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

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    Water is the most important shared resource across all supply chains, yet wastewater is the largest untapped waste category. It’s time to change that

    The Colorado River no longer reaches the sea; aquifers in the Arabian Peninsula are exhausted; freshwater reserves in China, such as Lake Tai, are polluted. Globally, the picture is bleak: on current trends, demand for water will exceed supply by 40% by 2030.

    Related: The Pacific Islands: tomorrow's climate refugees struggle to access water today

    Related: Making rain: can technology drought-proof the Caribbean?

    Related: Global water loss: what should business do? - live chat

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    Inspired by the waste left behind after a Black Eyed Peas gig, the hip-hop star hopes his Ekocycle brand will take recyling to a new level

    Hi Will.i.am, how and where are you?

    I’m all right. Chilly-chill. I got back from Davos last week and now I’m at The Future, my facility in Los Angeles.

    Related: Will.i.am unveils Puls smartwatch with plans for more wearable gadgets

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    In western society you currently have two options when you die, burial or cremation. Now, US architect Katrina Spade wants to revolutionise the way we treat our dead, offering a more sustainable funeral process, reports Grist

    What we do with our dead can seem bizarre to outsiders. In a Tibetan tradition called sky burial, the deceased are cut into small pieces by a man known as the rogyapa, or “breaker of bodies,” and laid atop mountains to be picked apart by vultures. Later, the bones are collected and pulverized with flour and yak butter and fed to crows and hawks. Feeding your loved ones to the same birds who eat roadkill may seem morbid to those of us in the West, but in Tibet, it’s both sacrosanct (these birds are sacred in Buddhism) and practical (ever tried to dig a grave in frozen ground?).

    Tibet isn’t the only place with seemingly odd customs: In Madagascar, the bodies of the deceased are exhumed and sprayed with wine and perfume every few years. In Ghana, people are buried in coffins that represent their lives, so a fisherman might spend eternity in a box shaped like a carp and a farmer may spend it in a six-foot cob of corn. These rituals sound weird or even ghastly to us, from half a world away, but are any as bizarre — or as damaging — as what we do with the dead in America?

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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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    Tired of being told the circular economy is just a fancy term for recycling that will cause profits to slump? Here’s how to fight back

    When China began to emerge as one of the major global economies, the dominance of English as a global business language was challenged by Mandarin. Would this lead to barriers? Apparently not. The reality is, it doesn’t matter what language you speak, as long as it’s the universal language of business.

    Some say that the premise of the circular economy gets lost in translation and is misunderstood. There’s a perception that it’s an ongoing battle between environmentalists versus corporations. It goes that one side wants to see the environment preserved and protected, and the other prioritises profits. But in fact the circular economy connects both, delivering economic as well as environmental gains.

    Related: How can your industry contribute to the circular economy? - interactive

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

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    The current model for electronics ownership means technology companies have no incentive to provide better products

    It’s hard to deny that the smartphone has in part changed the world in favour of consumers. It helps us avoid expensive SMS costs thanks to online messaging apps, undercut taxi and hotel companies with the likes of Uber and Airbnb, and generally serves as a remote control to the sharing economy.

    But when you shift the focus from what our devices help us access to how we access the devices themselves, the picture is less rosy.

    Planned obsolescence of the gadget industry is absolutely obscene

    Related: How sustainable is your smartphone? - interactive

    Related: Verizon's new app aims to make mobile device recycling easy...and profitable

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    Smaller companies are creating 100% biodegradable fabric and algae-based fabric dye, but larger brands are slower to innovate

    Imagine a pair of trousers you could throw on the compost. After years of use, they could decompose among the eggshells and tea bags to leave behind nothing but some fertile soil to help grow new raw materials. It takes the circular economy to a whole new level.

    This is the idea behind F-ABRIC, a range of materials developed by Swiss company Freitag. Until recently, Freitag’s only line of business was making bags out of old truck tarpaulins.

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    Chairman of Closed Loop Recycling admits company is nearing administration as it feels dual effects of oil price drop and supermarket price war

    Britain’s biggest recycler of plastic milk bottles is facing possible collapse after being squeezed between a slump in global oil prices and a supermarket price war.

    Closed Loop Recycling, based in Dagenham, could be forced to call in administrators within days because clients have cut back on buying recycled plastic.

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    Join experts online to discuss the hows, whys and whats of sending nothing to landfill, on Wednesday 1 April, 1-2pm BST

    What is the holy grail of sustainability? With the circular economy on the tip of everyone’s tongue, from local authorities to research groups and business, is the ultimate ambition sending nothing to landfill?

    A variety of businesses have managed to do it. Unilever announced in January that it had achieved zero non-hazardous waste to landfill across its global factory network and Dupont’s Business Innovations unit went from sending 36,700 tonnes of waste to landfill annually to zero. It’s something being discussed in the fashion industry and there a regular awards for companies who have reached the milestone.

    Related: Turning our mountains of food waste into graphene

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    The mayors of Latin America’s biggest cities gathered in Buenos Aires for the C40 forum last week to discuss their techniques for fighting climate change – but are buses, bicycles and recycling enough on a continent that’s 80% urbanised?

    “There will be roughly 1 billion more people living in cities by 2030,” said Buenos AiresmayorMauricio Macri at the C40 Latin American Mayors Forum in the Argentinian capital last week. “Which is equivalent to creating a Buenos Aires-sized city every three weeks for the next 15 years.” The big question, as Macri and other mayors agreed at the forum, is: how do cities accommodate this high population expansion in a sustainable way?

    We often hear the looming figure that 70% of the world’s population will be living in cities by 2050 – yet that’s a milestone Latin America has already reached. It is the most urbanised region in the world. Do its cities champion ideas that are up to the task of cutting greenhouse gas emissions and enhancing climate change resilience? Judge for yourself.

