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

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  • 06/19/14--08:04: Roger Ackling obituary
  • Artist who worked with the rays of the sun and flotsam from the seashore

    Recycling material and harnessing the power of the sun, the artist Roger Ackling, who has died aged 66 from motor neurone disease, used natural resources to make work that was exhibited all over the world. He would focus the sun's rays with a magnifying glass to burn grids of precise black lines into the surface of long-lost or discarded fragments of wooden artefacts found on beaches and in other marginal places.

    He used no expensive materials and, travelling light, could work anywhere in the world. It was important to him that he did not touch the object with an instrument, but used instead an energy source 93m miles away. Detritus was thus transformed into work of great power and beauty, with qualities akin to prehistoric art, which we find beautiful and compelling without knowing its meaning or purpose. For the last 40 years he worked outside and alone, the wood in his lap, the lens in his right hand, the sun over his right shoulder.

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    Reusable steel bottles to be distributed as 400 drinking-water taps are erected

    Next weekend's Glastonbury festival is to combat the scourge of the plastic water bottle as part of a long-term strategy to become the world's most environmentally friendly outdoor musical event.

    Festival organisers are targeting the disposable bottle one of the most conspicuous symbols of the throwaway culture that each year leaves the 900-acre Somerset site wreathed in plastic, with an estimated one million plastic bottles being used during the festival.

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    Recycling can take on myriad forms, whether it's making new use of old materials, rehashing ideas or recombining flavours

    I was watching the news. Apparently some kinds of yogurt pots, though indubitably plastic, don't count as such for the purpose of recycling. Why this was thought worthy of a place in the news I don't know perhaps it's because recycling is an obsession of the times.

    Newspapers have endless uses, so in the ongoing argument about whether print will survive, the fact that you can't line a cat tray with an app surely figures. We used to have to take armfuls of old newspapers to a giant skip at a recycling centre into which I once climbed when trying to rescue dropped spectacles, lucky not to be recycled myself. Now they have actually put an immense skip in every garden around here. Do we need so much official recycling because we're not as good as we once were at reusing everything ourselves?

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    'Cardboard' bottle creator produces cup design aimed at cutting 25,000 tones of landfill waste a year

    The world's first fully recyclable paper cup will soon make its debut on the UK high street, in a packaging breakthrough that could eventually divert millions of cups away from landfill.

    More than 2.5bn cups are thrown away in the UK every year enough to go round the world five and a half times. But few are recycled and nearly all end up in landfill, creating 25,000 tonnes of waste enough to fill London's Royal Albert Hall.

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    John Walkers method is so foolproof, even the squeamish will succeed. Follow these tips and wriggly workers will do the rest

    If you cant make some crumbly, dark brown garden compost my way, then all hope is lost. Its guaranteed to tempt even the most devout compostophobes, compost-making virgins, and despairing it turned into stinky black sludge wannabes. With my cool, slow way of making compost, failure isnt an option. What youll get is compost to energise your soil, perk up your container plants, and add magic to a homemade potting mix. If youre imagining lists of dos and don'ts, hours spent mixing great steaming mountains of rotting vegetation, and nightmarish rodent invasions, dont panic. This isnt the way weightlifters make compost this one is for squeamish wimps.

    Youll need at least two Dalek-shaped plastic compost bins see if your local authority is offering them with a 70-80cm diameter base. These dont need panels to get the compost out. You also need a patch of soil in sun or shade where you can stand them, sheets of fine wire mesh to put your bins on they should be wider than the bin base, and some bright red "compost worms". Cadge these from a friends bin (or manure heap), or visit a tackle shop; a margarine tub's worth is ample. Pale, sluggish earthworms arent for this job, so dont dig them up. And youll need to feed your bin with kitchen, garden and household waste.

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    Pune has give an army of mostly Dalit ('untouchable') women the sole rights to collect and recycle the city's mountains of trash

    Massive solid waste accumulation has become an environmental, health and aesthetic hazard for India's cities. Urban India generates 188,500 tonnes of trash a day. In the absence of infrastructure to handle the issue, a large, informal waste-picking and recycling industry has developed among the urban poor. This unpaid, unprotected 'army of green workers' collects, sorts and recycles the city's discards to trade for small returns.

