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

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    Chinese restrictions from January will hit UK recycling efforts and risk plastic waste being stockpiled or ending up in landfill, warn industry leaders

    A ban on imports of millions of tonnes of plastic waste by the Chinese government from January could see an end to collection of some plastic in the UK and increase the risk of environmental pollution, according to key figures in the industry.

    Recycling companies say the imminent restrictions by China – the world’s biggest market for household waste – will pose big challenges to the UK’s efforts to recycle more plastic.

    China's dominant position in manufacturing means that for many years it has been the largest global importer of many types of recyclable materials which it uses in its manufacturing industry.

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    Eco-friendly policies place country second to Germany but England lags far behind other countries according to new research

    Wales ranks second in the world for recycling household waste but England lags far behind other European countries, according to new research.

    Policies brought in by the Welsh government and a target to be zero waste by 2050 have driven the country up the league table to come in just under Germany. With recycling rates of 63.8% for municipal solid waste, which includes household plastic and other packaging, Wales is set to become the world leader for recycling by next year, according to a report from the environmental analysts Eunomia.

    Related: Chinese ban on plastic waste imports could see UK pollution rise

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    New Chinese restrictions on imported waste could see millions of tonnes of cardboard being sent back, as the UK struggles to prepare for rapid rule changes

    Imminent restrictions by the Chinese on importing cardboard from the rest of the world are likely to cause chaos in the UK in the coming weeks, according to a leading recycling expert.

    From 1 January, China will impose much stricter quality restrictions on imported cardboard as well as banning the importation of all plastic waste and mixed paper rubbish from all over the world. The move is part of president Xi Jinping’s drive to create a “beautiful China” with a clean environment.

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    If younger people are sending fewer cards and shunning wrapping paper, it may be because they know there’s more to giving than appearances

    Since early life crawled out of the sludge and decided it would like to continue crawling, prising shiny shells open to get to their inner goodness (fruit/seeds/viscera) has been an unbreakable habit for the living – we can’t help it. We love opening things; banana peels, packets of biscuits, envelopes that look like they don’t have bills in them. And so comes Christmas with shiny boxes to be opened, full of promised goodness for our continuing survival; in many cases, instead of life-giving nutrients, it’s regifted candles from the neighbours. But even now, away from the primordial grime, the message of “this looks good, it might contain good things if I open it” whirrs away in our lizard brains.

    Half of us in the UK would also choose to get our presents with no wrapping at all

    Related: The childhood gift we always wanted – would it change our lives today?

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    Environment secretary’s action plan, due in new year, may include plastic bottle deposit scheme and standardised recycling policy

    Cutting plastic pollution is the focus of a series of proposals being considered by the UK environment secretary, Michael Gove, who has said he was “haunted” by images of the damage done to the world’s oceans shown in David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II TV series.

    The government is due to announce a 25-year plan to improve the UK’s environmental record in the new year. Gove is understood to be planning to introduce refundable deposits on plastic drinks bottles, alongside other measures.

    Related: Chinese ban on plastic waste imports could see UK pollution rise

    Related: What David Attenborough should have said at the end of Blue Planet | Patrick Barkham

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    Environmental audit committee recommends adoption of ‘polluter pays’ principle, as well as backing deposit return scheme and public water fountains

    Supermarkets, retailers and drinks companies should be forced to pay significantly more towards the recycling of the plastic packaging they sell, an influential committee of MPs has said.

    Members of the environmental audit committee called for a societal change in the UK to reduce the 7.7bn plastic water bottles used each year, and embed a culture of carrying reusable containers which are refilled at public water fountains and restaurants, cafes, sports centres and fast food outlets.

