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

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    Report by Green Alliance shows treating discarded materials as resources to reuse and recycle boosts productivity and growth.

    More than 200,000 jobs could be created as the economy shifts to reusing materials traditionally discarded by businesses and households, according to a study by a leading green charity.

    Green Alliance said the jobs would be created by a new breed of companies that embrace recycling and servicing goods to prolong their lifespan.

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    Fibre-based textiles claim to be highly recyclable, but fashion quality controls prevent them from going mainstream

    As clothing brands experiment with textile-to-textile recycling models, the emergence of new fabrics built around closed loop processes could help accelerate this progress. Examples of recent innovation in this field include Econyl, X2 Plus, Returnity and SaXcell. Based on the concept of regeneration from the outset, these fibre-based textiles are largely crafted from waste materials and claim to be highly recyclable or reusable, making them suitable for multiple life cycles.

    Econyl is a type of nylon manufactured wholly from waste streams that include abandoned fishing nets and carpets. It is billed as a sustainable alternative to Nylon 6, which is traditionally sourced from caprolactam (a derivative of oil). Giulio Bonazzi, CEO of Aquafil, the company behind Econyl, says the clothing industry has been quick to take advantage of Econyl since its launch in 2011.

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    Re-Read, a Doncaster social enterprise, is rescuing books destined for landfill and distributing them to young readers. Its founder talks to Alison Flood

    Jim McLaughlin measures books in tons, not pages. It was the sight of a skip filled with 10 tons of books which set the self-described environmental bibliophile on a path which has now seen his social enterprise Re-Read process more than 1,000 tons of books - and give tens of thousands away to children.

    “I couldn’t sleep after I saw it, really,” he says today of the book dealer he saw filling a huge skip with books destined for incineration, back in 2012. McLaughlin was working for the South Yorkshire Funding Advice Bureau, with a background in developing community recycling projects. He took redundancy, and set up what he believes is the first “book bank”, the Doncaster-based Re-Read, which has given away 54,000 books to children since it was established in September 2012.

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    A New Zealand company has developed a way to recycle worn-out carpets into children’s bicycles

    A bike may not not be the obvious product you’d think of if someone asked you what to do with worn-out carpet, but think again.

    It may have fallen out of fashion in recent times, but carpet remains a wonderful way to warm a home. The catch, of course, is that it wears out. Thanks to its bulky nature and combination of different materials, which makes recycling tricky, it adds huge volumes to landfills. Carpet America Recovery Effort (Care) estimates that 5bn tonnes of carpet– almost 1 tonne per person on the globe – ends up in landfill each year. Imagine if it could be put to better use.

    Related: New fabrics make recycling possible, but are they suitable for high street?

    Related: Berlin duo launch a supermarket with no packaging

    Related: The house made from 4,000 video cassettes and two tonnes of jeans

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    The head of Ocean Conservancy says a burgeoning middle class and low recycling rates could lead to not-even-remotely-acceptable levels of trash washed out to sea

    A failure to address the mountains of waste in the developing world will result in as much plastic in our oceans as fish, the head of Ocean Conservancy has warned.

    Andreas Merkl, CEO of the Washington-based environmental NGO, said the combination in the developing world of a burgeoning middle class and low recycling rates will lead to an exponential rise in the amount of plastic washed out to sea.

    Related: The oceans are warming so fast, they keep breaking scientists' charts | John Abraham

    Related: Water is far more valuable and useful than oil

    It’s a health issue,” Merkl said. “It’s an equity issue. It’s a land pollution issue and it’s an ocean pollution issue.

    “For example, between 50m to 60m individual sachets of water are thrown away every day in Nigeria alone. If you go to Lagos, they’re drowning in sachets and they are clogging the drainage system.”

    Related: Circular economy: the top five stories of 2014

    We need to design things that are valuable for next use and stop using the words ‘end of life’,” he said. “Being less bad is not being good. We need to start from the mindset of what would plastics look like if the ocean is fabulous.”

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    Virgin metal companies said steel recycling would never get very far. It did. So can plastic follow in its footsteps?

    The global plastics industry generates over 280m metric tons in waste every year (pdf). The majority ends up in landfills, incinerators or as marine and land litter.

    The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 32m tons of plastics waste were generated in 2012, with only about 9% recovered for recycling (collected, sorted, baled and sold). Actual recycling rates are even lower because not everything in the bales is recycled. This is especially true with mixed plastic bales, which are mostly sent to developing countries for “low-cost” recycling.