    Their labour fills a valuable role in municipal responsibility but city officials across the country have nearly unanimously overlooked the waste pickers' contributions. However, in Pune, just 150km from Mumbai, a quiet revolution is taking place: the city's poorest have fought their way into the municipal system and have been given the sole rights to collecting the city's garbage a move unprecedented in a country increasingly opting for privatised waste management.

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    The EU will announce new recycling targets today, with the likely objective to be 70% by 2030. But is it achievable? With your help, Karl Mathiesen investigates.

    Let us know your thoughts. Post in the comments below, email or tweet @karlmathiesen

    Recycling could be the environmental version of a gateway drug. Creating ways for people to live ethically can only promote those core values, leading to further positive action. Local councils can do much more and at less cost than landfill or incineration. On the surface it seems like a no brainer. The policy is complicated by certain social and technical impediments, but on the whole a 70% rate in 15 years time seems entirely attainable.

    Almost all of the reaction to today's announcement has offered support to this conclusion. The only negative or cautious responses I have received have been from the waste management sector and the UK government.

    Statistics from the rest of Europe show that the UK sits around the middle of the table for recycling rates.

    The treatment methods differ substantially between Member States. In 2012, recycling and composting of municipal waste together accounted for more than 50% of waste treated in Germany (65% of waste treated), Austria (62%) and Belgium (57%). Recycling and composting was also the major part of waste treatment in the Netherlands (50%), Luxembourg (47%), the United Kingdom (46%), Ireland (45%) and France (39%). In Finland composting & recycling and incineration had equal shares (both 34%).

    Observing the treatment methods separately, recycling was most common in Germany (47% of waste treated), Slovenia (42%), Ireland (37%), Belgium (36%), Estonia (34%), Denmark and Sweden (both 32%), and composting in Austria (34%), the Netherlands (26%), Belgium (21%), Luxembourg (19%), Germany andthe United Kingdom (both 18%).

    Denmark,with 668 kg per person, had the highest amount of waste generated in 2012, followed by Cyprus, Luxembourg and Germany with lower amounts but above 600 kg per person and Malta, Ireland, Austria, the Netherlands, France, Italy, Finland and Greece with values between 500 and 600 kg. The United Kingdom, Lithuania, Spain, Sweden, Bulgaria, Belgium, Portugal and Hungary had values between 400 and 500 kg, while values of below 400 kg per person were recorded in Croatia, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Latvia and Estonia.

    The Environmental Audit Committee is currently investigating the UK's waste management. Chair of the committee, Joan Walley MP has summarised the information thus far received by the committee.

    "The best performing countries in Europe already recycle around 70% of their waste so it is possible. We were told by the EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik that there is currently 3% to 5% of waste that you cannot avoid landfilling, but that with better product design even that residual waste might be eliminated.

    "The Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) told us that to meet the 70% target and work towards a truly circular economy we have a lot of changes to infrastructure, and to services, partnerships, and the way we interact with our customers, whether at home or at work. We are short of the infrastructure that we need to deliver the future.

    I just spoke to a Defra spokesperson who clarified the government's earlier statement saying the impact assessment supplied to the EU raised questions about the costs. The government could challenge the targets as they progress to the EU Parliament for approval.

    But the impact assessment clearly shows that the policy will have positive social and economic impacts. It is unclear where the government's concerns are founded. The table below is drawn from the impact assessment. The proposal issued today most closely approximates the bottom two options. Note that a negative value represents a benefit.

    A SITA spokesperson has just responded to the green group position that incinerators block the growth of recycling, basically saying that there is enough to go around.

    "In essence, our view is that even with enhanced levels of recycling across the municipal and commercial sectors, we are still unlikely to have enough treatment capacity in the UK as whole to deal with future volume of residual waste. There is, therefore, unlikely to be a shortage of feedstock for EfW facilities - which would have a negative impact on recycling.

