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

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    Moves to cut plastic, create a new environmental watchdog and boost wildlife habitats are among the new measures

    One of the most heavily trailed announcements is the end of an exemption for small shops from England’s 5p plastic bag charge. The loophole was an anomaly compared with similar schemes in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It was also imposed against the wishes of corner shop owners at the time, with three small business trade associations opposing being exempted on the grounds it would be confusing for customers. “Its abolition is long overdue,” said Mary Creagh, chair of the environmental audit committee of MPs. The change will affect 3.4bn bags handed out at about 200,000 stores each year.

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    Home and kitchenware shops report growth in sales of portable mugs as government hints at a tax on disposable cups

    Sales of reusable coffee cups are soaring in the UK, retailers are reporting, as the government hints at a tax on disposable cups.

    Argos, which is part of the Sainsbury’s Group, said it had sold 537% more portable cups in December 2017 than the same month the previous year. Meanwhile, kitchenware chain Lakeland reported an increase in sales of more than 100% month-on-month, homeware company Robert Dyas reported a 50% lift year-on-year.

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    Theresa May’s new green strategy lacks regulatory bite, says Ray Georgeson,and, according to Maureen Evershed,is short on humility. Stephen Sibbald reckons an important problem has been ignored, while Peter Hames and Ros Cayton suggest ways to stamp out non-biodegradable coffee cups

    Ian Paul (Letters, 12 January), referring to plastics recycling, asks: “Surely we should urge government and private industry to build and develop plants to deal with the problem now, before we are knee-deep in bottles?” He is right, but we had started on this more than a decade ago, with world-leading recycling technology investment in plastic bottle recycling at Closed Loop in Dagenham, part funded by the government’s Wrap (Waste and Resources Action Programme) organisation, which produced the material to include recycled content in plastic milk bottles.

    This was a world first, establishing the use of recycled material in food-grade packaging. It foundered when the voluntary agreement between the dairies, brands, retailers and bottle-makers to use recycled content collapsed when the oil price fell and virgin material became much cheaper. Government failed to intervene to save the plant and the investment, for the sake of a price differential representing 0.1p on the cost of a two-litre milk bottle. All those responsible blamed each other, and the nation lost significant recycling capacity.

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    Only when she tackles producers and retailers will May have workable strategies on recycling and healthy eating

    Last week, Marks & Spencer withdrew the “cauliflower steak” from its shelves. Essentially a thick slice of cauliflower that came with a sachet of lemon and herb drizzle, the product was widely criticised for its excessive plastic packaging and sizable markup, retailing at a “special offer” price of £2.

    That a retailer thought it saw an opportunity in marketing a slice of raw vegetable in this way reveals much, not just about our penchant for faddish food trends, but our attitudes towards waste. As a society, we produce far too much of the stuff: every year in the UK, 1bn plastic food trays are sent to landfill. We collectively throw away £13bn of food each year. Recycling rates in England lag far behind those of countries such as Germany.

    The Observer is the world's oldest Sunday newspaper, founded in 1791. It is published by Guardian News & Media and is editorially independent.

    Related: We won’t save the world by watching celebrity nature shows | Lucy Siegle

    The 5p charge for carrier bags resulted in the number of single-use plastic bags in circulation plummeting by 85% in six months

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    In the bowels of an old pottery factory, a group of determined men eke out a profit from stripping down and recycling electrical waste. All of them have some form of mental health condition or disability. It's a tough business, but one with a dark sense of humour

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    Brussels targets single-use plastics in an urgent clean-up plan that aims to make all packaging reusable or recyclable by 2030

    The EU is waging war against plastic waste as part of an urgent plan to clean up Europe’s act and ensure that every piece of packaging on the continent is reusable or recyclable by 2030.

    Following China’s decision to ban imports of foreign recyclable material, Brussels on Tuesday launched a plastics strategy designed to change minds in Europe, potentially tax damaging behaviour, and modernise plastics production and collection by investing €350m (£310m) in research.

    Related: Plastics found in stomachs of deepest sea creatures

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

    Related: May’s plastic plan is big on gimmicks, but it won’t cut waste | George Monbiot

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    We asked you to recommend the best ways to reduce your plastic consumption and avoid excess waste. Here’s what some of you said

    For 70 years, the world’s plastic usage has grown inexorably from humble beginnings to a position where humanity now produces roughly its own weight in plastic every year.

    But is there a turning point in view? Guardian revelations about the scale of plastic waste and the threat it poses has finally prompted the authorities to take the issue seriously. Michael Gove is considering a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles, Sadiq Khan is looking at new water fountains to contain the plastic proliferation, and now Theresa May has set out her own plastic-free stall.