    Related: Closing the loop on steel: what we can learn from a manufacturer in Ecuador

    Related: Mike Biddle: Why plastic is still 'the last frontier' of recycling

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    New report from Wrap and Green Alliance outlines employment opportunities from circular economy, particularly in the north-east and West Midlands

    We hear a lot about how we are running out of resources, but for many people it is hard to visualise. Sometimes I’m asked: “Could it really happen?” The simple answer is yes, it could. And a lot sooner than we might think if change isn’t initiated soon. In fact, we have examples of where it has already happened.

    The stone-carved faces of Easter Island are shrouded in mystery and intrigue. But behind them hides a past – one where an island, once bountiful and rich in resources, was consumed until all the natural capital was exhausted.

    Related: Failing to protect nature's capital could cost businesses trillions

    Related: Circular economy offers business transformation and $1tn of savings

    Related: Experts reflect on progress of circular economy in last year

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    Strong unions and a new generation of environmentally conscious designers may be the key to ending factory closures

    Cape Town’s long-established garment industry was severely damaged in the 1990s when the free market policies of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) opened South Africa’s economy to an influx of imported goods and competition from Asia.

    The result was mass factory closures. According to Statistics South Africa, garment industry jobs fell from 220,000 in 2002 to 100,000 in 2011. Cape Town’s Salt Rock neighbourhood is now scattered with former garment factories converted into foreign-owned call centres or simply lying empty.

    Related: Street style fashion offers opportunities for South Africa's entrepreneurs

    Related: Can international fashion brands compete in South Africa?

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    European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker made a mistake in taking legislative package off the table, says architect of Europe’s circular economy strategy

    The former European commissioner for the environment has criticised his successors for withdrawing ambitious plans to put the region at the forefront of the circular economy movement.

    Janez Potočnik, the architect of Europe’s circular economy strategy, said it was a mistake for new president Jean-Claude Juncker and Frans Timmermans, the commission’s first-vice president, to withdraw the legislative package, despite their promise to reintroduce a more ambitious plan later this year.

    Related: EU backs down on plans to axe waste and air quality directives

    Related: Five countries moving ahead of the pack on circular economy legislation

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    Wipe your feet on the doormat made from upcycled fishing rope and step inside. Rich McEachran takes us on a tour of a sustainable home of the future, complete with furniture made of urine and sand

    Tomorrow’s cities are expected to be hubs of smart technology, but eco-living will be more than just sensors, energy-efficient appliances, solar panels and wind turbines. The design of our homes could also be influenced by some rather unusual materials and innovations.

    Here’s a little tour of what to expect.

    Related: Breeding flies and edible plastic: the kitchen of the future

    Related: The strange science behind design: materials from unusual sources

    Related: Billboards that diagnose cancer, charge your smartphone and display art

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    Join experts online to discuss the potential of a circular economy in the fashion industry on Wednesday 18 February, 1.30pm - 2.30pm GMT

    Imagine the jumper you’re wearing now had skeletons in its closet. Imagine it was once a completely different piece of clothing in a previous life. That’s the idea behind eradicating waste in fashion.

    Fashion is now affordable to millions of consumers, but the low-cost, high volume business model that allows this also encourages a culture of disposal, with an estimated 350,000 tonnes of clothing sent to landfill each year in the UK alone.

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    Scientists are trialling out new techniques for converting food waste into graphene and hydrogen

    Blended cocoa beans, rice, fruit skins, leeks and asparagus sounds like it should be a recipe for a disastrous smoothie. But these are just some of the wasted foodstuffs that are being treated and converted into materials, with environmental benefits.

    Scientists at the City University of Hong Kong have found that they can turn coffee grounds and stale bakery goods – collected from a local Starbucks – into a sugary solution that can be used to manufacture plastic. The food waste was mixed with bacteria and fermented to produce succinic acid, a substance usually made from petrochemicals, that can be found in a range of fibres, fabrics and plastics.

    Related: Six ways graphene could make the world a greener place

    Related: Is gluten-free good for the planet?

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    You can compost your corpse and brew wastewater into beer. Increasingly, environmentally-minded people are finding new ways to recycle everything – including themselves

    Recycling is breaking the final taboos. You have heard of farm-to-table, but how about flush to bottle? In Oregon, a new kind of beer is brewing – made from treated water that was once in the toilet.

    “All water is recycled, and drinking reclaimed water is nothing new,” said Bill Gaffi, general manager of Clean Water Services in Hillsboro, Oregon.

    Every day you’re pissing away a loaf of bread

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    Leslie has several old PCs in his attic, and would like to remove any personal information before disposing of them, either for recycling or re-use. Jack Schofield explains how to do it…

    Like many readers, I have several old PCs in my attic, all of which were set aside for one reason or another: old age, insufficient specs, malfunctioning software or hardware, etc. It seems a pity not to hand them on to someone who cannot afford a PC of their own, or recycle them.