    "Residual waste and recyclate is very mobile these days and any municipal sector residual waste shortfall is more than likely to be made up by the C&I sector - which typically struggles to deliver its own landfill-alternative treatment infrastructure because it is unable to guarantee returns on long-term investment. That is why the majority of our EfW facilities also have capacity to take C&I waste from out commercial sector streams alongside the long-term municipal stream which secures investment."

    The value of recycled waste is generally higher than then cost of collection, according to this data from WRAP, supplied to me by Zero Waste England (ZWE). Which seems to undermine what ZWE's Chris Harmer calls the "myth" that high recycling is inherently expensive to achieve - which the government seems to be indicating in its earlier statement.

    Many countries in Europe, and councils in the UK, have reduced landfill by building incineration plants. These plants burn waste for energy. Green campaigners have challenged the plants on many fronts, including their emissions of greenhouse gases and dioxins into the local atmosphere. But the major argument made against these plants is that they retard progress on recycling by locking councils into long term contracts that commit them to supply a certain amount of waste and pay the incinerator for the service.

    An example is a recently signed contact between SITA UK and a group of west London councils that will bind the council to a 25 year obligation. A plant costs around £200m to build, hence the length of the contract. The argument for incineration is that it diverts waste from landfill, thus reducing the problems of land-use, cost and greenhouse intensive methane emissions that are associated with landfill. The cost for councils to send their waste to be burnt and turned into energy is comparable (or less)b than landfilling.

    "This plot is by waste disposal authority (WDA) some WDAs contain multiple waste collection authorities (lower tier of local government) so this does not directly portray the variation in the recycling rate of waste collection authorities in England. Roughly a quarter of English WDAs seem to be in a place where depending upon the conditions of their contracts they would find it difficult, in the short-term, to move to high recycling rates."

    The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs manages the UK's waste stream. A Defra spokesperson said the government felt the 70% target may place unfair impositions on the community.

    We think the Commissions proposals may have underplayed the potential costs to business, householders and local authorities and will want to consider the impacts fully before we respond.

    The Vale of White Horse and South Oxfordshire councils have managed to reach recycling levels above 65% using a three bin system where food waste is separated from dry recyclates and non-recyclable waste.

    I spoke to Patrick Marples, a South Oxfordshire resident and publican at the Bear at Home in Moreton. He told me that recycling was "not a topic of conversation" in the area. He said people's attitudes towards the programme were mostly guided by whether they cared about the environment.

    There is little correlation between recycling rates and cost. Source: Zero Waste England

    You will see that the two best performing councils, which are actually Vale of White Horse and South Oxfordshire, are actually about in the centre of the cost axis. There is a deeply entrenched myth amongst many waste officers and councils that the higher the recycling rate, the more it costs they claim that their councils cannot afford the luxury of a high recycling rate. That can be true, if they are inefficient in their systems and particularly if their contracts lack incentives. The reality is that direct cost increases can be almost entirely offset by the market sale value of clean recycled material, and the simple fact that the more you recycle, the less residual you dispose of and hence you save on disposal costs.

    David Palmer-Jones, chief executive of recycling and incineration firm SITA UK, told Recyclopedia the UK's resources were already too strained to deal with the targets.

    The EU wants rightly to move us from a throw-away to a re-use based society - but we are still in the UK a long way from getting close to that ideal. We are likely to miss the initial 50pc recycling rate set for 2020. Upping the target by effectively nearly half again in another ten years time is simply not pragmatic right now without an understanding of the as-yet-unquantifiable cost implication.

    Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) waste and resource management expert panel chair Nigel Mattravers said the new recycling targets were important in prioritising recycling goals.

    The new 70% target is however extremely ambitious for the UK given the momentum behind the current 2020 goal of 50% recycling has flat lined, and meeting it will require strategic leadership and coordination.

    ICE believes this could be achieved through the creation of an Office for Resource Management sitting within Government this would ensure the circular economy principle is fully understood and entrenched right across Government. It would also be responsible for liaison with devolved administrations in the pursuit of UK wide targets or EU regulations.

