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

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    There are greener alternatives to the billions of plastic toothbrushes discarded annually – but consumers may not be ready to bite

    It’s one of the first things we do in the morning and one of the last we do at night. Yet brushing our teeth sees billions of plastic toothbrushes bound for the world’s rubbish dumps and oceans every year.

    As important as good oral health is, must it be a source of pollution? Two decades ago, that question set Massachusetts-based Eric Hudson on a quest to produce the world’s first recyclable plastic toothbrush.

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    Got some old kicks in need of a new home - or proper recycling? Runner’s Need have a new campaign that might help.

    It’s a commonly asked question - when your running shoes have lost their spring, and you need a new pair, what do you do with the old ones? Of course, you can just keep them for doing gardening, or other messy activities, in. But if you don’t have the space, then you’ll probably want to either recycle or pass them on. Certainly, being a virtuous (but never smug) Guardian reader, you wouldn’t think of sending them to landfill, would you?

    Depending on their condition - and their stock levels - your local charity shops may accept them. If they (the shoes, not the runners) are still in good nick then female runners could donate to A Mile In Her Shoes, who also always need good quality running clothing.

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    Countless communities around the world scavenge on open dumps – with terrible health consequences. As the UN convenes city leaders for a global summit, what can be done to improve the lives of the world’s waste pickers?

    In the mid-2000s, the Stung Meanchey landfill in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, had the dubious distinction of being one of the world’s most famous rubbish dumps. It was, in the words of one resident, “hell on earth”.

    Night and day, thousands of waste pickers – people who gather, sort, reuse and sell the materials others throw away – toiled on the 100-acre mound of festering rubbish. Families fashioned homes from rubbish, on top of rubbish. They ate rubbish, fought over it – and even died over it.

    We lived in hell​,​ because we had no choice

    If no one worked like us then the​​re would be trash everywhere. We are doing a good thing for the government​.

    My fear is that charity closes down intelligent thinking about injustice

    Related: The world's biggest and most dangerous dump sites – interactive

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    Max McMurdo has made a career out of turning household tat into chic new forms. But can his creations match his talk? We put him to the test

    Max McMurdo stands on the doorstep surrounded by toolboxes, neat as a pin. A professional upcycler, he has offered to convert my worst bits of household junk into brilliant new forms. It’s hardly surprising that he is smiling: upcycling is a form of recreational optimism. The whole pursuit is underpinned by the belief that no tat is too tatty. All junk can be saved.

    McMurdo, 38, defines upcycling as“adding emotional or financial value [to waste objects] through the addition of design”. The idea has been around since at least the 1990s, and while the principle of adding value to waste makes sense, I have always disliked most of the interiors styles it has generated. Too often, upcycling bolts an adjective – such as “shabby” or “industrial” – to the word “chic” in the hope of rendering rubbish desirable. But maybe Max will change my mind.

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    Almost half of all plastic bottles used in the home end up in landfill sites, research shows, with huge impacts on marine life


    British households are failing to recycle as many as 16m plastic bottles every day – a “staggering” number and nearly half the total of more than 35m which are used and discarded daily – according to new research.

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    Britain’s second biggest recyler of waste relaunches IPO at reduced price after failing to drum up sufficient investor interest

    Biffa, the waste management company, has cut the price of its flotation due to market nerves caused by worries over the economic impact of Brexit.

    Britain’s second biggest disposer and recycler of waste said it would raise £262m before costs by selling new shares at 180p each. The initial public offering (IPO) of 47.2% of the company will value Biffa at £450m.

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    Join us on this page on Wednesday 19 October, 1-2pm (BST), to debate the potential of cities to foster the circular economy

    Many thanks to everyone who joined us for our circular cities live chat today. Scroll down to read some of the highlights (in the blog) or the full chat (in the comments space).

    And if you’re looking for further reading, check out our recent piece on eco-villages. Is this the future of circular cities?

