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

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    Two-thirds of such household waste is sent to landfill or incinerated each year, Recoup survey reveals

    Only a third of plastic packaging used in consumer products is recycled each year, with almost two-thirds sent to landfill or incinerated, according to new research.

    Of the 1.5m tonnes of recyclable plastic waste used by consumers in Britain in 2015 only 500,000 tonnes was recycled, according to the figures compiled by Co-op from the Recoup UK Household Plastics Collection survey.

    Related: Seabirds eat floating plastic debris because it smells like food, study finds

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    Government blamed for stalling of energy saving, as People & Planet table reveals 75% of campuses are set to miss carbon targets

    UK universities are helping lead the world on environmental research – but when it comes to their own back yard they appear to be falling behind.

    Only a quarter are on track to meet their carbon reduction targets by 2020. Teams leading environmental initiatives are being cut and sustainability strategies have not been renewed, according to the results of the 2016 People & Planet University League, published on Tuesday (see below).

    Related: Sustainable development goals: changing the world in 17 steps – interactive

    Related: UK solar power installations plummet after government cuts

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    More than 250 families are facing eviction from Jakarta’s Tongkol kampung. Their response? To rebuild their homes, clean up their river, and become a model for a more eco-friendly future for the city

    A proactive Jakarta community is fighting back against the threat of demolition by turning itself into an example of what the city it sits in is not – a beacon of environmental protection.

    Residents of Tongkol kampung in the north of the sprawling capital have already achieved a striking transformation of their lifestyle practices, their homes, and the river that runs through their community.

    Related: 'My house was turned to debris': Jakarta's evicted write their story

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    UK’s biggest coffee chain will take paper cups from any brand at recycling points in all of its stores

    The UK’s largest coffee chain Costa Coffee is to launch a recycling scheme in all of its stores to ensure that as many as possible of its own takeaway cups – and those from its competitors – are recycled.

    In a move designed to reduce the millions of used disposable cups that end up in landfill, the chain’s customers will be encouraged to leave or return them to a Costa store, where they will be stored on a bespoke rack. Costa’s waste partner, Veolia, will transport them to specialist waste processing plants which have the capacity to recycle takeaway coffee cups – potentially as many as 30m a year from Costa alone.

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    School data collection | Phobia feature photos | Uses for unwanted Guardian sections | Bolt or set screw?

    I assured several worried parents that the collection of pupil nationality data was simply for Department for Education research purposes. It wasn’t. The mandatory data request was not fully explained to schools. It now appears to have been a murky compromise with a Home Office plan to tackle illegal immigration (May wanted to ‘deprioritise’ school places for children of people illegally in UK, theguardian.com, 1 December). Please write out 100 times: “Schools exist to teach and care for children.”
    Chris Pyle
    Head, Lancaster Royal Grammar School

    • In your article on phobias (Fright school, G2, 5 December), you quote the CEO of Anxiety UK saying “Because [phobias] often seem comical and irrational, the media doesn’t take them seriously.” This was immediately proved by your decision to illustrate the article with three large spiders, including one on the front page of the main section. Clearly you don’t get it either!
    Jill Wallis
    Aston Clinton, Buckinghamshire

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    Copying the 5p bag tax model with coffee cups is unlikely to work. Instead the onus should be on designing new cups and improved recycling

    The ubiquitous takeaway paper cup, with its plastic lid and cardboard sleeve, has transformed the coffee industry.

    Drinking hot beverages on the go has become so popular that UK coffee shops hand out about 7m cups a day, working out at more than 2.5bn a year. Yet reportedly fewer than one in 400 cups is recycled.

    Related: Modern life is rubbish: we don't need all this packaging

    Related: The good, the bad and the ugly: sustainability at Nespresso

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    Companies and individuals have a duty to recycle everything possible and to create and use more sustainable packaging

    I just had a battle with my new kitchen handwash plastic bottle. I couldn’t get the pump to work. I pressed it, twisted it, fiddled with it, broke it, and then suddenly, for no particular reason, the contents squirted everywhere.