    These proposals are weak and insufficient and dont give a full picture of all the resources Europe consumes, such as the land and water we use to make our products. The EU is committed to reducing resource use by 2050. A 70% recycling target by 2030 is a big step forward, but if the EU really wants to take this issue seriously it must start measuring all the land, water, carbon and materials Europe is responsible for using and set out clear plans to reduce them.

    "Together with the focus on separate collection of food waste, the use of an overall indicator and target for resource efficiency, a strong focus on eliminating recyclable wastes from landfill and the emphasis on building a recycling society with greater employment opportunities this is a package that should fire up the ambition of Europe for a more circular economy and provide a step change in the way we think about and treat resources formerly regarded as waste."

    There are a multitude of different approaches to recycling from councils across Europe. Some are proactive, some less so. Here are some reader comments about their experiences.

    There does not seem to be a standardised system throughout the UK. In Tameside where I lived we had a selection of decent sized wheelie bins (some Luddites actually complained about having to have all these different coloured receptacles). Next door in Stockport some decent sized bins were issued but also some of those silly little boxes mentioned by someone else in this comments section. Of course some people in our street were in serious need of recycling education. Their fortnightly collected residual rubbish bin was still put out with the lid open at 45 degrees and sometimes a black rubbish sack by the side as well. It will be difficult to achieve 70% whilst a significant number pf people have this "Can't be bothered" or "My bit of unsorted rubbish makes no difference" attitude.

    First my rubbish got collected every week then because of EU recycling rules it was every two weeks. I guess the EU want us to end up with monthly rubbish collections now. We already have giant rats and will not be long at this rate that the plague returns to our streets.

    Rather than making bin collections fortnightly, they should have recycling collections weekly! I end up putting excess recyclables in the regular bins as living in a house with 4 housemates, fortnightly recycling collections result in us having way more than we can fit in out recycling boxes (of which we have 3!).

    Also, my area still doesn't collect food waste, which is good not only for composting and reducing landfills, but also solves the issue with the smelly tikka masala in the bin!

    @karlmathiesen It's easy to get well above 90% in West Oxfordshire. I put bin out once a year. Everything else #reduced#reused#recycled

    Of course it's do-able. Our Council in Carmarthen is way ahead of many English councils in its recycling operation. All we need is more push from government, stronger regulation, a favourable economic environment and, most importantly, a culture change by supermarkets and consumers to reduce unnecessary packaging.

    I am fortunate to live in a region of Britain (Devon) where recycling rates are over 50%, and rising. Our local council assists with a good domestic collection service (although for some reason they rely on us to take glass to the recycling centre) and a good network of recycling centres. Of course, we can do more to cut waste, by refusing plastic bags at shops, for example. We do not need or want incineration plants (even though one is being built nearby) which are an expensive symbol of failure. Waste can be reduced rather than burned or dumped in holes in the ground, or at sea, or in foreign countries (what a crime!) But waste can be (and should be) challenged at the retail end. I don't think the big supermarkets are doing enough to prevent waste - packaging continues to multiply; and surely we 'consumers' should be changing our habits, for example, ditching plastic water bottles (the biggest con in retail history, to package drinking water, a perfectly good source being from the taps in our dwellings). Working on all 3 fronts - institutional/local government, retail, individual behaviour - we can reach 70 percent in this country. In Austria and Germany, they're almost there already:

    This issue is one in which government must ACTIVELY participate. How about a coordinated national strategy for waste recycling and reduction? I see little from the 'mainstream' parties which encourages me. This is an isssue (like so many others) where 'the market' and laissez-faire thinking cannot deliver.

    I'd be interested if anyone has any information on recycling nappies? It seems like there are private services available, but it is not something local councils participate in.

    "The majority of people think that you cannot recycle nappies, when in fact you can." Hmm, it's true that the technology exists, but it is not widely available (and there have been concerns that the plastic pellets produced by nappy recycling firm Knowaste are of limited commercial use). Knowaste also closed down its only local plant last year...Does anyone have more information about recyclable nappy schemes in London? I'm all for cloth, but for some it's not a realistic solution, and kerbside recycling for disposables should be the norm.