    Related: Fancy life in an eco-village? Welcome to the hi-tech off-grid communities

    de Winter says:

    it is often easier to implement circular economy strategies [in developing countries] because there is no vested infrastructure yet [...] Many towns in Africa are going directly towards solar panels, without having the need to connect to the grid [...] On the other hand the challenges are bigger. Plastic waste is huge problem in India. To overcome that problem they now made mandatory to use plastics in roads.

    Related: Plastic roads: India’s radical plan to bury its garbage beneath the streets

    de Winter says:

    Governments are key in stimulating the circular economy. I mentioned earlier that sweden reduced taxation on repairing, thereby stimulating repair services [...] On the other hand, much more effort can go into supporting businesses. Many cities are moving more towards a facilitation role, rather than strict rules and regulation. They can come with innovative policies, but ultimately businesses are the one[s] who need to implement it.

    van Bueren says:

    the institutionally fragmented nature of urban decision-making doesn’t make it easy to ‘implement’ CE. In the Netherlands, waste and water management companies are experimenting to find a balance between individual and collective systems and very local (building or building block or neighbourhood level) and city level interventions.

    Lombardi says:

    Businesses are often the source of the innovation that enables the transformation of our economy - be it repackaging and rethinking products for the bottom of the pyramid, or crowdfunding, or sharing economy. It’s great when policy can lead the way and set direction - like the animal byproduct ban a few years back, which stimulated lots of new business activity - but sometimes business has to come up with the brilliant ideas first, and policy follows.

    de Winter says:

    Storytelling is very important in engaging citizens [...] For example, in Glasgow we came up with a strategy that was making bread from beer. This is a very attracting story and appealing to many consumers. And more importantly it will explain the concept of circular economy in a simple way. By those incremental changes you can quickly create systems changes, by changing consumers’ behaviour

    Panellist Rachel Lombardi, director of business development at International Synergies Limited, says:

    every city is different - in culture, context, resources - but construction and food/organic waste are pretty common challenges

    Panellist Ellen van Bueren, chair of urban development management at TU Delft | Delft University of Technology, says:

    Testing and experimentation, learning by doing, by public and private stakeholders, is at the core of a large and varied number of circular innovations taking place in [Buiksloterham, The Netherlands, an industrial district being redeveloped for mixed-use, including residential]

    Panellist Jurn de Winter, circular cities project manager at Circle Economy, says:

    There are many cities worldwide already embracing the circular economy, take for example Glasgow, Barcelona, Brussel[s]. [...] The Netherlands recently set a target to be 100% circular in 2050. Combined with the infrastructure and businesses, Netherlands is set to become a hotspot for the circular economy.

    Cities are home to more than half the world’s population and, as urban populations continue to rise, they must find ways to cope with acute demands for resources and space.

    In response, a growing number are embracing circular economy principles, from roads made out of waste plastic in Chennai, to bricks made from old construction waste in Rotterdam.

    Ellen van Bueren, chair of urban development management, TU Delft | Delft University of Technology

    Wayne Hubbard, chief operating officer, London Waste and Recycling Board

    Make sure you’re a registered user of the Guardian and join us in the comments section below, which will open on the day of the live chat.

    You can send questions in advance by emailing tess.riley@theguardian.com or tweeting @GuardianSustBiz using the hashtag #AskGSB

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    Michael Marks (Letters, 17 October) said that the plastic bag charge needs to be followed by one for plastic bottles in order to cut the huge number not recycled. We lived for six years in the Netherlands, where people are much more oriented towards recycling. Plastic drinks bottles had a tax on them which was refunded when they were returned to the store. This was on soft drinks as well as alcohol bottles.

    Related: Crazy paving: Rotterdam to consider trialling plastic roads

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    An estimated 30,000 old petrol cars have been given a new lease of life by small businesses and amateurs around the world

    Big breakthroughs in battery technology have raised hopes the electric car can transform the auto industry and set us free from fossil fuel dependence.

    Some small businesses are determined to make sure the electric revolution is as environmentally friendly as possible. And their vision of the future relies on repackaging the past.