    Then I had another fight with the cellophane packaging on the cardboard box around my tea bags. Couldn’t get it off, couldn’t get my nails or the scissors under it, so I stabbed at the whole box with a pointy knife and ripped it open.

    Modern wrappings annoy and worry me more because I’m old enough to remember a time when we managed without them

    Related: Taxing coffee cups is not the answer: here's why

    Related: Why the man behind Keurig’s coffee pods wishes he’d never invented them

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    Companies say the task has been made difficult by differences in recycling rules in different parts of the UK and Europe

    Three of the world’s biggest consumer goods brands, Unilever, P&G and Kraft Heinz, have been criticised by recycling campaigners after failing to use a recycling label on all their products.

    An estimated 2.26m tonnes of plastic packaging is produced every year in the UK, of which three-fifths (61%) ends up being dumped. Plastic bottles are one of the worst culprits, with 15m being binned every day. Meanwhile, the recycling rate for plastic film is just 3%.

    Related: Modern life is rubbish: we don't need all this packaging

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    In the Noord district, residents are offered discounts at local shops in exchange for their plastic waste

    Located just behind Amsterdam Centraal station with views looking out across the river IJ, Al Ponte is a popular cafe serving a constant stream of commuters on their way to and from the nearby ferry port. Not all Al Ponte’s customers pay for their coffees, however. Not in the traditional sense anyway.

    Al Ponte is one of the businesses participating in Wasted, a pilot project running in Amsterdam’s Noord district which incentivises households to recycle their plastics by rewarding them with discounts at local businesses.

    Related: Compostable and edible packaging: the companies waging war on plastic

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    Companies are starting to realise the value of defunct communications cables on the sea bed. But some say they’re better left untouched

    From the telegraph wires laid across the Atlantic in the 1860s to the fibre optic wires carrying digital data today, our oceans are criss-crossed with lines used for 98% of our communication (pdf). But when technology is superseded or a company ceases to trade, what happens to the cables and their copper, aluminium, steel and plastic?

    Some companies upgrade the cable to make it fit for purpose, others can reuse it (and its accompanying repeater devices, which help transmit signals). It can also be recycled into raw material for industry.

    Related: Amazon Dash: does the world really need more little pieces of plastic?

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    Kehkashan Basu’s activism began when she planted a seed in her parents’ garden. Thousands of trees later, she has inspired young people and won a peace prize

    When she turned eight, Kehkashan Basu decided that she was grown up enough to begin her lifetime’s work. And so on her birthday she planted a sea grape seed in the garden of her parents’ apartment block in Dubai.

    Related: The world's 3.5bn young people are the key to change – let's not shut them out

    Related: How to turn young people into climate change activists

    We live in uncertain times … we should continue to do what we’re doing and ​not lose hope

    Related: Youth in development: 'We're tired of being the topic, not the leaders'

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    Waste companies call for tax on packaging to drive up rates as UK likely to miss EU recycling targets

    Recycling rates in England have fallen for the first time ever, prompting calls for a tax on packaging and meaning EU targets are now almost certain to be missed.

    The amount of rubbish sent to recycling plants by householders had been steadily increasing for more than a decade, but more recently flatlined for three years. Now new government figures published on Thursday show that the recycling rate in England has dropped from 44.8% in 2014 to 43.9% in 2015.

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    Recycling rates are getting worse in the UK, but some companies are working on imaginative solutions

    ‘Tis the season for excess packaging. It can extremely convenient, keeping food cold, extending shelf life and easing transportation.

    The downside is a huge amount of waste, exacerbated by declining recycling rates in the UK. Here’s our guide to the main problems and the companies offering a solution.

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    Join us on this page on Thursday 19 January, 1-2pm (GMT), to debate how businesses and consumers can help boost recycling

    Recycling rates in the UK have been stalling over the past five years. Government figures published in December show that the recycling rate in England actually fell from 44.8% in 2014 to 43.9% in 2015.

    This debate will explore potential solutions: how can producers and consumers be incentivised to recycle more? Would a tax on the manufacturers of packaging, for example, encourage better design? Do local authorities need clearer guidelines to prevent confusion among consumers?