    Leo Hickman's story about the German town where recycling was already at 70% in 2011 is worth a read, if only to find out why there's a deer's head in a wheelie bin.

    The citizens of Neustadt an der Weinstrasse take their recycling very seriously. So much so that there is even a collection point at the recycling depot for dead animals.

    "People bring their dead dogs here," says Stefan Weiss, one of the town's waste managers, as he steps into a refrigerated shed and opens the lid on a wheelie bin containing a deer's head recently deposited by a local hunter.

    One of the major drivers of recycling is social engagement. Recycling programmes require community buy in and rely on the efforts of individual householders.

    A poll conducted by Pod Space asked 1015 residents of the UK and Ireland about their attitudes on recycling. People said they were motivated to participate by concern for the environment. But there is a large degree of scepticism about how effective recycling can be.

    The Guardian's Fiona Harvey reports on the release of the circular economy package:

    The new targets will be difficult for the UK to meet, as recycling rates have recently stagnated after a period of rapid growth in the past decade. According to figures released by the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in November, 43.2% of waste in England was recycled in 2012-13. That figure was just 12% in 2001 but the UK is still well behind Austria and Germany which recycle 63% and 62% of their waste respectively.

    The coalition government has been notably hostile to moves to try to improve recycling rates through fortnightly bin collections and charges on unrecycled rubbish. Eric Pickles, secretary of state for communities and local government, famously declared: I firmly believe that it is the right of every English man and woman that their chicken tikka masala, the nations favourite dish, the remnants can be put in the bin without the worry that a fortnight later it is rotting and making life unpleasant.

    The recycling targets are a small part of the EU's attempt to steer the continent towards a future in which resources are used again and again. The EU environment commissioner Janez Potonik said today:

    We are living with economic systems inherited from the 19th century [while todays world is characterised by] emerging economies, millions of new middle-class consumers and interconnected markets. If we want to compete we have to get the most out of our resources, and that means recycling them back into productive use, not burying them in landfills as waste.

    "Britain really can exceed 70% recycling rates and move towards a zero waste society," says Zero Waste England director Jane Green.

    "In Spain and Italy, a minority of councils already exceed 80%. Wales and Scotland have a strategy to achieve 70% by 2025 and move on to zero waste. Two Oxfordshire councils are already at nearly 70%.

    "This is being done with simple kerbside collection of dry recycling, food waste and residuals. Sales of well separated recycling, plus reduced disposal costs, offset any increased collection costs and provide an income stream.

    The European Commission will today release its circular economy package, which is expected to include a binding recycling target of 70%.

    The targets, if accepted by the EU Parliament, will update the Waste Framework Directive in an effort to cut extraordinary levels of landfill and waste across the continent.

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    Empty bottles can be redeemed at supermarkets, but collectors have become increasingly controversial in German cities

    As the streams of fans moved towards the Brandenburg Gate to watch Germany's World Cup matches, few noticed the men and women standing with bags and carts by the entrance to the fenced-off arena, collecting empty bottles.

    Nadine, a pregnant 20-year-old, had been stationed at the west entrance near the Victory Column since midday, and her shopping trolley was half full. Empty glass and plastic bottles can be redeemed at German supermarkets for eight to 25 cents (6-20p) an item. "Twenty euros should be in it for me today," she said.

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    Proposals from European commission would require a significant increase in the proportion of UK waste diverted from landfill

    Councils will have to recycle 70% of household waste by the end of the next decade, under proposals unveiled on Wednesday by the European commission. This would require a significant increase in the proportion of UK waste diverted from landfill.

    At least 80% of packaging waste will also have to be recycled by 2030, as Brussels toughens its stance on the amount of rubbish buried underground. By 2025, there would be a total ban on sending waste to landfill that could have been recycled.

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    To bridge the digital divide, Africa needs to see waste as a resource then build an infrastructure to reap the benefits

    Life in Sodom and Gomorrah: the world's largest digital dump - in pictures

    Why is e-waste an environmental problem?