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    We find organic mushrooms in non-recyclable trays next to plain veg in compostable wrapping

    My environmentally conscious wife Clare is the keenest recycler possible. She even collects and recycles the silver milk bottle tops that I tend to chuck out. But when it comes to organic food she’s furious. Why? Because she finds it is the worst culprit for wrapping almost everything in plastic and polywrap that cannot be recycled. How, she asks, did we reach the situation where the most environmentally produced food is also the worst for packaging and recycling?

    Like many others, the Brignall household despairs at the revelations over the past year that 86% of collected plastic is not actually recycled, and the Blue Planet claim that 8m tonnes of the stuff ends up in oceans.

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    A 70-metre-high waste incinerator is being built next to the M5

    Marooned on the flatlands between the Severn river and the Cotswolds escarpment, Stonehouse in Gloucestershire isn’t the sort of place to make the news. But, of late, outrage has been the dominant emotion here as construction traffic has brought what was a country village to a standstill. Blue plastic barriers proliferate, mobile traffic lights are set down apparently at random and workers clad in hi-vis saunter about with the swagger of the new sheriff in town.

    While the slow crawl of traffic to and from the M5 is frustrating, it is the cause of the blockage that is more troubling. Stonehouse is being dug up to lay a cable to service the giant waste monster being built next to junction 12 of the M5, an edifice that its opponents warned would grow to four times the size of nearby Gloucester cathedral, a glorious testament to the grand folly of another age.

    Related: The Guardian view on recycling: throwaway economy is not cost-free | Editorial

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    Exclusive: government accused of hypocrisy as documents show opposition to urban waste plan

    The UK government is opposing strong new recycling targets across the EU despite its recent pledge to develop “ambitious new future targets and milestones”, confidential documents have revealed.

    A 25-year environment plan was launched earlier in January by the prime minister, Theresa May, who particularly focused on cutting plastic pollution. The plan, aimed partly at wooing younger voters, says “recycling plastics is critical”.

    Related: Rubbish already building up at UK recycling plants due to China import ban

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    Plastic-free aisles just don’t go far enough – the government must be decisive if it is to fulfil its green pledges

    The airport: not the most fun place to while away a couple of hours. Most modern airports seem to prioritise row after row of fancy shops over providing enough seats at the gate. One of my pet peeves is how hard they make it to get your hands on free drinking water once you’ve dutifully chucked yours out before security. More than half of UK airports don’t provide drinking fountains, forcing travellers to choose between begging bartenders to fill up their bottle or coughing up for over-priced water.

    It’s not just about the rip-off factor, though having to shell out almost £3 for a 500ml bottle in one airport admittedly left a bitter taste. It’s also about bottled water’s ruinous impact on the environment. Yes, I’m aware of the hypocrisy in denouncing the purchase of unnecessary plastic in an airport when you’re about to get on a plane that will dump several tonnes of carbon in the environment. But we have to start somewhere and persuading people to take fewer holidays feels infinitely more challenging than making it easier not to buy bottled water.

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    The huge clots of waste that clog the sewers of ancient, affluent cities like London are part of the cost of progress

    The Whitechapel fatberg was 250 metres of impacted waste that constipated London’s sewage system last year. A tiny portion has just been put on display in the Museum of London after a long, conscientious drying period. It hardly smells at all now. But does such an intrinsically disgusting artefact belong in a museum? Instinctively the answer seems to be no: we should have kept it in the ground.

    On second thoughts, the matter is more complicated. The fatberg is not on show as the ultimate conclusion of the line of thought that began a hundred years ago with Marcel Duchamp’s urinal. Although there are people who might argue that conceptual art all finds its natural home in the fatberg, not everything in the sewers is conceptual art. Some of it is just sewage. Some is stuff that should not be flushed away – wet wipes and sanitary products – and much is just used cooking fat and food scraps. This fatberg was found under Whitechapel Road, in a district full of restaurants in the East End of London, but others have been found all over the city. No one, it seems, is too posh to flush.

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    New textiles, made from discarded orange peel, milk or algae, are reducing the environmental impact of the world’s second-most polluting industry

    Orange peel is the unlikely by-product behind a new textile that’s being incorporated into collections by designer Salvatore Ferragamo.

    Back in 2013, Adriana Santanocito, a fashion student in Milan, and her friend and colleague Enrica Arena looked into whether anything useful could be done with the vast amounts of orange peel left behind by juicing machines.

    Related: UK households binned 300,000 tonnes of clothing in 2016

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    Emily Eavis says festival is working on ‘enormous project’ to ban plastic bottles on site when it returns after year off in 2018

    Glastonbury festival is to implement a site-wide ban on plastic bottles when it returns in 2019. “It’s an enormous project; it’s taking a lot of time to tackle with all the different people we work with,” organiser Emily Eavis told BBC 6 Music.

