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

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    Patrick Barkham took up this months Live Better challenge to get involved. How did he do on Oak Tree Low Carbon Farm?

    Ooh, youve taken a lot on, exclaimed the old boys on the neighbouring allotment when they came to inspect Joanne Mudhars new patch. Joanne had worked her way up from one allotment to two and then a few acres, and was now the proud and slightly baffled owner of a 12-acre wheat field on the edge of Ipswich.

    It was a daunting prospect. The soil was exhausted after decades of industrial farming but Joanne was determined to turn this arable desert into a market garden. Barely five years on, piglets are squealing and bouncing around, a kestrel swoops overhead and half a dozen local people young families, a student, retirees are bringing in the harvest.

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    Carlene Thomas-Bailey couldnt even identify a bike pump when she went along to a Broken Spoke Co-op workshop (the second in our community project series). Did she work it out?

    How to set up your own bike repair co-op

    Its raining and Im standing in Oxford holding up a bike that has seen better days. I have the front wheel in one hand, and the rest of the bike, flat tyres and all, in the other hand.

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    The Broken Spoke Co-operative is the second in our series on community projects; heres how they set up, and information about how you can do the same

    Carlene Bailey-Thomas went along to a repair workshop - what did she learn?

    Name: The Broken Spoke Co-operative

    Established: June 2012, opening doors to the public the following December

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    Despite good intentions, only half of plastic bottles in Britain and France are recycled. Creativity is needed to change habits

    Government, industry and consumers in the developed world have known about the environmental and financial benefits of recycling for well over a generation. Yet its not something everyone does despite knowing they should.

    In fact, while three-quarters of British and French consumers say they always recycle plastic bottles at home, recycling rates in these countries still fall short, with only around half of all plastic bottles being returned for recycling. So why is it seemingly so difficult to recycle?

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    Kilfinan Community Forest in Argyll, Scotland (fourth in our community project series) trades in timber and teaches visitors sustainability, forest and woodworking skills

    How to buy and grow a forest

    Some people, says Rob Borruso, are more squeamish about chopping trees than they are about killing chickens. Watching a log being fed into the sawblade, I can understand why.

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    The Brighton Waste House is Britains first house made almost entirely from rubbish, including chalk, coffee cups and lights en route to Bangladesh

    Remember video cassettes, those big black boxes that played pictures? Rendered useless by DVDs, theyve found a new purpose. Some 4,000 of them have built a house, along with two tonnes of denim jeans, 2,000 used carpet tiles and 20,000 toothbrushes.

    The result is Britains first house made almost entirely from rubbish. Based at the University of Brighton, the house opened its doors in June and is a live research project, acting as a test-bed for new windows, solar panels, insulation and construction materials.

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    Massachusetts recently enacted the most aggressive mandatory composting program in history, to affect supermarkets, colleges, nursing homes, and prisons. How are they adapting?

    Americas trash stream is stuffed with squandered food 36m tons of it. According to the federal government, tossed food reaches more landfills and incinerators in America than any other municipal solid waste, and its a problem that Massachusetts officials are taking seriously.

    Starting 1 October, approximately 1,700 of the states biggest food-waste generators think hospitals, colleges, supermarkets, hotels, nursing homes, prisons and other facilities that produce at least one ton of food waste per week must divert it away from landfills.

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    A Halloween party was the unlikely catalyst to the revival in fortunes of a street in Neath Port Talbot, south Wales (our seventh community project), reviving community spirit

    How to set up a neighbourhood community group

    It all started with a party on a chilly autumnal evening.

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    A community in a deprived area of Wales learned to use recycling projects and street parties to revive neighbourly spirit. Here are some tips for doing the same in your area

    Steven Morris visits Friends and Neighbours Community Alliance

    Age: six years

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    Want your own school to use solar panels and be a green energy example to pupils? 10:10s Esther Barlow explains how

    Joanne OConnell visited St Vincents, a school for the visually impaired where theyre raising money for their own solar panels

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    The Skip Sisters go skip-diving en masse, build dolls out of pianos and never let a good piece of rubbish go to waste

    The best thing about skips? You never know what youre going to find, the Skip Sisters tell me about their upcycling, waste-salvaging, eco-arts collective. For the past eight years, the group of five friends has been delving into skips, rummaging through rubbish and looking for potential treasure left on the street. They then get together with their finds and transform them into anything from lamps made from old Bisto tins to cushion covers, cake stands and jewellery.

    Edori, Julia, Pia, Lizzzie and Helen all live within a few streets of each other in south London. Their now grown-up children went to school together, and the women discovered their shared interest in craft at the school gates.

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    Leeds Community Clothing Exchange brings far more than fantastic fashion bargains it cuts down on clothes waste and is a vibrant social event

    On exchange days, the queue usually snakes out the door. We have to have four people on the front desk for the first couple of hours to cope with it all, says Liz Barry, one of the long-time volunteers. And then theres finally a bit of a lull, just for an hour or so. And then it goes crazy again for the last hour. Such a great atmosphere!