    When recycling infrastructure is in place, e-waste is not an environmental problem. The problem arises when it is not treated correctly and this is a problem in developing countries.

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    Becky and Josh on the inspiration for their sustainable lifestyle when moving to the Derbyshire countryside with their baby

    What inspired you to live more sustainably, and to write about it?

    Josh: I think there's a sort of background radiation of environmental awareness that has been building up over our lifetimes, so if you're open to that you look for opportunities to be more sustainable. But there have been specific influences. I worked in carbon reduction policy for a few years, and that increased our awareness of climate change issues. More recently, we've been influenced by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's campaigns and his writing on animal welfare and sustainable fishing. I think some credit should also go to our parents, particularly in modelling the build-it-yourself, grow-it-yourself way of life.

    Becky: I find inspiration in the many amazing things people are already doing. When we were younger, Fairtrade was a new and exciting idea, now Fairtrade sugar is the standard sugar available in the supermarkets and the range of products is huge. That is a great achievement, and seeing that sort of success is really inspiring and makes me think about what I can do in my own life. I wanted to keep all our friends up to date with our news when we moved to Derbyshire, firstly. But more importantly I'd felt for a while that I spent a lot of time hanging around on the internet, reading other people's blogs and passively consuming information without giving much back. I decided I wanted to create as well as consume and add something to the conversation more than just posting a few comments or pressing the "like" button.

    What changes have you made to live a greener lifestyle?

    Josh: We've gradually shifted our lifestyle over time. Back in London we were cycling to the train station, growing our own veg on a small scale, composting our food waste. We reduced the amount of meat and fish in our diet, too, and cut down on holidays that would require us to fly. But the big changes have happened since we moved to Chesterfield. We've more than doubled the amount of fruit and veg we can grow, as well as making the big and slightly scary step of keeping our own pigs in our orchard. Because this felt like more of a permanent home for us, we felt confident enough to get solar panels on our roof. And we've had a baby, so things like cloth nappies rather than mountains of disposables going to landfill have become part of the picture.

    Becky: We are far from perfect but we do try and look at everything we buy to work out the most sustainable option. This might involve research, looking for something secondhand or simply double-checking our shopping basket in the supermarket. There are lots of little decisions you can make as a consumer every day which I see as little opportunities for sustainability; if you miss one there will be another one tomorrow. We source a lot of our meat from the pigs we keep ourselves or small local producers we know. We don't buy any meat from supermarkets anymore or anyone who can't tell us how the animal was kept. It is more expensive that way so we just eat less meat and make the most of what we do buy.

    What have you learned along the way?

    Becky: We have learned a lot of practical skills to help support a more sustainable life such as cooking, preserving, vegetable gardening, caring for animals, as well as DIY and mending. Living sustainably means learning about the chains of production and consumption, learning not to ignore the issues you find there, working out what action you can take (and afford!) that works for you. Doing it yourself means you know exactly how something was produced and is the ultimate way, I think, to take responsibility. There is a huge pleasure in gaining skills, using them and getting compliments from other people on the work you have done.

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    Every year we throw away 2.5bn disposable cups. Our writer has a coffee or five trying a selection of reusable drinking vessels

    Why is it beyond us to hold onto a coffee cup? Ed Gillespie ponders the problem here

    The desire to drink coffee yet also walk around has led to more than 2.5bn cups being thrown away every year in the UK. You may have assumed that they were recyclable, as they are made out of paper; in fact the recyclable bit is trapped under a film of plastic that stops the paper getting soggy. Its also difficult to remove, so most go straight to landfill.

    Over a year, this adds up to about 25,000 tonnes of waste, apparently enough to fill Londons Royal Albert Hall but that would be an even stupider place to put them than a landfill. Frankly, if every discarded paper cup were to be sent straight to the Albert Hall, it probably wouldnt have taken until 2014 to create the worlds first fully recyclable paper cup. Aside from that, we see only two solutions: grab our culture by the lapels and convince everyone its fine to sit down for five piddling little minutes to have a coffee, or convince people to go down the reusable route. We've looked at five reusable coffee cups, and graded them out of five according to the taste of the coffee, comfort, attractiveness, how easy they are to clean, and, just for a laugh, clever points.

