existent, or ad hoc. "Residents of Nairobi must take responsibility for their waste … a key step is to demand urgent delivery of a safe and comprehensive waste management system, with a functional sanitary landfill," the report says.

    Concern and its co-authors urge the government to use modern technology to isolate toxic waste in Dandora, and identify a site to build a sanitary landfill.

    Webootsa stresses that any solution must take into account the thousands working as scavengers. "They don't need the dump. They need the job," he says. "They don't need the rubbish. They will be happy to have a clean environment, they will be happy to breathe clean air, and of course, there has to be a proper livelihood."


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    Justin King to tell business and sustainability leaders direction makes commercial as well as ethical sense despite City nerves

    Justin King will on Monday underline Sainsbury's determination to become Britain's greenest grocer by submitting himself to a public grilling by sustainability experts as the supermarket announces initiatives including a £1m investment in British farming research.

    With the chain lying third in a bruising sales battle between the big four supermarkets, some City investors are nervous that Sainsbury's is taking a risk by sticking its neck out on renewable energy and Fairtrade scheme, but King will insist it makes commercial as well as ethical sense.

    "People are increasingly looking to businesses that give them value and values. We never believed that the credit crunch would lead to a values crunch – and we've been right," Sainsbury's chief executive will tell a group of 200 business and sustainability leaders at a Green Mondays event in the City of London .

    "Values are now part of the value that people are looking for, right alongside price and quality and service. They're looking for businesses they trust to do the right thing, at the right price," he will say.

    Sainsbury's has invested in new one-stop recycling facilities at its stores in recent months, established plans for geothermal heat pump technology at 100 outlets and installed 70,000 solar panels at 169 of its retail units.

    It already claims to be the largest user of anaerobic digestion – or waste to energy – and has stopped sending food waste to landfill, as part of its 20 sustainability targets to be achieved by 2020.

    On Wednesday, when Tesco will report its first fall in profits for nearly 20 years, King is expected to announce a 1.4% increase in second-quarter like-for-like sales at Sainsbury's.

    He is convinced the credit crunch does not have to mean a race to the bottom on food prices. "The idea that people who've got less, care less, is out of touch with how people really feel and behave, and totally misjudges the British public. Our research shows similar attitudes across socio-economic groups. It's one reason why we have Marine Stewardship Council certification for our basics fishfingers as well as over 100 other product lines," he will say.

    King already believes Sainsbury's has scored a significant victory this summer by highlighting its agreement with dairy farmers to pay a fair price of 30p per litre of milk as Morrisons, Asda and others faced protests for allegedly trying to drive their prices down to 24p .

    On Monday, the group will give details of the £1m agriculture and development grant to underline its desire to work more closely with local producers.

    Jim Woods, the founder of Green Mondays, has praised King for being willing to "go naked" and allow himself to be questioned on all aspects of the company's sustainability performance by a range of experts.

    King is convinced he already has a proud record which includes a 9% reduction in carbon emissions over the last four years at a time when store space has increased by 25%.

    King is also determined to fight claims that supermarkets are responsible for rundown high streets: "No one has done more to reinvigorate the high streets in the UK than supermarkets in the last five years and nobody more than us … As regularly as I get letters saying: 'Please don't open your shop in our town.' I get letters saying: 'Thank heavens you did. It has completely regenerated our town.'"

    King cites an example of a new store for Barnes, South London. About 4,000 people including local MP Zac Goldsmith signed a petition against it.

    "Something like 20,000 people a week visit that store and I think you will find a number of the local traders are now publicly saying they were misguided in their fears and actually it has been the making of their business or the saving of it ," he said. "Go and ask the people of Tottenham about the investment which we have already made … We have to get better at telling the story and hopefully you have to get better at reporting it," he said.

    He also said it was "ludicrous" to claim that food prices were much higher than they used to be and that supermarket supply chains that involve trucking around the country were not efficient.

    "Food is cheaper than it ever has been. Of course when you are sitting here today and the price has gone up compared to last week then that is real inflation and customers really feel the pinch in their weekly grocery shop. [But] the idea that food is expensive is ludicrous.

    "Food and groceries more generally make up a smaller proportion of a household budget today than they have ever done in the history of this country and yet the food we are able to choose is more varied, more international, more healthy and safer than ever."

    As for distribution, King said critics forget that if we all only ate food grown within 10 miles of where we lived we would not be eating a very varied or indeed healthy and safe diet.

    He said: "The way our supply chains work is they are incredibly efficient in their consumption of resource in terms of ultimately connecting the end consumer with the production. We want to run our vehicles over as short a distance as possible because fuel, vehicles and driver time are incredibly expensive. So there is no disconnect between the economic imperative to run them efficiently and the society imperative of something which is sustainable in carbon and energy terms."

    All the prejudices don't bear up to scrutiny. The reality is the supply chains we operate, particularly in the UK, are the most efficient on the planet."

    Asked whether Mary Portas's mission for the government to mend the high street was moving in the right direction, King said: "The central thesis of Mary's which we have no problem with is that high streets will succeed if they are better, more vibrant places for people to go. Success breeds success. You are not going to save – if that is the right term – high streets by stopping, or trying to stop, other people from competing.

    "The reasons for customers shopping in the shops they currently shop in is because many of the options they have are distinctly undesirable. So what will attract vibrant high streets is investment that make that attractive destinations. And of course it is a misrepresentation to suggest somehow supermarkets are not. We have around 600 supermarkets, around 200 are in what you or I would call a high street. Probably no one has done more to reinvigorate the high streets in the UK than supermarkets in the last five years and nobody more than us. Certainly every single one of our stores is reinvigorating the location it is in."

    Although Portas's report, published last December, attacked the rapacious growth of the supermarkets,she said at the time she saw little scope to bring about change in this area: "I would stop it [supermarket expansion]. But to a certain extent the horse has bolted . We have let supermarkets do this and they have. The only way we can fight it is to create something different."

    Portas said this weekend she was writing to David Cameron to urgently pursue her recommendations on reviving the high street, fearing government support for her programme had dried up.


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    Grand Designs' model ecohouse to be rebuilt in Brighton city centre using local construction and industrial waste

    The UK's first building to be made onsite entirely out of waste is to be built in Brighton this autumn.

    Designed by Brighton-based architect Duncan Baker-Brown, it will be built on the University of Brighton's campus in the city centre from waste and surplus material from local building sites and other local industries.

    The walls will be made of waste timber products. Ply "cassettes" containing waste material will be slotted in between the timber structure. These cassettes will be removable so that new building technologies can be added easily.

    The design team will set up a production line near the Grand Parade site so that students, apprentices, local builders and school children can get involved with the making of the structure.

    "There is a huge pile of construction waste that's building up in this country and to ignore is quite frankly sinful," said Baker-Brown, co-founder of BBM Sustainable Design and a senior lecturer at the arts faculty. "Through this project we are going to show that there is no such thing as waste."

    The building will feature the latest eco technologies such as fully integrated solar panels, whole-house ventilation and a heat recovery system. It will be used throughout its lifespan as a pilot for prototype construction systems, components and technologies.

    Once completed, it will contain an exhibition and workshop space for use by local community groups. Upstairs will be the university's headquarters for sustainable design.

    The building is known as The house that Kevin built and is named after Europe's first prefabricated house made entirely out of waste and organic material, also designed by Baker-Brown. It was built in 2008 in London and was filmed by Channel Four for Grand Designs live with Kevin McCloud as the presenter.

    Work on the new building will begin onsite in November and should be completed by May 2013, with McCloud at the opening.


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