    In the past, before disposing of an old PC, I’ve been advised to destroy the hard drive with a sledgehammer to prevent confidential data being passed on to some third party. Well, yes, but it then becomes a bunch of spare parts. I’d be grateful for some guidance, as I’d rather not take them to the council tip. Leslie

    Related: Raspberry Pi becomes best selling British computer

    Related: Security researcher publishes 10m usernames and passwords online

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    Shell’s announcement that it is to decommission North Sea oil platform could open up an opportunity for carbon capture and storage (CCS)

    Such was the shock of the oil price’s precipitous decline in recent months that tongues were swiftly set wagging about what the explanation could be. Killing off electric vehicles, US shale producers, or Iran’s and Russia’s economies, were all put forward as the real reason behind OPEC’s public explanation that keeping the taps open and so depressing prices is about protecting market share.

    But regardless of what’s behind it, one consequence has been big cuts in North Sea oil exploration and the accelerated decommissioning of related infrastructure. Shell’s recent announcement that it is to begin decommissioning the Brent Delta platform, weighing 23,500 tonnes and standing higher than the Eiffel Tower (pdf), is one example of this.

    Related: Shell plans demise of Brent Delta platform

    Related: EU paper calls for binding CCS targets by 2030

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    From turning waste into energy to charging consumers for the food they throw in the bin, here’s how our attitudes to rubbish are set to change

    The European Commission recently backtracked on an ambitious set of legislative promises on waste and recycling, including the phasing out of using landfill for recyclable rubbish and a commitment to cut food waste by 30% by 2025.

    Nation states and businesses had cried foul, claiming the targets were too exacting. Such lacklustre foot-dragging is sadly typical. So what disruptive measures might shake up the waste industry and trash the pessimism of those who fail to reform?

    Related: We could end up with 'as much plastic in our oceans as fish'

    Related: Six ways graphene could make the world a greener place

    Related: What will artificial intelligence mean for the world of work?

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    Experts on textiles and fashion took questions on creating a more sustainable fashion industry. Here are eight key points

    “The key differentiation is between ‘mechanical fibre recycling’, which will degrade with each recycling (down-cycling) and ‘chemical fibre recycling’ which in some cases can produce fibres of equal quality to virgin ones” explains senior research fellow, Textiles Environment Design, Kate Goldsworthy.

    Related: Clothes and the memories they hold: share your photos and stories

    Related: New fabrics make recycling possible, but are they suitable for high street?

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    From horse manure to panda poo, animal waste can build our furniture and fuel our cars

    Poo. It’s a dirty word, and in some parts of the world, a taboo. But everyone does it – the average person alone produces 72.5kg of faecal matter annually. Some of it gets treated, some of it is left to float around, but nearly all of it has an economic value.

    Last year, the UK’s first bus powered by human poo hit the roads of Bristol and in January this year, the Janicki Omniprocessor, a machine that turns human poo into water was revealed. Janicki Bioenergy, the company behind the machine, is soon to ship a processor to Dakar, Senegal, where it will produce 10,800 litres of water.

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    With rise of incineration and heavy taxes, refuse management has evolved beyond mere dumps – but sector experts warn of complacency over recycling

    A yellow monster truck pushes mounds of rubbish across the summit of Britain’s biggest waste mountain. The 50-tonne beast has huge, spiked, steel wheels that grind mattresses, plastic bottles, trainers and traffic cones into the mud of the manmade peak.

    This strange landscape is Packington landfill, near Birmingham. And this week Sita UK, which owns and operates the site, closed its gates for the final time. A boom in recycling, coupled with the 1996 landfill tax have slowly choked the life out of the refuse disposal sector. The charge of £80 a tonne will rise again to £82.60 from April, forcing the industry to deal with its waste in different ways.

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    After the gifts are unwrapped and the food is eaten, the holidays often leave us with a lot of trash. Here’s a guide to making sure it all ends up in the right place

    Trash cans routinely overflow during the holiday season, when we generate over 25% more waste than usual. Happily, so do recycling bins: a higher percentage of waste ends up in the blue bins over the holidays than during the rest of the year, says Tom Carpenter, director of sustainability services at Waste Management, North America’s largest waste and recycling company.

    Unfortunately, it’s also increasingly common for the wrong things to end up in those recycling bins, he says.

    “Many people try to do the right thing,” he said. “More people are trying to put everything into the recycling bins. That’s increased the total volume of material we get, but we’re also seeing many bad mistakes – and more of that volume is actually [trash].”

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