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    We throw away mountains of disposable cups every year. It's time to address our ineptitude and carry a cup with us

    Want to buy a reusable coffee cup? We've tried them out for you

    We have a lot of green blind spots moments where acute cognitive dissonance consolidates rather than changing a rather unsustainable behaviour. Of course we all care about waste, but convenience conquers all when push comes to shove. The vast towering mountain of disposable coffee cups is a case in point.

    After all, the alternatives are not exactly harrowing. Why not plonk your overworked behind on a chair for 15 happy minutes and enjoy the privilege of your pricey hot beverage? Why not sip it from a rather more sophisticated china rim as opposed to sucking it toddler-like through a slit in a plastic lid (stay classy, Seattle).

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    Who needs boring bricks? The house of the future will be made of trouser legs, VHS tapes and blowtorched carpet tiles

    Duncan Baker-Brown has seen the future of housing and it's rubbish. "It's a depressing fact," the architect says, "that for every five houses we build in the UK, the equivalent of one house in waste materials gets put into landfill." What makes that even worse is that much of it is still perfectly usable.

    To prove the point, Baker-Brown and his students at the University of Brighton have just spent a year building a house almost entirely out of garbage. But is it the kind of place you might want to live in, or more like a strange hobbyist's trash-cave worthy of Stig of the Dump?

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    Frustrated by error messages, chips, or ink running out? Follow these handy tips and give your printer a longer life

    The business model adopted by most manufacturers of inkjet printers is to virtually give away the printer and make their money on replacement ink cartridges. Unfortunately this means that it is very unlikely that a professional repair will be cost-effective, except under warranty. It also creates a strong temptation to throw away your printer and buy a new one as soon as it starts playing up, adding to the problem of e-waste. Nevertheless, there are plenty of things you can do to preserve the life of your printer, and give you years of trouble-free service.

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    The anonymous blogger on how a greener lifestyle is always worth striving for, even if you don't fully succeed

    What inspired you to live more sustainably, and write about it?

    I saw a challenge on Twitter to give up supermarkets to support local businesses. I declared myself supermarket-free for 28 days and blogged about it. It seriously opened my eyes to the environmental issues associated with supermarkets, such as the pollution involved with transporting products around the world, the amount of packaging we use, and food waste.

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    Ingenious tips to fix common sofa problems including stubborn or sticky stains, wear and tear, watermarks and spillages

    You will need the right equipment for the specific sofa repair job you are doing. Required items might include washing-up liquid, vinegar, linseed oil, turpentine, vaseline, a bicycle repair kit, an e-cloth, duster, lint-free soft white cloth, Pecard, Quickleen, and/or WD-40.

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    Piped water may be the greatest convenience ever known but our sewage systems and bathrooms are a disaster

    For centuries, the people of London and other big cities got their cooking and washing water from rivers or wells, limiting their consumption to pretty much what they could carry. They dumped their waste into brick-lined cesspits that would be emptied by the night soil men, who sold it as fertilizer or dumped it off Dung Pier into the Thames. Liquid waste might be thrown into gutters in the middle of the road.

    In 1854, in the middle of a cholera epidemic in London, Dr John Snow mapped where victims died and found that the deaths seemed concentrated around one of those pumps, at 37 Broad Street. When he had the handle removed from the pump, the cholera epidemic stopped immediately. He had made the first verifiable connection between human waste and disease.

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    I Got Garbage project brings informal waste recyclers in India's IT capital face-to-face with the people who create the rubbish

    Bangalores streets have always been a concoction of smells, from roasting coffee beans to the doughy sweetness of local bakeries. But the one smell that will probably invade your senses today is the foul stench of garbage.

    While most of us would crinkle our noses at this stink, waste-pickers busily scavenge through the garbage heaps every day, looking for recyclable items that can help them earn a living. In doing so, they also do the environment a favour.

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    Our pick of the winning and best entries from this year's international competition to design and build solar-powered houses, held in Versailles, France. Photographs by Lucien Lung

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