    In 2014, Glastonbury introduced environmentally friendly stainless steel bottles and water kiosks for the cost-free refill of any kind of receptacle, followed in 2016 by stainless steel pint cups designed to be“non-aerodynamic, to minimise injuries from throwing”. Use of these containers was optional. Glastonbury organisers have previously estimated that 1m plastic bottles are used during the event.

    Related: Network Rail to install drinking fountains in majority of its train stations this year

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    People buying hot drinks in cardboard cups in 35 London branches will pay ‘latte levy’

    Starbucks will be the first UK coffee chain to trial a “latte levy” – a 5p charge on takeaway coffee cups – under plans that aim to reduce the overuse and waste of 2.5bn disposable cups every year.

    In the latest offensive in the war against plastic waste, the chain said it hoped the move, starting on Monday, would help change behaviour and encourage customers to switch to reusable cups instead.

    Starbucks offers a 25p discount for customers who bring in a reusable mug or tumbler. Its own costs £1.

    Related: UK retailers see rise in sales of reusable coffee cups

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    A deposit return scheme to tackle the billions of bottles not recycled every year is being kicked into the long grass, say MPs

    The government is “dragging its feet” on introducing a deposit return scheme to cut the billions of plastic bottles not recycled every year, according to a committee of MPs.

    The Environment Audit Committee (EAC) called for a deposit return scheme (DRS) in a report in December, in which a small deposit is paid when purchasing a bottle and then returned when the empty bottle is brought back. Environment secretary Michael Gove called a DRS a “great idea” in September.

    Why is plastic being demonised?

    Related: Billions of pieces of plastic on coral reefs send disease soaring, research reveals

    Related: 'They're just not very British': will cities finally splash out on water fountains?

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    At council pick-up time, I’ve been able to get a new clothes dryer, microwave and a table football set. What household items have you been able to recycle? Tell us in the comments

    A few months ago our clothes dryer stopped working. We didn’t use it very much but they’re handy to have if the domestic engineering has gone awry and you need to dry some socks or school uniforms in a hurry. The problem with the dryer was that the door wouldn’t close properly. My first instinct was to fix it but I could only get it to work if I propped against it an extremely heavy object like a bag of soil. Clearly not a long-term solution – I’ll just have to get a new one, I thought.

    But then a few days later I spotted a dryer that had been left outside someone’s house for the council to pick-up. I inspected it and it looked OK. It still had the cable and plug, which was promising, and it didn’t look broken ... So, I stuck it in the car and took it home.

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

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    The catwalk positively oozes fossil fuel just as we begin to uncouple our lives from it

    At the risk of sounding naively optimistic, there have been days when it’s felt like the enthusiasm to push back on avoidable plastic waste is unquenchable. There are moments when it seems possible that we can ward off the day when there are more bits of plastic in the sea than fish – currently slated for 2050 unless we change our ways. Certainly there’s unprecedented interest in uncoupling our lives from plastic.

    Since the start of the year, I’ve been reporting non-stop on our changing attitudes. I’ve been shuttling between plastic-free aisles and zero-waste shops, assessing supermarket shelves and going through people’s bins. I’m now such a fixture at the nation’s MRFs (materials recovery facility, pronounced “murf”), I’ve been issued with a business card featuring a picture of a rat. This – it was cheerily explained to me – I should hand to my GP in the case of unexplained illness.

    Why is plastic being demonised?

    Related: From pastels to plastic: 18 trends for 2018

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    Government accused of warm words but no action on reducing throwaway packaging waste

    The government has rejected calls for a “latte levy” to be introduced on takeaway cups to reduce the amount of waste they create.

    Mary Creagh, the chair of the environmental audit committee, accused ministers of being all talk and no action after they refused to adopt a charge on throwaway cups similar to the plastic bag levy.

    Related: A 'latte levy' isn't nearly enough – Starbucks must do more | Ellie Mae O’Hagan

    Related: Will a 25p charge change Britain's throwaway coffee cup culture?

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    Recycling industry in Victoria and NSW on verge of collapse, Senate inquiry told

    Australia’s kerbside recycling systems are at risk of collapse, a Senate inquiry has heard. China’s ban on importation of recyclable rubbish has left councils and state governments in Victoria and New South Wales scrambling to find space to stockpile growing mounds of waste.

    An estimated half of Australia’s recyclable waste was going to China before the ban, the hearing was told, although the precise share of waste exported was not known.

    Related: Is it possible to live without plastic? Readers' tips for tip-free living

    Related: War on Waste: new episode peels away at food extravagance

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