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    Shabby fabric on a threadbare chair? Spruce up your seating with a professional finish by following these simple steps

    Office chairs are probably among the least sexy items of furniture around, and when the covers are worn or dirty theyre even less appealing. But in only three hours you can bring colour and character to your workspace with this surprisingly simple project. If you dont already have a suitable chair, they are readily available second-hand: try Freecycle or Freegle, Furniture Reuse Network, Gumtree or eBay.

    You will need:
    Spanner
    Screwdriver
    Small plastic bags or pots
    Staple lift
    Pliers
    Pattern cutting paper
    Chalk
    Scissors
    Heavy-duty staple gun and staples
    1m flame-retardant calico
    ¾ m each of two different cover fabrics (or 1m of one fabric)
    ½ m black fabric
    Car dashboard polish

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    Packaging is everywhere and on everything. Take a picture of the best and worst examples you see and share it on GuardianWitness

    How many tins, cartons and plastic pouches did you throw away when you made last nights dinner? How much bubble wrap, foam or polystyrene protection came through your door uninvited with your latest internet order? Chances are, there might be quite a lot.

    According to Defra, each year over 10m tonnes of packaging are placed on the UK market, with about half ending up in households. While 67% was recycled or recovered in 2011 (compared to 27% in 1998), there is still a long way to go in combating the unwieldy amount of packaging globally.

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    When Niall Griffiths took his broken speaker to Llandrindod repair cafe, the solution sounded embarrassingly obvious

    How to set up your own repair cafe

    What is a repair cafe? Its exactly what it says on the tin; its a
    place where you can go, with your broken items, to consult people more
    knowledgeable than you about how to fix them. Oh, and have a cup of tea and a cake while doing so. The worlds first repair cafe appeared in Amsterdam in 2009, set up by Martine Postma. Now, there are around 400, from Australia to the US, with more being registered each day.

    At present, Wales hosts two, one in Newtown and the other which I am attending in Llandrindod Wells, a Victorian spa town in the Radnorshire hills where folk would go to take the chalybeate waters, believed to be curative (and which taste like blood licked off a rusty hoe). Once a temperance town, it is poorly equipped with hostelries, but the hotels are grand (in one of which the Welsh FA meets annually to discuss how badly the qualifying campaign is going), the architecture impressive, and Rock Park, where Rupert Bear used to play (his creator, Mary Tourtel, lived in the town for some years), is a magical grade 2-listed squirrel-busy and salmon-rivered dingly dell where you can get contentedly lost and want never to be found again.

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    Llandrindod Repair Cafe in Wales is part of the Repair Cafe Foundation. Want to prepare, share and repair too? These tips will help you fix it


    Niall Griffiths takes his broken speaker to Llandrindod

    12. Name: Llandrindod Repair Cafe

    Age: just three months

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    Fears over a shift towards deregulation on eco policy could stall appointment of Karmenu Vella as environment commissioner

    Members of European parliament have called on Jean-Claude Juncker to offer reassurances that EU environmental policy is not being downsized, before they consider approving Junckers Maltese environment commissioner-designate Karmenu Vella.

    The biggest problem might not be Mr Vella as a person but his assignment, and that signals a bigger problem that environmental policies are being downgraded across the entire commission, Bas Eickhout, a Green member of the parliaments environment committees coordinating group, told the Guardian.

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    Silo in Brighton mills its own flour for bread, brews its own booze and recycles all food waste. The chef and founder explains why it dares to be different

    Video: How to combat food waste in a food desert

    In the ground floor of a handsome industrial-looking building in the heart of Brightons trendy North Laine district, something of a first in the restaurant world is about to take place. The UKs first zero-waste eatery is due to open in just under a weeks time.

    The restaurant Silo is aiming to massively raise the bar when it comes to all things ethical and culinary. It will recycle all of its waste and has invested in a special compost machine proudly displayed near the entrance to process all of its food scraps. Supplies will be delivered in reusable containers. Ingredients are being sought from (mostly local) farmers and producers direct. There are no middlemen. Flour for the restaurants bread will be milled on site. Booze is being brewed in the basement.

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    Brixton People's Kitchen's answer to the 18m tons of edible food wasted in Britain every year is to create a network of volunteer collectors and cooks to divert food about to be discarded by local businesses in south London and then make it into delicious, wholesome dishes for whoever shows up. They teamed up with local parents at the Myatt's Fields Park Project to create an oasis in what residents say is a 'food desert' an area where there is no real food available

    Vote for your favourite community project by midnight on Tuesday 30 September for the chance to win a prizeContinue reading...

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    More than 1.8bn mobile phones were purchased in 2013 and only 3% will be recycled. Can emerging technologies boost these low rates?

    More than 1.8bn mobile phones were bought in 2013, but within just a few years, 44% of them could end up hibernating in drawers according to research from Hywel Jones, a materials scientist at Sheffield Hallam University. He estimates that the same share will be resold and passed on, 4% will end up in landfills and only 3% will be recycled.

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