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

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    Legislation barring stores from spoiling and throwing away food is aimed at tackling epidemic of waste alongside food poverty

    French supermarkets will be banned from throwing away or destroying unsold food and must instead donate it to charities or for animal feed, under a law set to crack down on food waste.

    The French national assembly voted unanimously to pass the legislation as France battles an epidemic of wasted food that has highlighted the divide between giant food firms and people who are struggling to eat.

    Related: World leaders urged to tackle food waste to save billions and cut emissions

    It's scandalous to see bleach being poured into supermarket dustbins along with edible food

    Related: UK supermarkets face mounting pressure to cut food waste

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    The informal recycling sector is helping tackle the country’s growing levels of rubbish, but people making a living out of sorting waste need support

    Zhang Jinling is picking cardboard boxes from a trash can on the side of the road in a downtown area of Shanghai. She empties the boxes, folds them and puts them on a trailer hitched to a bicycle. She also buys cardboard from residents in the houses on the same street, purchasing it for 2.5 mao (less than 3p) for a pile. When her trailer is full, she takes the load to a recycling market on the outskirts of the city where she sells each pile for a 1p profit. Markets like these sort waste into different materials and sell it to bigger markets where it ends up at big industrial recycling plants for individual materials.

    Jinling is one of hundreds of thousands of waste pickers working in cities across China sorting through other people’s rubbish, removing and sorting anything that can be recycled and selling it for a meagre profit. Most people working in this sector are migrant workers from the countryside who come to big cities to try to make a living.

    Related: Ma Jun: China has reached its environmental tipping point

    Related: Waste not: Egypt's refuse collectors regain role at heart of Cairo society

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    Workers en route to the Chuan Chang road recycling depot in Shanghai are among thousands of waste pickers working in China’s cities sorting through rubbish for materials that can be recycled for a profit

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    Mystery woman dropped off computer – built by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak in 1976 – after cleaning out garage, Silicon Valley recycling firm says

    A $100,000 check is waiting for a mystery woman who donated a rare Apple 1 computer to a Silicon Valley recycling firm.

    CleanBayArea in Milpitas, California, said on its website that a woman in her 60s dropped off some electronic goods in April, when she was cleaning out the garage after her husband died.

    Open contributions: What do you regret throwing away?

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    Do you get a healthier, safer and more refreshing drink when you buy it off the shelf? The answer is ‘no’, and doing so hurts the environment and your wallet

    It’s the world’s bestselling soft drink – more people buy bottled water than fruit juice or fizzy drinks. In 2013, the UK glugged 2.4bn litres of it, and by 2014 this had risen to 2.6bn litres. Yet, remarkably, you can get this particular beverage from the tap, for free. Bottled water can cost between 500 to 1000 times more than tap water. So, is it healthier? And does it taste better? It certainly has a hefty carbon footprint – with some reports estimating around 82.8g of CO2 for a half-litre bottle– not insignificant when everyone’s drinking it. Recycling rates are improving but, in America, for example, it’s estimated that only a quarter of bottles get recycled. So is it really so much better that it’s worth both paying for and harming the planet? Or should you stop buying it?

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    Gaming giants scrutinised in the past for using hazardous materials in consoles could soon see their online enterprises put under the microscope

    The video game industry, while dedicated to delivering hours of thumb-strengthening entertainment, hasn’t always shown a similar verve when it comes to giving Mother Earth an extra life. Greenpeace has slammed console makers Nintendo and Microsoft in the past for their attitudes towards hazardous materials and e-waste, with Nintendo again hitting bottom of the list in the group’s last ranking of environmentally responsible companies.

    Last year alone saw 42m tonnes of used up, burned-out technology unceremoniously discarded, and we can be sure that ditched consoles, scratched discs and obsolete controllers will make up some percentage of that rubble. Under scrutiny however, console makers promise they have the environment in mind.

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    Join a panel of experts in the comments section of this page on Wednesday 17 June, 1-2pm BST to discuss how business can tackle plastic pollution

    Research published in Science earlier this year estimated that some 5m to 12m tonnes of plastics enter our oceans every year, equivalent to 1.5% to 4.5% of the world’s total plastic production.

    Left unaddressed, Andreas Merkl CEO of the Ocean Conservancy warns that we could be headed for 1kg of plastic for every 3kg of fish. A daunting prospect given that plastics have already been found inside animals across the food chain, from mussels and fish to sea turtles and whales.

    Related: Prince Charles calls for end to dumping of plastic in world's oceans

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    Our houses are poorly insulated, green spaces few and tiny, turned into wasteland overrun by rats, and no facilities for recycling. We are the people France has forgotten

    When I was a kid, I use to think that climate change was an issue that was only affecting polar bears in the north pole. It was frightening – for one hot minute – and then my family and I would throw our food waste and batteries together in the same bin.