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    As a fashion lover who wants to save the planet, should I be wearing clothes made from weird eco fibres?
    If you have an ethical dilemma, email Lucy at lucy.siegle@observer.co.uk

    Fashion has an edgy reputation, but it’s pretty conservative about fabric. Cotton still makes up a third of fibre production. The non-organic variety (only 4% of cotton used in fashion is “sustainable”) has a heavy eco burden, using 11% of all pesticides produced. Plus, it takes 20,000 litres of water to produce just 1kg. But most of our closet space goes to synthetic garments, which are derived from oil.

    The industry is huge, producing – by my reckoning – more than 80bn new garments a year. We often dump clothes before the first wash. And while initiatives like Greenpeace’s Detox Fashion try to clean up fashion, in pollution terms the fashion industry still comes second only to the oil and gas industry. That’s some rap sheet.

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    Experts from across industries recently debated the ins and outs of ‘zero waste’. Here’s your chance to offer an opinion, and see what they said

    When industry talks about “zero waste”, the goal is to send nothing besides hazardous waste to landfill. To achieve this, materials that previously would have been thrown away are recycled, repurposed or even designed out from the beginning. Simple enough. But is that what actually happens and do consumers even care?

    Related: How to bust the biggest myths about the circular economy

    Related: Turning our mountains of food waste into graphene

    Related: What a waste: study finds big US brands stuck on disposable packaging

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    My husband is an obsessive recycler and uses gallons of hot water washing jars and containers to prepare them for the recycling bin

    Every week a Guardian Money reader submits a question, and it’s up to you to help him or her out – a selection of the best answers will appear in next Saturday’s paper.

    This week’s question:

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    The biggest per-capita tallies were in countries known for green awareness, such as Norway and Denmark, with Britain fifth and US ninth on the UN report’s list

    A record amount of electrical and electronic waste was discarded around the world in 2014, with the biggest per-capita tallies in countries that pride themselves on environmental consciousness, a report said.

    Last year, 41.8m tonnes of so-called e-waste – mostly fridges, washing machines and other domestic appliances at the end of their life – was dumped, the UN report said.

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    The exploitation of a precious natural resource by multinational companies is degrading the environment. Consumers shouldn’t fall for it

    Thanks to consumer culture it’s entirely possible to give the Earth a surreptitious kicking on a daily basis. So using face scrubs full of plastic microbeads or disposable wipes just make you look like you’re time efficient and keen to exfoliate (no mention that you’re irreversibly polluting the ocean).

    Perhaps the most egregious of all these behaviours is our ongoing commitment to bottled water.

    Related: California drought spurs protest over 'unconscionable' bottled water business

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  • 04/27/15--10:09: George Bingham obituary
  • My friend and colleague George Bingham, who has died aged 76, was a pioneer of chemical solvent recycling, a long-time school governor and founding trustee of Emmaus Hastings and Rother, a charity community for the homeless.

    Born in Liverpool, he was the son of George, a dockyard engineer, and Sally, who was in service. They were immensely proud when George gained a scholarship to Merchant Taylors’ school, Crosby, and a degree in electrical engineering from Sheffield University. After starting a solvent recycling business in the north-west, George moved to East Sussex in 1984 with his second wife, Lynne, to become managing director of the chemical company Gelpke & Bate at Rye Harbour.

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    Re-Worked makes material from waste coffee grounds collected from offices around the UK to make furniture for the same offices

    Britain was falling in love with coffee just as Adam Fairweather was exploring ideas for new products and materials. Ten years ago, Starbucks stores were opening on every corner, followed by the burgeoning industry of artisan coffee roasters.

    Fairweather, a designer by training and expert in recycling technologies and materials development, now develops materials from coffee grounds and uses them to design products including furniture, jewellery and coffee machines.

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    My wife and I have different views on ‘stuff’ – I’m a purger and she’s a hoarder

    There are many polarities within married couples – introverts and extroverts, nurturers and providers, controllers and slackers and so forth. But one of the most fundamental is the division between the hoarder and the purger.

    I am a purger; my wife is a hoarder. No – she won’t stand for that actually. She is a recycler and I am a planet polluter. Old ladies who were once mocked for buying devices that compressed scraps of soap into new bars or forced the last molecule out of a toothpaste tube (such gadgets could usually be found in the small ads of the Daily Express) are no longer neurotic – they are environmental warriors.

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    Project that loans household items for nominal sums is attempting to reduce waste, save customers money and train young people

    An awe-inspiring array of tools, from trowels to an angle grinder, are laid out rather beautifully on the rough reclaimed wood shelves running along one side of the Share Shop in Frome, Somerset. Nestled among them is a photograph of the man who donated them, on a card explaining that they belonged to his late brother, a builder, who died of a heart attack. “When we walked past and saw the shop, we knew it was the perfect place for his tools to go,” it reads.

    The shop, which opened at the end of last month, is billed as the only one of its kind in the UK at the moment (although there’s also been a “Library of Things” piloted in West Norwood, south London). By allowing residents to borrow, for a minimal fee, good quality household and leisure items donated by the public, it aims to save people money and reduce waste – the average electric drill is used for just 15 minutes in its lifetime, the organisers point out. At the same time, the scheme has offered the young people who built it from scratch a free, intensive training in community entrepreneurship.

    Most people learn best from just doing. They get an experience of what it’s like to set up a community enterprise

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    France has announced measures to tackle food waste as the EU throws away 89m tonnes of food each year – and the UK is one of the worst offenders

    France’s parliament has announced measures to tackle food waste by passing a law banning supermarkets from destroying unsold food. Instead they will be obliged to give it to charities or to put it to other uses such as animal feed.

    Related: French law to force big supermarkets to give unsold food to charities

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