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

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    Under the programme, based on schemes in Scandinavia, customers would pay a surcharge that would be reimbursed when they return to the shop

    The Scottish government is planning to introduce a deposit return scheme for bottles and cans.

    Customers would pay a surcharge when purchasing bottles or cans under the programme, which will be refunded when they return them to a shop.

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    It chokes our oceans, is strewn across our landscapes, and is found in our drinking water. We do not need to stop using plastic, but to learn to value it more highly

    Our love for plastic is all-consuming. It is the irresistible wonder material: mouldable, inert, light and highly versatile, used not just in toys and toothbrushes but in pacemakers, teabags and spaceships. But this is a paradoxical relationship, and not a healthy one: we rely on it too much and value it too little, regarding it as cheap and disposable.

    The cost is becoming obvious. Our planet is being buried under a mountain of plastic. Of the 8.3bn tonnes produced between the 1950s and 2015, four-fifths lies in landfill or in our natural environment. Once we marvelled at plastic’s durability; now we lament the centuries it takes to decompose. The impact on our oceans, our landscapes and our wildlife is undeniable. But far from reversing course, we are accelerating: we have made roughly as much plastic since 2000 as we did in all the years before.

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    Our air, water and salt are contaminated by plastic and the impact on our health is unknown. While we wait for the findings, here are ways to reduce plastic use

    Tap water around the world is contaminated with tiny plastic fibres, the Guardian revealed this week, and other pilot studies have revealed microplastics in beer, sugar, salt and honey, as well as in seafood, in the air in cities and in homes. The impact on health of this apparently pervasive pollution is unknown, though microplastics do harm some marine life and scientists are calling for urgent research.

    Related: Sea salt around the world is contaminated by plastic, studies show

    Related: Plastic fibres found in tap water around the world, study reveals

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    The human-waste bomb recently found clogging up a London sewer has an unlikely admirer – a Scottish renewable energy company

    For a 130-tonne mass of grease, bound as hard as concrete by thousands of tampons, wipes and used tissues, the Whitechapel fatberg is in surprisingly high demand.

    Last week, the Museum of London announced it wants to display a chunk of the human-waste bomb, recently unearthed in east London, as a way “to raise questions about how we live today”. Now, a Scottish biodiesel company is taking a piece to turn into fuel.

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    The designer continues to break down barriers by showing how ethical clothing can hold its own on high-end catwalks

    “Glamour for its own sake is not something I have ever been particularly interested in,” Stella McCartney said backstage after her catwalk show. Which could sound like a facetious statement from a fashion designer who was, at that moment, standing among the marble-slabbed floors, elaborately frescoed ceilings and giant chandeliers of the Palais Garnier opera house, where the show was staged.

    But McCartney has broken down barriers between high fashion and ethical fashion by straddling two worlds. Her mission statement is that clothes made from sustainable viscose and cruelty-free alternatives to leather should not be targeted at a niche market, but shown to hold their own on the Paris fashion week catwalk.

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    Major high street retailers back drive to encourage recycling after poll shows more than half throw batteries away in the bin

    Major high street retailers have joined forces to encourage people to recycle their used household batteries as a new poll revealed that more than half of respondents admitted they throw them in the bin.

    Asda, B&Q, Currys PC World, Marks & Spencer and Morrisons are all backing the drive to make it easier for consumers to recycle dead batteries and avoid millions ending up in landfill every year and wreaking environmental havoc.

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    It’s time the responsibility for recycling was laid firmly at the door of the packaging manufacturers

    Litter brings out an urge in me to ban everything. Under my regime, straws would be outlawed. Plastic drinks bottles – only 57% of which find their way into recycling – would be verboten. But top of the list of banned items would be wacky recycling surveys.

    The latest, from Business Waste, highlights the craziest eco blunders found in the nation’s recycling bins. The list includes a car door, 1,000 Greenpeace badges (oh, the irony!) and a full Christmas dinner including plates, tablecloth, crackers and pudding.

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    With pressure to boost recycling and cut costs, landfill waste in England is collected less frequently – with six councils collecting it once in three weeks

    More than three quarters of English councils now pick up household rubbish which cannot be recycled or composted just once a fortnight, a survey reveals.

    With councils under pressure to boost recycling and cut costs, some have gone further, with six local authorities picking up residual household waste only once every three weeks.

