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

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    Student loans | Antarctic iceberg | Photographic memory | Dog-ends | Don’t be a tosser

    Neil Gammack (Letters, 11 July) asks what a graduate earning £21,001, with a debt of £50,000 a year, would have to pay every month to offset the interest on the loan. He thought it would be a huge sum, I suppose, and was angry that the Guardian refers to the student loan as a “so-called debt”. Repayments are not based on the size of the loan but on the graduate’s salary. You pay 9% of the difference between your salary and £21,000 – in this case £1 per year. One twelfth of 9% of this would be paid per month, ie less than a penny!
    Trevor Randall
    Bryants Bottom, Buckinghamshire

    • While your report (13 July) about a “giant iceberg twice the size of Luxembourg” breaking off an Antarctic ice shelf is alarming, on a lighter note it is good to see that the Luxembourg is now a recognised unit of size along with the Wales, the Belgium, the football pitch and the double-decker bus. This may be related to Gilles Müller’s recent success at Wimbledon, though I am not sure how.
    Henry Wickens
    Waldbillig, Luxembourg

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    Solving our ecological crises means diluting the power of global corporations – not propping them up

    The circular economy’s June jamboree in Finland, attended by around 1,500 experts and policymakers, showed just how much momentum the concept has gained in recent years.

    Little wonder. The circular economy model – which aims to use closed-loop production to keep resources in play for as long as possible – is presented as a pragmatic, win-win solution; an almost magical fix for our environmental woes.

    Related: Fruit and veg come in their own natural wrapping. Why do we smother them in plastic?

    Related: We have the laws for a fairer gig economy, we just need to enforce them

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    Letter writers share their stories of picking up litter and offer suggestions how others might be encouraged to follow their lead

    In our village, we have seen both the potential and the limitations of people-led efforts to tackle litter (Letters, 13 July). The parish council and the local transition village group have worked together to both inform people about the wider environmental problems of litter, especially plastic, and to develop a network of individuals who have undertaken to keep specific roads or areas free of litter. Volunteers were provided with good-quality litter pickers (available from the Keep Britain Tidy campaign) and gloves, and a map was put up in the parish office showing the areas covered.

    The results have been fantastic: lots of volunteers mean that most of the village is litter-free most of the time. I am sure that Wendy Harvey’s hope that the sight of people picking up litter raises awareness and discourages (but doesn’t stop) others from dropping litter. A campaign at the local secondary school, has undoubtedly contributed as well.

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    Railways | Border Force | Semicolon v colon | Dogs who recycle | Wimbledon dress code

    Southern rail has a long track record for poor service. In your report (14 July), you say the owners have been fined £13.4m. This is a company that was rewarded with a £100m profit last year, so not a particularly onerous sanction. Your report goes on to say that the owners of Southern, Govia Thameslink Railways, will spend the “fine” on a package of improvements to its franchise. A fine to carry out improvements to your own wholly inadequate, but highly profitable, service is not a fine.
    Peter Negri
    Norwich

    • Your report on the lack of Customs cover at small ports (Small ports left unvisited by Border Force, 13 July) highlights the folly of cutting civil service numbers. When I worked in Customs and Excise in the 1970s and 80s we had a number of coast preventive men who visited their local small ports regularly in blue Mini cars, gathering intelligence and acting as a visible deterrent at minimal cost. The Thatcher government was the first of many to prioritise short-term financial saving over long-term security and benefit to the exchequer.
    Ian Arnott
    Peterborough

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    In it together | Victor Grayson | Going plastic-free | Talented dogs | Codeword puzzles

    Headlines from Monday’s paper (17 July): “Overpaid public sector” (p24); “Restrict rises in living wage, bosses urge” (p22); “Shareholders receive a £33bn dividend bonanza” (p20); “Even in Sweden, the rich keep getting richer” (p17); “Presidential proposals will widen America’s wealth gap” (p17); “Chancellor urges restraint on public sector pay” (p4); “Schools are ‘forced to beg parents for money to stay afloat’” (p4). Apparently, we’re all (still) in it together.
    Adrian Stenton
    Saffron Walden, Essex

    • Naming children after Labour politicians is nothing new (How many kids are really named after Corbyn, G2, 17 July). Following Victor Grayson’s sensational byelection victory in Colne Valley on 18 July 1907, hundreds were given his name, the most famous being a later general secretary of the TUC, Victor Grayson Hardie Feather.
    David Clark
    Labour, House of Lords

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    The long-running series in which readers answer other readers’ questions on subjects ranging from trivial flights of fancy to profound scientific concepts

    In which bin should I recycle the mice and birds killed by my horrible cats?