    I grew up in a cité, the French equivalent of a council estate, in Argenteuil, in the Parisian suburbs. The majority of its residents were of African and Maghrebi descent. We barely had functioning elevators, so the council couldn’t be bothered to force us to recycle.

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    With cigarette filters made up of tiny pieces of plastic capable of causing untold damage to marine life, banning them could be one answer

    A torn up love letter, a wedding dress and a loaded handgun. These are just some of the items discovered during the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup initiative (ICC). But these intriguing finds aside, year after year cigarette butts are the most commonly found form of ocean litter.

    In 2014, ICC volunteers collected some 2m cigarette butts – a huge amount, but just the tip of the iceberg. Approximately 4.5tn of the 6tn cigarettes consumed annually are littered across the globe.

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    Tesla’s announcement in April that it would be moving into commercial and residential energy storage was met with almost unanimous applause. The reality is not so clear-cut

    Tesla Motors made waves in April when it announced the launch of Tesla Energy, a new business unit that will provide lithium-ion batteries to homes and businesses. Tesla CEO Elon Musk described the potential of a world entirely powered by batteries charged with renewable energy. The media lapped it up, as did consumers, who preordered Tesla’s home battery solution, Powerwall, in droves.

    But energy storage experts remain unconvinced. Even Panasonic – supplier of the lithium-ion cells that form the foundation of Tesla’s batteries, and partner on the company’s forthcoming battery factory – calls Musk’s claims hyperbole.

    Related: Low carbon battery-powered train carries first passengers

    Related: Is aluminium the answer to all our battery prayers?

    Related: Tesla announces low-cost batteries for homes

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    Forget cheap flights – from carsharing to couchsurfing, microadventures to Wwoofing, there’s plenty of ways to have a low-carbon, low-cost adventure

    Budget flights continue to dominate the way we travel but there has been a growing interest in alternative overland transport. Carsharing on long-distance journeys (rather than just hitching a ride to Glastonbury) has seen a spike in popularity thanks to sites such as BlaBlaCar.

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    You can decrease the input costs, create new revenue streams and keep customers on your books for longer. All it takes is a little imagination

    The circular economy is gaining ground. The European Commission has announced it will present an ambitious circular economy strategy in late 2015, China has set up government-backed association CACE to encourage circular growth, and Japan has been practicing it for decades.

    But progress towards a circular or even half-circular economy has been halting. Indeed, when I explain the premise of the circular economy to people, they are less stunned by the opportunity than by our collective disregard for it. Why? The power of inertia is important, of course, but I have also come across a number of myths on the subject. Here are the three most common ones.

    Related: Could a circular economy save oceans from plastic waste? - live chat

    Related: We're all losers to a gadget industry built on planned obsolescence

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    From collecting aluminium once used in skyscrapers to building houses with self-healing cement and turning bottles into bricks

    As the global population grows, it is also becoming more city-based with 70% expected to live in urban areas by 2050. It is a trend that has not escaped sci-fi in Hollywood, which reimagines the city of the future again and again, but there are those trying to bring sustainable cities to life in reality.

    Truly sustainable cities of the future will not differentiate between waste and resource. Rather, they will understand waste as the starting point for something new. Ideas and initatitves are taking shape that provide a glimpse of how we could build our urban environments more sustainably in the future.

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    Earlier this year an NGO warned we could end up with ‘as much plastic in our oceans as fish’. Here is what the experts said in an online debate on plastic pollution

    Related: Could a circular economy save oceans from plastic waste? - live chat

    Related: Why cigarette butts threaten to stub out marine life

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    Everyone from vulnerable families to peckish builders are taking leftover goods left dropped off by local people in Galdakao

    The large white fridge sits prominently on a pavement in Galdakao, a small city on the outskirts of Bilbao.

    A wooden fence has been built around it, in the hope of conveying the idea that this is not an abandoned appliance, but a pioneering project aimed at tackling food wastage.

    Related: France to force big supermarkets to give unsold food to charities

    Related: World leaders urged to tackle food waste to save billions and cut emissions

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    Falling oil prices, a strong US dollar and a weakened Chinese economy are combining to make the global business of recycling less profitable than ever

    Tucked in the woods 50km north of Washington is a plant packed with energy-guzzling machines that can make even an environmentalist’s heart sing – giant conveyor belts, sorters and crushers saving a thousand tonnes of paper, plastic and other recyclables from reaching landfills each day. The 24-hour operation is a sign that after three decades of trying, a culture of kerbside recycling has become ingrained in cities and counties across the United States. Happy Valley, however, it is not.

    Once a profitable business for cities and private employers alike, recycling in recent years has become a money-sucking enterprise. The District of Columbia, Baltimore and many counties in between are contributing millions annually to prop up one of the nation’s busiest facilities here – but it is still losing money. In fact, almost every facility like it in the country is running in the red. And Waste Management and other recyclers say that more than 2,000 municipalities nationwide are paying to dispose of their recyclables instead of the other way around.