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    Just 1% of the 2.5bn disposable cups thrown away each year in the UK are recycled, committee of MPs is told


    Coffee shops are not doing enough to deal with the billions of disposable cups that are thrown away in the UK each year, an influential committee of MPs has been told.

    Related: UK's billions of takeaway cups could each take '30 years' to break down

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    Cash-strapped councils would save money thanks to reduced littering and landfill charges as well as having less recycling bins to collect, says report

    Councils across England could save up to £35m every year if the government introduces a deposit return scheme [DRS] for plastic bottles and other drinks containers, according to a new report.

    Earlier this month environment secretary Michael Gove told the Conservative party conference that he would work with the industry to see how the scheme might be implemented in England.

    Related: Could a money-back scheme clean up the UK's plastic bottle plague?

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    Exclusive: Consumers do not want plastic-polluted oceans so supermarkets and packaging industry have to work together, says Andy Clarke

    The former boss of Asda is calling for supermarkets to stop using plastic packaging saying billions of pounds of investment in recycling has failed to resolve the world’s plastic proliferation crisis.

    Andy Clarke, CEO of one of Britain’s biggest supermarket chains for six years, said the only solution was for retailers to reject plastic entirely in favour of more sustainable alternatives like paper, steel, glass and aluminium.

    Related: My week without plastic: 'I found a toothbrush made of pig hair'

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

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    Instead shop in markets and smaller shops, which are less packaging obsessed and often use paper bags, says Rachel Meredith

    The idea of increasing the use of aluminium and steel packaging, as proposed by Andy Clarke (Bring in plastic packaging ban, former Asda boss tells stores, 13 October), is not a sustainable solution. Both materials rely on finite substances and intensive energy to produce them, and there is no guarantee that they will be recycled and will avoid ending up in the sea as well. One possibility would be to increase the use of starch based “plastic”; it’s biodegradable and therefore matters less where it ends up. Obviously another solution is to avoid shopping in supermarkets as far as is possible and to instead shop in markets and smaller shops, which are less packaging obsessed and often use paper bags, as in the good old days.
    Rachel Meredith
    York

    • Join the debate – email guardian.letters@theguardian.com

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    Advances in bioplastics mean they have ever more uses in packaging – but do they encourage a disposable culture?

    They sound more at home on a beach than in a laboratory – but shrimp shells and algae are just two of the natural materials scientists are working with to develop more sustainable types of plastic.

    In a sector predicted to be worth around $7.2bn (£5.5bn) by 2022, the race is on to develop materials that can take the place of oil-based plastics, which can have a detrimental effect on the oceans, wildlife and public health.

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    With a growing number of UK food and drink outlets ditching drinking straws and plastic bottles, we’d like to hear your tips for reducing plastic consumption

    Pret A Manger announced in October the installation of taps dispensing free filtered water in some of its stores in an attempt to reduce the company’s use of plastic.

    A growing number of food and drink outlets are taking action to ditch plastic amid deepening concern about its effect on the environment, with drinking straws and bottles among items being phased out.

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    With global e-waste projected to hit 50m tonnes next year, consumers need to put pressure on technology firms to make their products more repairable

    Tech powers many things, including cognitive dissonance. A few years ago I was travelling through Agbogbloshie, the commercial district in Accra, known as a graveyard for electronic waste, a hotspot for digital dumping. I tutted and shook my head in sorrow as I surveyed the charred keyboards and plumes of toxic computer smoke wafting across the landscape. My Ghanaian colleague looked with some amusement at the tech spilling out of my handbag. My laptop, phone, iPad – where did I think they might end up?

    Despite my relatively puritanical approach to upgrades (I can remember ALL my phones), there’s a good chance that those items ended up back there or somewhere similar. According to 2011 figures from the B&FT (Business and Financial Times, Ghana’s biggest business newspaper), the country took in 17,765 tonnes of UK e-waste that year, nearly 50% of all of the waste electronics that were dumped there. For the UK’s discarded electronic goods, Ghana is still likely to be a major destination. Others include China, India and Nigeria. Out of all the electronic waste we send for recycling, 80% ends up being shipped (some legally, and some not) to emerging and developing countries. China is tightening up. A recent change in the law reclassified circuit boards as “hazardous” waste, putting some Chinese e-waste reprocessors out of business. It was a digital version of the butterfly effect: causing more e-waste to be dumped on developing countries to be processed illegally.