    Clare Yerex

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    Heterosexual rights | Investments in tobacco | Life expectancy | Litter | Fishing for jobs | Obamacare

    I’m pleased that John Walker has won his fight for equal pension rights for gay couples (Report, 17 July), but he is wrong that this was “the last legal differential between gay and heterosexual people”. As a heterosexual person I cannot enter a civil partnership with my partner of over 30 years. This affects his right to have the same benefits from my pension as a husband would. Let’s continue the fight for equality.
    Deborah Dickinson
    London

    • I wonder how many readers have FTSE 100 tracker investments. Both British American Tobacco and Imperial Brands are comfortably positioned within this Index (Ministers publish plan to slash tobacco use, 19 July).
    James Pam
    Nottingham

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    Chicken and fruit rejected by retailers were used in style when Charlotte and Nick Baker got married

    When Charlotte and Nick Baker were planning their wedding in Cumbria last month, they wanted a highly personal celebration that reflected their deeply held principles about minimising  waste.

    Unusually, that included asking a food waste charity to feed their 135 guests a three-course meal created entirely from food that would otherwise have been thrown away. “I didn’t even know until the day before what we were going to eat,” says Charlotte, 30, a urology registrar who lives with her GP husband in Inverness. “Then I was told that a load of frozen chicken had turned up, along with trayfuls of soft fruit rejected by supermarkets.” The chicken breasts still had three to four days left on their best before date, but the wholesaler had been unable to shift them. At the Baker’s feast it was cooked with white wine and mushrooms as a main course – alongside vegetarian chilli and rice – while the berries were transformed into fruit salad and topped with clotted cream. Whole trays of berries were heading for the bin because a couple of punnets had the odd squashed or slightly mouldy fruit. The starter was platters of cheeses and cold meats.

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    A pilot scheme in the Netherlands is sifting sewage for cellulose, which it says can be recycled into valuable products

    When you flush the toilet, you’re probably not thinking about bike lanes or home insulation. But that’s where your used loo roll could one day end up if a Dutch project to extract cellulose from sewage rolls out.

    At the Geestmerambacht wastewater treatment plant near Alkmaar in the Netherlands, a two-year pilot project is using an industrial sieve to sift 400kg of cellulose, the natural fibres found in loo roll, from toilet sludge each day.

    Related: Could you live with just three toiletries?

    Related: Don’t cry over spilt milk, make loo roll out of it

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    Find out if you are a paragon of virtue or recycling refusenik

    We all need to take action on climate change. But how aware are you of the issues involved? Our Ethical Living columnist Lucy Siegle asked leading environmental NGOs to set the questions. Answers at the end – along with Lucy’s verdict on your performance.

    How much water does it take, on average, to produce a pair of cotton jeans?

    100 litres

    1000 litres

    10,000 litres

    How many single-use plastic bottles are used in the UK every day?

    21 million

    38.5 million

    50 million

    Name the fashionable consumable recently held responsible by, of all things, Vogue magazine, for ‘ecological collapse, drug cartels and brutal murders’.

    nail polish

    smartphones

    the avocado

    When buying meat and dairy in British stores, which of these three labels assures you of the highest welfare standards?

    RSPCA Assured

    Red Tractor

    Soil Association

    What’s the number one ranked solution for fighting climate change?

    Manage refrigerants

    Waste less water

    Restore tropical forests

    Which of the following three activities is still legal practice in UK farmin

    Veal crates

    The tethering of dairy cows with chains or metal bars

    Hens in battery cages

    What does the government’s climate change watchdog recommend as a green substitute for air conditioning?

    Opening windows to help create a through draught

    Installing special blinds on glass and steel structures

    Allowing ivy to grow

    What happened in the UK for the first time at 1pm on 7 June 2017?