    Related: Brighton gears up for new fleet of solar-powered buses

    Related: Getting around the city: why electric rickshaws are the tuk of the town

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    Last year a company set up by an Italian former scuba recycled more than 5,000 tons of discarded nets into nylon for apparel brands including Speedo

    The oceans are choked with discarded fishing nets, or ghost nets, that are estimated to kill 300,000 whales, dolphins and seals each year. It’s a grotesque and avoidable toll on nature, and one that Giulio Bonazzi, CEO of Aquafil, hopes to reduce using an unlikely ally – fashion.

    The Italian firm is pioneering the use of “ghost” or discarded fishing nets to make a synthetic fabric marketed under the name Econyl that’s currently being used by several apparel brands, including Speedo and California surfer Kelly Slater’s Outerknown.

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    I am sorry that Patrick Russell (Letters, 22 October) was upset that his local Oxfam shop would not take his National Geographic magazines. After 10 years in an Oxfam bookshop I can tell him that this is because they are completely worthless, as are most magazines, in that nobody will buy them. There are a exceptions such as a Strand Magazine with a Sherlock Holmes story, but they are few and far between. A quick phone call would have saved him a journey – the shop would likely have advised him to put them straight in his recycling bin, as I have just done with about 20kg of Model Engineer magazines.
    John Hurdley
    Birmingham

    • I am sure that most charity shops will take books if they have room. When I closed down my secondhand bookshop I had 205 polythene bags full. The people in the first shop were delighted, but after about 12 bags said: “Thank you, that will be enough.” There were then 16 charity shops in my town and the adjoining one, and I had to hold back a few bags for later delivery. Bearing in mind that these were all books that had survived a three-month closing down sale at cost price, and that I had run everything through the computer and was only giving away books available at less than £1, I think I was lucky to offload so many. And by the way, I never accepted National Geographic, because the only people who bought them were mothers for primary school projects, and the projects hardly ever coincided with the countries covered.
    Margaret Squires
    St Andrews, Fife

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    Thousands of people live on and around the Dhapa landfill in India, where 4,000 tonnes of waste are dumped each day. Many make a living processing the city’s rubbish amid severe pollution, fires – and even dead bodies. So what is life like for its residents?

    From Kartik Dhara’s home, the trucks at the top of the garbage mountain look like the toys he sees city children playing with on his rounds of Kolkata. A garbage truck driver in the eastern Indian city, Dhara can’t afford to buy toys for his own children, but he often finds discarded ones where he unloads rubbish every day. “You can find everything there,” he says.

    “There are dead babies, there are truckloads of smuggled chocolates or medicines that the excise department finds. I’ve even found money and gold – a lot of gold. What do I do with it? I keep it in my house. When I’m in a time of need, when there’s a big difficulty in my life, I’ll sell it and I’ll use the money.”

    Many trucks have been overturned on the mountain. People have died there

    This is the place where all of society’s rejects end up, the people that nobody wants

    I support the government. They’ve made our Kolkata look like London. So what if they haven’t done anything for us?

    Related: 'Hell on earth': the great urban scandal of family life lived on a rubbish dump

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    Commercial properties could become the mines of the future, providing materials for reuse and cutting costs and landfill waste

    Out with the old, in with the new: that’s the basic template for office refurbishments. Not if you’re a champion of sustainable building. So when the the UK Green Building Council decided its central London head office needed a makeover, it set itself the challenge of working out what it could keep.

    Some of the furnishings and fittings just needed a little sprucing up; others required a bit more creativity. So the whiteboards in the new meeting room are actually repurposed glazing, while the comfy window bench is made from old timber.