    Related: The place where plastic is a dirty word | Patrick Barkham

    Related: Dramatic rise in plastic seabed litter around UK

    Related: The Guardian view on plastic bottles: make water available on tap | Editorial

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    Global plastic binge | Rubber band wastage | Moon boots | Road songs | New UK passport

    The global plastic binge (Report, 26 December) needs more than “serious source reduction efforts”. I have just completed a dry-season 10-day voyage along the Irrawaddy river in Myanmar, and did a similar trip down the Mekong river in Vietnam last year. The river banks are sadly festooned with plastic waste tipped there in the absence of municipal refuse collection. Come the rainy season the whole lot will be swept into the sea.
    Giles Youngs
    Drinkstone, Suffolk

    • My front garden has become a repository for rubber bands. Does the Post Office do an annual audit of them?
    Cleo Sylvestre
    London

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    Now that China and Hong Kong won’t take our rubbish, it’s time to get real

    Right now you may well be surveying the wreckage of Christmas, all that old wrapping paper. Whereas in previous years I’ve skipped through the issue of post-Christmas waste in an upbeat “how to” guide, this year’s advice might be summed up as “Brace, brace”.

    Let me explain. Back in July the Chinese government announced a clampdown on so-called “foreign garbage”. To get slightly more technical, that means bringing in very tight contamination limits on 24 categories of scrap, especially waste paper and plastic. This concerns us, because since 2012 the UK has shipped more than 2.7 million tonnes of plastic scrap to mainland China and Hong Kong. Put simply there is no other market to replace it right now.

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    We often buy dresses for the people we’d like to be, and hold on to things because they remind us of good times. But a new survey has revealed that UK shoppers own £10bn worth of clothes they do not wear

    I am sorry to force on you thoughts of so many battles to come so early in the year, but here – in one neat package – they come: a new survey by Weight Watchers has estimated that shoppers in the UK own £10bn worth of clothes they do not wear.

    As ever with these massed and massive figures, it does not look quite so bad when you break it down a bit. The UK shopping population comprises about 50 million of us, which works out at an average of £200 worth of stuff per person failing to fulfil its sartorial destiny.

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    Plastic that would have been imported to China will cause chaos for councils as it mounts up, warn industry experts

    A ban on imports of millions of tonnes of plastic waste by the Chinese government is already causing a build up of rubbish at recycling plants around the UK and will bring chaos for councils in the weeks ahead, according to industry experts.

    Simon Ellin, chief executive of the UK Recycling Association, said his members had already seen some lower grade plastics piling up at their yards and warned urgent action was needed.

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    Chain will now knock 50p off prices in bid to help change customers’ habits, with the UK discarding an estimated 2.5bn coffee cups every year

    Customers who bring reusable cups to Pret a Manger will be given a 50p discount on hot drinks after the company introduced the measure and said it was hoping to change people’s habits and reduce waste.

    The sandwich chain has been offering 25p discounts to customers using reusable cups since 2017, alongside Costa and Starbucks. CEO Clive Schlee said he hoped that doubling the discount would make a difference, following other initiatives to reduce waste such as not using plastic cup stoppers in inner city Pret shops.

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    In UK 2.5bn disposable cups are thrown away each year, of which less than 0.25% are recycled, according to environmental audit committee report

    MPs are calling for a 25p charge on takeaway coffee in a move that could see disposable cups banned in five years time.

    In the UK 2.5bn takeaway coffee cups are used and thrown away each year – enough to stretch around the world five-and-a-half-times. The UK produces 30,000 tonnes of coffee cup waste each year, according to a report published by MPs on the environmental audit committee on Friday.

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    Jenny Jones says the UK must respond proactively to news that China has banned imports of millions of tons of plastic waste

    This could be the year we start burning more of our waste than recycling it (China’s plastic waste ban ‘creates a crisis for UK local authorities’, 3 January). There are already three English regions where incineration (energy from waste) has become the most likely way for councils to dispose of our waste and the amount that we recycle has flatlined in all but one area of the UK. The exception to this is Wales, partly because they use the incineration ash to make concrete and count this as recycling. We need to urgently cut down on how much we use and build the recycling infrastructure to deal with the waste ourselves. We need regulation to ensure that what we use contains a minimum percentage of recycled materials, so that we can build up the market for such products. Most urgent of all is a charge on incineration to remove the perverse incentive for councils to burn, rather than recycle.
    Jenny Jones
    Green party, House of Lords

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

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    On a busy Guildford high street reaction to the proposed ‘latte levy’ is mixed. While many welcome the move to change peoples’ habits, for some, already feeling the squeeze of a weak pound, the 25p hit is too high

    Turn any corner in the busy town centre of Guildford on a weekday morning, and someone is carrying a disposable cup bearing the logo of one of the major chains.