    More than half of the electricity demand of the UK was supplied by renewable energy

    Carbon emissions plateaued for the first time since 1990

    Water levels in aquifers in southern England reached sustainable levels for the first time in a decade

    In March this year which nation became the first to ban all metal mining, in an attempt to protect its freshwater supply?

    Brazil

    Angola

    El Salvador

    Which country generates the largest amount of solar power in the world?

    USA

    Germany

    China

    Which three countries are not signatories to the Paris Climate Treaty?

    The US, Syria and Nicaragua

    The US, Syria and Uzbekistan

    The US, Norway and the Maldives

    How many pieces of litter are estimated to enter the sea on a daily basis?

    1 million

    5 million

    8 million

    How much of our wildflower meadows, a vital habitat for bees and insects, have been lost since the Second World War?

    27%

    63%

    97%

    How much longer do orcas live in the wild than in aquariums?

    10 years more

    25 years more

    5 years less

    How many pairs of hen harriers (see picture, above) nested in England in 2016?

    0

    3

    27

    Who said: ‘What we are doing by degrading the land, polluting the waters and adding greenhouse gases to the air…All this is new in the experience of the Earth. It is mankind that is changing the environment of our planet in damaging and dangerous ways’?

    Al Gore

    Margaret Thatcher

    Shakira

    Why did US activist Morgan Curtis have ‘355<’ tattooed on her wrist?

    It denotes the number of wild white rhino left on the planet

    It is the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere in her birth year

    It’s the number of tree species in the Brazilian Amazon

    Why is the picture above so significant for the environmental movement?

    It is the first full-view picture of Earth taken from space

    It is the first reveal of Antarctic ice melt

    It shows the effects of atmospheric gas on Earth

    16 and above.

    You are the definition of planet-strong, a caped crusader on behalf of all of us.

    0 and above.

    Are you Donald Trump??

    6 and above.

    You’re on the right track, but can’t quite let go of the old world. Meat-free Mondays and double-sided printing simply aren’t enough.

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    From Lily Cole to Dame Ellen MacArthur – experts and campaigners on what more needs to be done to reduce plastic waste

    Marks & Spencer has redesigned and repackaged more than 140 best-selling products to cut plastic use, saving 75 tonnes of packaging a year in the process.

    But are retailers and manufacturers doing enough? What more could and should they be doing? We asked a range of packaging experts and campaigners. Here’s what they said.

    I went on #PlasticPatrol across our canals, collecting 1000 plastic bottles in just 7 hours. This needs to STOP. https://t.co/2K28QOcnc4pic.twitter.com/Ijz4kh9aix

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    Every year millions of garments are discarded as consumers ditch fast-fashion styles for a new wardrobe. At last the industry is acting – but more has to be done

    Facebook users will be familiar with the On This Day feature. From time to time it greets you with a blast from your relatively recent past. Some find it unnerving, especially if it’s a picture with an ex, for example. But my eye is always drawn to the clothes. Whatever happened to that handbag? Do you still wear those jeans?

    If it’s an image from more than three years ago, then the answer is probably “no”. According to a recent report from Wrap (the Waste and Resources Action Programme), the average piece of clothing in the UK lasts for 3.3 years before being discarded. Other research puts the lifespan of UK garments at 2.2 years. For a younger demographic, you can probably halve that. A UK-based fashion company tells its buyers to remember that a dress will stay in the owner’s wardrobe for only five weeks.

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    Some global corporations are trying to address the environmental impact of throwaway culture, but campaigners say they remain part of the problem

    When John Sauven, executive director at Greenpeace UK, heard a woman complain on the radio that supermarket croissants were cheaper to buy wrapped in plastic than paper, he was so startled he went straight to his local Co-op

    “It was true,” Sauven said at a recent Guardian roundtable discussion on the future of waste. “If I bought two croissants in a brown paper bag, it was 79p [each], and if I bought them in a big plastic container it was 63p [each]. And I just thought ... this is a complete failure of the system.”

    Related: ‘There is so much out there’: Kenya’s plastic bag battle – in pictures

    Related: Fruit and veg come in their own natural wrapping. Why do we smother them in plastic?