    Related: The rise of electric cars could leave us with a big battery waste problem

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    The innovative scheme has saved 700 tonnes from landfill, provided jobs for 39 people, and generated cash for the council and Age UK

    Warwickshire county council’s winning project in the 2017 Guardian Public Service Awards finance category franchises reuse shops at its household waste recycling centres and has achieved success on multiple fronts. It is generating £375,000 a year for the council, and another £300,000 for the local Age UK charity, which spends the money on local services.

    The scheme has saved 700 tonnes of goods from landfill, provides jobs for 39 people and up to 50 volunteers, and gives less well-off families the opportunity to buy affordable secondhand products.

    If this was Dragons' Den, Peter Jones would be whipping out his chequebook

    Related: Buying secondhand: an alternative to rampant consumerism of Black Friday

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    O assassinato de um catador sem-teto provocou revolta e protestos. Para vinte mil trabalhadores marginalizados e sem direitos, pode ser a hora da virada

    Pouco antes das seis da tarde de 12 de julho, uma quarta-feira, o sem-teto Ricardo Nascimento, que vivia da coleta de reciclagem, envolveu-se em uma discussão com dois policiais militares em frente a uma pizzaria. O catador de 39 anos era conhecido pelos moradores de Pinheiros, bairro de classe média de São Paulo. Ele estava com um pedaço de madeira na mão e, como se recusasse a soltá-lo, o policial o atingiu com dois tiros no peito. Ricardo morreu na hora.

    Ainda estava claro, as ruas cheias de gente. Locais e transeuntes começaram a gritar “assassinos” e “fascistas” para a polícia. Os militares jogaram o corpo no porta-malas da viatura. Gilvan Artur Leal, de 53 anos, uma das testemunhas, tentou ajudar o homem caído e ouviu que seria “o próximo” se continuasse tentando intervir.

    Eles pegaram o corpo e jogaram no porta-malas como se fosse um saco de lixo

    O grafite é uma arte marginalizada, os catadores são um povo marginalizado. A gente se encontrou nas margens

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    The killing of a homeless catador – an unofficial waste collector – has sparked fierce protests. For 20,000 marginalised workers with no rights, it may be pivotal

    Shortly before 6pm on Wednesday 12 July, Ricardo Nascimento, a homeless man who made a living collecting recycling, got into a heated discussion with two military police officers outside a pizzeria. Nascimento, who was well-known to residents of the affluent São Paulo neighbourhood of Pinheiros, was holding a piece of wood; when he refused to drop it, the officers shot him twice in the chest. The 39-year-old died instantly.

    It was still light and the roads were teeming with people. Locals and passersby began to shout “murderers” and “fascists” at the police. The officers packed the body into the trunk of a police car, and one witness, Gilvan Artur Leal, 53, said when he tried to help the prone man, he was told to stop – or else he would be “next”.

    They picked up his body and threw it in the trunk of the car like it was a bag of rubbish

    Guardian Cities is in São Paulo for a week of live reporting and special events, discussing every aspect of this fascinating Brazilian metropolis. While its flashy smaller sibling Rio De Janeiro does its best to hog the spotlight, it is São Paulo that has quietly become South America’s first true megacity – the engine of Brazil, home to incredible creativity and thriving commerce, but also some uniquely eye-opening social problems.

    Graffiti is a marginalised art, and catadores are a marginalised people. We met on the margins

    Related: The populist bishop and the Apprentice host: meet Brazil's new megacity mayors

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    Key to the success of the New South Wales ‘return and earn’ program is access. This is where my impatience kicks in

    It is a day which should have dawned brightly. A day when we no longer would see bottles and cans being kicked around as rubbish, clogging our waterways and degrading our amazing environment. But my feelings are mixed.

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

    Related: Green groups dismiss claim container deposit scheme will attract 'scavengers'

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    Several months since the banana-dumping clip went viral, Craig Reucassel aims to find out how much, if anything, has changed

    Australians watched in horror and fascination as thousands of freshly picked bananas – nurtured on a Queensland farm over nine months – were inspected and then dumped because they were a fraction too big or too small for the standards set by supermarkets.

    Related: What's the best step you've taken to reduce waste? Share your tips

    Related: War on waste: readers share their top tips for reducing their environmental footprint

    Related: War on Waste: Craig Reucassel wants to change behaviour, and the law

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