    Related: Three ways we will build the cities of the future from waste

    Related: The Rotterdam couple that will live in a house made from waste

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    As figures show illegal dumping of waste is on the rise in England, share your photos and stories of fly-tipping happening in your city with GuardianWitness

    Fly-tipping – the illegal dumping of waste – is on the rise across England, with more than 40% of incidents taking place in London in 2014-2015. This included 100,000 instances of dumped black bags, almost 10,000 fridges, washing machines and other white goods, and 1,600 animal carcasses. In fact, one particular example in east London known as the “fridge mountain” – a 20ft high pile of discarded fridges that was eventually removed – inspired a pop-up cinema made of fridge parts in the run-up to the 2012 Olympics.

    “This is a weirdly retro occurrence, like a surge in smoking,” says Patrick Barkham of the resurgence of fly-tipping in England, which decreased between 2007 and 2013 before rising again. Possible reasons range from a “throwaway society” overburdened with possessions to local authority cuts to waste disposal services.

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    A market is emerging for brands that offer lifetime guarantees to customers, from shirts to socks – and even underwear

    A winter coat, a pair of jeans, a shirt for work, boots and a pair of socks – that’s the clothes shopping done for at least the next 30 years, maybe even for life.

    Buying clothes that last a lifetime is a concept that is fast gaining popularity. As brands launch “lifetime guarantees”, there are now shirts on sale that will apparently last until 2046, and ever-lasting pairs of pants.

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    Syrian refugee Firas el Jasmin struggled to find work in Turkey because of his disability, so took to the streets with his son to collect recyclable material which he sells on to support his family

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    Mumbai produces 11,000 tonnes of trash per day, Cairo feeds garbage to pigs and China’s waste is growing twice as fast as its population – but it’s the wealthiest cities that throw the most away

    New York City endured another brutal summer this year, and you know what that means: a severe urban heat island effect and the omnipresent stench of rotting garbage. Summer in New York makes one acutely aware of the near-constant presence of waste piling up on pavements waiting to be collected and trucked to an out-of-state landfill.

    New York is, in fact, widely reported to be the world’s most wasteful city. Wastefulness in this case means New York uses the most energy (“the equivalent of one oil supertanker every 1.5 days”), disposes of the most trash (33m tonnes per year), and uses the most water. The dubious title comes from a study published last spring in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

    The wealthier a place is, the more is wasted and thrown.

    Related: What does New York do with all that trash? One city's waste – in numbers

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    Startups are turning plastic waste in developing countries into filament for 3D printers while employing local waste pickers

    When Sidhant Pai visited a local rubbish dump in his home city of Pune, India, he was struck by the size and intensity of the operation. Large black crows swooping overhead, roaming pigs, overwhelming odours and groups of waste pickers collecting plastic bottles in large white sacks.

    There are an estimated 15 million people globally who currently make their living from waste picking and many earn less than a dollar a day. A key problem, says environmental engineer Pai, is that workers only capture a tiny proportion of the value of the waste they collect, separate and transport to scrap dealers.

    Related: 3D printing and how it can revolutionise Australia’s remote communities

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    German manufacturer Qmilk is making use of Germany’s two million tonnes of waste milk by turning some of it into toilet roll

    A premium-priced toilet roll made from waste milk will be hitting Italian supermarket shelves amid the Christmas paraphernalia this winter.

    Carezza di Latte – which translates as “milk caress” – is a collaboration between German fabric innovators Qmilk and Italian company Lucart, one of Europe’s largest manufacturers of paper and tissue products.

    Related: Poo power: Dutch dairy industry launches €150m biogas project

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    Often led by women, companies such as Green Collect are turning urban waste into employment for disadvantaged people

    Convincing companies to buy back their own rubbish sounds like an unlikely business model – yet the Melbourne social enterprise Green Collect has found a way to make it work.

    Companies in the city’s office towers pay Green Collect to take away hard-to-recycle waste. Green Collect then employs socially disadvantaged people to refashion it into something useful and then sells it back to the companies that threw it out. It’s a double whammy. As social enterprise expert Prof Jo Barraket says: “It doesn’t get much better than that.”

    Related: Opening doors for women and children when domestic violence hits home

    Related: Driving change: Indigenous women grab the reins and get down to business

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