    Related: Circular economy isn't a magical fix for our environmental woes

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    A strike by Birmingham refuse collectors has led the council to call in a private contractor: it knows the political perils of interrupted waste disposal services

    It has been described as “a buffet for rats”. Since the end of June, Birmingham’s bins have gone uncollected because of a dispute between the unions and the council over changes to pay and working practices. Brummies have been forced to clear bags of maggot-ridden rubbish from their own streets and sluice out the bin juice from their gutters as a city-wide strike enters a fifth week.

    Related: Andy Street elected West Midlands mayor

    I will never forgive Trafford council for introducing a weekly surcharge for collecting my garden waste

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    Carmakers, recyclers and tech start ups are working to solve the question of how to deal with lithium-ion batteries when they wear out

    The drive to replace polluting petrol and diesel cars with a new breed of electric vehicles has gathered momentum in recent weeks. But there is an unanswered environmental question at the heart of the electric car movement: what on earth to do with their half-tonne lithium-ion batteries when they wear out?

    British and French governments last month committed to outlaw the sale of petrol- and diesel-powered cars by 2040, and carmaker Volvo pledged to only sell electric or hybrid vehicles from 2019.

    Related: Electric car boom fuels interest in Bolivia’s fragile salt flats

    Related: Nissan launches British-made home battery to rival Tesla's Powerwall

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    Sergio brings me a recycling schedule. ‘I am emotional for these many bottles,’ I tell him. ‘How can they leave?’

    I have to look up the Italian for recycling – raccolta differenziata– because it is the sole subject of the daily conversations I have with Sergio, the man who comes to water the plants every morning at the house where we are staying.

    “Good morning, Sergio,” I say on Monday. “Why they do not take my cardboard in the night?”

    Related: Tim Dowling: Will I be fluent in Italian by the time my plane lands?

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    Urine, faeces and breath could be recycled to produce food supplements and plastics for 3D printing, freeing up space on long journeys, say researchers

    Astronauts could find themselves eating nutrients and using plastics produced by yeast fed with their own urine, according to researchers exploring ways to harness human waste in space.

    Urine is already recycled on board the International Space Station to provide clean drinking water for US astronauts – although the system hasn’t been embraced by the Russian side of the station.

    Related: It’s not a load of crap: turn your urine and faeces into treasure | Zoe Cormier

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    London’s historic food market also aims to achieve zero landfill with biodegradable packaging and compostable leftovers

    London’s Borough Market is to introduce free drinking water fountains as part of a new pledge to phase out sales of all single-use plastic bottles over the next six months.

    Related: Back in business: one month after the Borough Market attack

    Related: A million bottles a minute: world's plastic binge 'as dangerous as climate change'

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    Don’t wait for astronauts to show us how to recycle bodily waste into useful products. Here’s how you can extract value from your own liquid assets now

    Scientists in South Carolina have this week described how astronauts of the future could recycle their own urine, breath and other forms of waste into useful products, such as fuel, nutrients, clean drinking water, and even polymer plastics.

    Related: Space savers: astronaut urine could make supplies from nutrients to tools

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    With a fifth of new businesses being founded by over-55s, it is a boom time for middle-aged entrepreneurs. We talk to three women who are doing it for themselves

    While it’s true that self-employment has been rising swiftly in the last decade, few would have predicted that the biggest trend in new startups would be the over-55s. According to the Office for National Statistics, these “oldpreneurs” (a dubious name) make up a fifth of Britain’s new business owners. Last week, Barclays bank reported a 67% increase in women over 55 opening business accounts in the last decade; for those aged 65 and older, the number is up 132%, the biggest rise of any demographic. Even the entrepreneur Liz Earle, who the bank has brought in to advise its new customers, was taken aback by the statistics: “To be honest I was surprised: I’ve done a lot of mentoring over the years, always focused on younger people. I suppose I was falling into that trap of being ageist, thinking that startups were for the young.”

    There are many reasons why a woman in her 50s might choose to forge a new career path. As our life expectancy rises, says Earle, “there is a whole third life that people look forward to: it’s not just about sitting under a tree in the sun, it’s about staying active and keeping the brain stimulated. One way to do that is to keep working. And there is a financial imperative to make sure the future is secure as you live longer.”

    ‘I had massive concerns about my age … but without all my experience, I would have really struggled.’

    Related: Tempted to start a business while still in a full time job? Here's how

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