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    From an aquaponics start-up to a pop up hospital design, schools and universities are engaging with circular economy principles

    “So many of my classmates and other friends say ‘I want to change the world’. The amazing thing is that most of us believe we can.” Max Hornick, a 26-year-old student at Western Michigan University, is reflecting on how the circular economy is inspiring young people to work for the social good.

    Together with a team of four other students at WMU, Hornick recently won the 2015 Wege Prize for sustainable thinking with Local Loop Farms, an aquaponics food production concept that has since evolved into a community agricultural start-up.

    The circular economy is about preparing students for the jobs that don’t exist yet

    Related: Millennials want to work for employers committed to values and ethics

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    The European commission put bold plans to scrap waste on hold last year, but is preparing to present a new and improved proposal

    In December last year, the European commission stepped back from its circular economy package, which had included a ban on sending recyclable materials to landfill by 2025 and a target for EU states to recycle 70% of municipal waste by 2030.

    While Friends of the Earth condemned the commission’s decision, it was an outcome that the lobby group BusinessEurope had hoped for, arguing that the package would inhibit the competitiveness of European businesses.

    We need a strategy strong enough to decouple Europe’s economic growth from natural resource use, because our future competitiveness depends on it. An action plan of initiatives in Brussels will help, but will not lead to systemic change. The framework must be set for coherent actions by member states, and above all for the private sector to invest in the right direction. Systemic change is possible only if the circular economy concept is fully accepted in all policy areas and integrated in the economic governance process. That requires resource productivity targets backed by indicators.

    I’m encouraged by recent developments in the EC and I believe that the new proposal will have many good elements and will genuinely address the different parts of the “circle”. It should be based on an understanding that waste is a resource and not a problem.

    The new circular economy package needs to go beyond simply improving how we deal with our waste, and instead address the fundamental problem of why we’ve got so much of it in the first place. The expected increased recycling rates for municipal waste to 70% and other improved waste measures are all welcome, but we can’t miss the opportunity to start to seriously change how resources are consumed and managed in Europe.

    If we’re serious about cutting our consumption, we need to start measuring the resources we use. As the saying goes, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”. We need footprint indicators for materials, water, land and greenhouse gases.

    The transition to a circular economy is a key opportunity for the European Union to achieve a multitude of industrial and environmental objectives and I hope that the commission is serious when it says it wants to come back with a more holistic package.

    I was encouraged by the outcome of last week’s Environment Committee vote on the circular economy, which called for binding targets for the reduction of municipal and industrial waste by 2025. Separate collection systems for paper, metal, plastic and glass should also be introduced wherever they are not already present, while making it as easy as possible for consumers. Key to the revised package will be waste prevention measures, such as better product design to promote durability, reparability, reusability and recyclability. This presents significant innovation opportunities for European businesses.

    The package needs hard targets for managing physical resources across the European marketplace, but with an enabling framework of taxation and product policies that encourage innovation to deliver new, more sustainable business practices.

    I remain optimistic that business-led innovation will continue and that the politicians through the circular economy package can find some practical ways to embed circular thinking into the structure and support of their economies.

    BusinessEurope expects the commission to substantially widen its approach to this complex dossier in order to grasp opportunities of circularity. Avoiding one-size-fits-all solutions, and with close involvement of all stakeholders including businesses, consumers, public authorities, research and academia, we can incentivise society to embed circularity in different processes.

    The commission should start with proper implementation of the existing legislation to make the best use of it and address the concern of political and technical objectives and their conflict.

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    The European parliament is set to call for binding lifecycle reporting on virtually every product we buy

    One of the European commission’s more controversial decisions under president Jean-Claude Juncker’s Better Regulation initiative was to scrap the European Union’s circular economy package last year.

    MEPs and the outgoing environment commissioner Janez Potočnik protested vocally until the new first vice-president of the commission (and regulatory hawk) Frans Timmermans pledged to re-introduce a “more ambitious” circular economy package with a much broader economic scope than the previous one, which had focused mainly on recycling targets.

    Related: The European circular economy package – what the experts think

    Related: Circular economy inspires young people to change the world

    Related: The three biggest circular economy myths holding back businesses

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    Mystery woman dropped off computer – built by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak in 1976 – after cleaning out garage, Silicon Valley recycling firm says

    A $100,000 check is waiting for a mystery woman who donated a rare Apple 1 computer to a Silicon Valley recycling firm.

    CleanBayArea in Milpitas, California, said on its website that a woman in her 60s dropped off some electronic goods in April, when she was cleaning out the garage after her husband died.

    Open contributions: What do you regret throwing away?

    Continue reading...

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