    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 for the panel in advance by emailing tom.levitt@theguardian.com or tweeting @GuardianSustBiz using the hashtag #AskGSB

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    Waste and recycling advisory body says 4.4m tonnes of household food waste thrown away in 2015 could have been eaten

    UK households binned £13bn worth of food in 2015 that could have been eaten, according to new figures which suggest that progress in reducing the national food waste mountain has stalled.

    Despite concerted efforts to reduce food waste through the entire supply chain, a new national update from the waste and recycling advisory body Wrap revealed that an estimated 7.3m tonnes of household food waste was thrown away in 2015 – up from 7m tonnes in 2012.

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    Chinadialogue interviews two sociologists who have documented the hidden lives of waste pickers in recycling communities on the outskirts of Beijing

    Rarely do we stop and question where our waste goes and who collects and sorts it. Waste pickers work at the margins of our lives, removing things we don’t want to see. In a new book, The Life of Waste, sociologists Wu Ka Ming and Zhang Jieying describe these unknown lives that play out on the outskirts of Beijing. They visit the village of Lengshui, 50km north of Beijing, home to a community of waste pickers.

    Part of this world is as one might expect it to be. Piles of rubbish and pools of foul water gather, while pets and children play in the waste. Yet homes are often spotless, as if domestic life becomes more orderly the more chaotic the surroundings. The families from all over China form close-knit communities that extend beyond blood relationships. Chinadialogue (CD) spoke to the authors about life in these recycling communities.

    Related: The daily life of Shanghai's waste pickers

    Related: Rio's waste pickers: 'People spat at us but now we're at the Olympics' #Rio2016

    Related: The Indonesian waste pickers trading trash for healthcare

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    Sharp rise in discarded electronic goods is generating millions of tonnes of hazardous waste, putting pressure on valuable resources, study shows

    Asia’s mountains of hazardous electronic trash, or e-waste, are growing rapidly, new research reveals, with China leading the way.

    A record 16m tonnes of electronic trash, containing both toxic and valuable materials, were generated in a single year – up 63% in five years, new analysis looking at 12 countries in east and south-east Asia shows.

    Related: The e-waste mountains - in pictures

    Related: China: the secret lives of urban waste pickers

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    BBC children’s programme announces its famous badges awarded since 1963 will be made from recycled materials

    For decades, Blue Peter presenters have encouraged children to use toilet rolls and other household refuse to recreate the Thunderbirds’ Tracy Island and fantasy castles. Now the BBC has announced it will be making the show’s famous badges from recycled yoghurt pots.

    The announcement is part of an effort to make the BBC children’s programme more green: the badges will be made in a solar-powered factory using materials that were made earlier – in this case, yoghurt pots.

    Related: Blue Peter: behind the scenes

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    A true march of the makers will turn the tables on our abusive consumer culture and deliver the richer relationship with ‘stuff’ that our economy is crying out for

    Materialism has become synonymous with consumerism – wasteful, debt-fuelled and ultimately unsatisfying. But what if we’ve not been looking in the wrong place for happiness, and we’ve just got the relationship badly wrong? Like an abusive relationship, we voraciously acquire things we barely use to fill acres of storage space while underpaid workers sleep in tents outside warehouses that feed our seemingly insatiable desire for more. There must be a better way.

    This is a vital step if we are to find ways for everyone to thrive while living within environmental means

    Related: The big orange shed that holds the key to Britain’s economic recovery | Aditya Chakrabortty

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    Limited edition Head & Shoulders bottle to go on sale in France represents tiny proportion of global sales

    Beaches strewn with plastic waste have become a graphic illustration of just how much plastic we use in everything from food packaging to cosmetics, and how much of it gets thrown away.

    Consumer goods giant P&G has become the latest company to attempt to show it is tackling the problem, announcing plans for a limited run of Head & Shoulders shampoo in bottles made partly from plastic waste collected by volunteers on France’s beaches.

    Related: Wooden surfboards to mushroom handplanes: the surf companies tackling ocean waste – gallery

    Related: Biodegradable plastic 'false solution' for ocean waste problem

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