    Each minute in the UK about 500 of these used coffee cups are thrown away. Every year consumers use and dispose of 2.5bn of them. The vast majority are not recycled.

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    In a room filled with common purpose, shared wisdom, care, respect, wonder and delight, I discovered a little ray of communal hope

    Here are the hands of Thomas, delving deep into the belly of the fan, coils cast out, covers ripped asunder. They work among scattered mouse poo pellets and spanners. Discarded surgical gloves give the scene a slightly sinister air. But that’s before I have really settled in.

    I have entered a room packed full of workers, the repairers, and expectant repairees at the St Kilda Repair Cafe in Melbourne. Held at the EcoCentre on the second Sunday of each month, the repair cafe exists to promote repairing and recycling of household goods, to foster an appreciation of “making good”, repairing to restore functionality.

    Related: Meet the ‘fix-perts’, an army of experts determined to get Britain on the mend

    Related: A fear of dogs dominated my childhood and hasn't left me – until recently | Anna Sublet

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    Use less, re-use, recycle. Three steps to saving the planet

    Take-out coffee and bottled water symbolise both the luxury and the waste of the early 21st century. They represent the throwaway world, the always-on culture, the low-pay, low-skill jobs. They reflect our catastrophic disregard of the consequences of our choices for the world around us.

    It is now a week since China implemented tight new controls on the kind of waste it will take for recycling. Although the UK is not the worst offender, it will have a big impact on recycling rates in the UK, where plastics are often not properly separated. Greenpeace estimates that as much as half of the plastics Britain sends to China will be unacceptable.

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    Major brewers have increased prices by between $4 and $5 for a carton of beer, Liquor Stores Association of NSW says

    Coca-Cola Amatil is already passing on the costs of the New South Wales container deposit scheme to its customers, increasing prices between $3 to $5 for a 24-drink carton.

    The scheme began on 1 December, allowing NSW residents to return bottles for a 10c refund at depots, over-the-counter collection points and vending machines.

    Related: 'Recycling in Australia is dead in the water': three companies tackling our plastic addiction

    The NSW Container Deposit Scheme (CDS), Return and Earn came into effect on the 1st December 2017 and aims to reduce litter by 40% by 2020. As a result, the price of some beverages will increase as suppliers increase their prices on eligible 1/3

    Related: Garbage in, energy out: creating biofuel from plastic waste

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    China’s ban on our recycling exports has exposed the folly of the current system. A 25p charge on coffee cups would help, but we can do so much more

    The ban on recycled waste going to China is inevitably leading to a UK pile-up. There is every chance that some of the plastics, cardboard and paper that people have taken care to separate will end up being burned with everything that was thrown in the waste bin.

    Related: China waste clampdown could create UK cardboard recycling chaos, say industry experts

    Our use of materials needs to be a closed loop, where everything gets reused

    Related: MPs call for 25p charge on takeaway coffee cups ahead of possible ban

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    As MPs call for levies on plastic bottles and disposable coffee cups, reusable ones have become unlikely fashion items. And to carry them, you might need a bigger bag (SS18 microbags need not apply)

    Above: Matt & Nat’s tan tote (£115, mattandnat.com), made out of recycled materials, provides ample space for Keep Cup’s coffee cup (£22 keepcup.com), S’well’s water bottle (£35, Swell from amara.com) and Grown Alchemist’s antioxidant handcream (£14, grownalchemist.com) .

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    Expansion expected of highly successful policy of charging 5p for each bag could be extended beyond large retailers

    The 5p charge for plastic bags is expected to be applied to small shops under government plans to be unveiled by Theresa May this week as she seeks to tackle Britain’s “throwaway culture”.

    In a major speech on the environment, the prime minister will promise to hold consultations on removing an exemption that allows retailers with fewer than 250 employees to continue to give out free bags. The levy on supermarkets and other large retailers resulted in a 90% decline in use, with nine billion fewer plastic bags being used.

    Related: MPs call for 25p charge on takeaway coffee cups ahead of possible ban

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