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

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    Fraudsters seem to be dumping plastic waste that was meant to be recycled. Scandalous though that is, it is only part of Britain’s larger waste problem

    Recent reports about suspected abuses by plastic waste exporters are dispiriting reading to all those who try to do their bit for the environment by recycling packaging at home. This is not the first time such failures have been highlighted. But the scale of the suspected fraud now being investigated by the Environment Agency is shocking. Six licences have been cancelled in the past three months and there is a discrepancy of 35,135 tonnes between exporters’ records and those of HM Customs. Worse than the suggestion of false claims for nonexistent waste is the idea that some of the bottles and cartons that people bothered to rinse out and bag up for collection are likely to have been dumped, not recycled, and perhaps to have ended up in the sea.

    That this situation has arisen is in part due to the UK having been forced to seek new buyers for plastic waste after China blocked imports at the start of the year. Exports first shifted to Vietnam, Malaysia and Poland; then to the Netherlands and Turkey. One allegation is that firms have exploited looser regulations on exports within Europe to launder plastic waste from the UK in the Netherlands, before transferring it illegally to Asia.

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    Readers offer their thoughts in Halloween’s aftermath

    The coming of misty mornings and dark evenings always makes me sad, for it is the season when a mountain of tat hits the shops for Halloween. How many parents carefully eschew single-use plastic bags and bottles and yet, every year, buy their children costumes made of unrecyclable synthetic fabric, masks, and other plastic paraphernalia that are used for a matter of hours and then go into landfill? It was no surprise to me that they think of pumpkins as disposable decoration rather than food (Terrifying level of pumpkin waste at Halloween, 25 October).
    Philippa Merrill
    Downton, Wiltshire

    • I’m all for avoiding waste, but please stop advising readers to cook with pumpkin leftovers. The fibrous innards are inedible, drying the seeds is very fiddly and takes hours of costly oven time for dubious results, and chunks left over from carving are too small to bother with. I also read that the pumpkins sold for carving are not the same as the smaller, sweeter ones used for roasting or pulping. Furthermore, if people misconstrue your advice and serve up jack-o’-lanterns that have been out on their windowsills for days, they could make themselves ill. Composting is a saner solution, but I also like the idea of turning the hollowed-out pumpkin into a jolly bird feeder.
    Sue Joiner
    London

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    Paper accounts of your spending might seem harmless, but they pose an environmental hazard. What should we do?

    You diligently recycle, you carry a reusable coffee cup and you have sworn off plastic straws. Yet your wallet is stuffed with crumpled scraps of paper recording all manner of recent (and ancient) transactions: the couple of quid at Tesco, the £50 from a cash machine last week, that pricey pair of shoes from a year ago.

    Every year the UK pumps out 11.2bn paper receipts. What many of us probably don’t realise – as Wired flagged on Tuesday– is that at least half of them can’t be recycled; they are printed on what is known as “thermal paper” and coated with a potentially toxic substance called bisphenol A (or a substitute, BPS). The advice is that we should send thermal paper receipts to landfill, not the recycling bin.

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    Exclusive: ministers seeking to make firms pay more towards recycling their own waste

    Supermarkets, retailers and major drinks brands are set to pay tens of millions of pounds more towards recycling their used packaging under the government’s new waste strategy expected to be published this month, the Guardian understands.

    Supermarkets and other major producers of packaging waste currently pay a small fraction of the cost of collecting and recycling the 11m tonnes of packaging waste produced in the UK.

    Related: UK’s plastic waste is a burning issue | Letters

    Related: Plastic recycling industry's problems costing councils up to £500,000 a year

    Related: A vexing question: why do men recycle less than women?

    Related: Your old plastic bottle … reborn as a towel, bag or swimsuit

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    Councils say residents also erroneously putting recyclable waste into plastic bags before disposing of them

    Throwing soft plastics into the recycling bin is still the most common recycling mistake made by Australians, according to new research by Planet Ark.

    A survey of 180 councils commissioned by the environment organisation for Recycling Week asked councils to identify what were the most common recycling mistakes made by their residents.

    Related: Most Australians believe household recycling sent to landfill, survey finds

    Related: Recycling: how corporate Australia played us for mugs | Jeff Sparrow

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    We have been indoctrinated by a system that actually achieves little. It’s our throwaway culture that needs to change

    I decided not to throw away any of my plastic waste for a year when, in 2016, while out on a run, I stumbled across vast amounts of plastic entangled in washed-up seaweed. Shortly after, a query to my local council regarding plastic recycling garnered the response: “I’m afraid it’s not available where you live.” But recycling is our way of doing good, right? Recycling is just a word, not a promise​. It’s the tentative nod of approval that allows us to rationalise the everyday choices we make.

    The chancellor’s newly announced plastic tax will charge manufacturers if their plastic packaging does not include at least 30% recycled content. For this to work, packaging producers will need to rely on extensive availability of quality recycled materials in the UK. But Philip Hammond’s allocation of only £20m to ​tackle plastics and boost recycling​ isn’t going to touch the sides.

    Related: Retailers to pay up to £1bn for recycling under waste strategy

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    The world is waking up to the danger posed by single-use plastics to the environment. But consumer pressure is not enough to reverse the decades of plastic waste that litter the globe and clog up the oceans. Stephen Buranyi tells Anushka Asthana how an anti-plastic revolution is under way but the plastics industry is in no mood for retreat. Plus: George Monbiot on why climate change is a crisis that requires a response of civil disobedience

    Who is really to blame for the crisis in plastic waste across the globe? And is it too late to fix it? Stephen Buranyi explains how the rise of the plastics industry since the 1960s created a culture of disposable consumerism that has generated a global crisis of plastic waste. He describes how the industry in response poured money into anti-littering campaigns, but did not apply the same standards of waste control to itself.

    Plus: the Guardian environment correspondent, Matthew Taylor, explains who is responsible for the “tsunami of plastic” coming our way and what may be our only hope to stop it.

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    In the last 30 years, gulls have come among us as never before. But is their moment coming to an end as we tackle our waste problem?

    When was the last day you didn’t see a gull? Throughout Britain we ordinarily cross paths with these birds more often than with any other wild creature. They are hard to avoid. In the last 30 years – the lifespan of a large gull – they have come among us as never before. Though still popularly regarded as seagulls, many have moved inland, far from the seaside or saltwater. They have adapted to life in many places we have made, and they have thrived.

    Cities and their hinterlands where we jettison our rubbish now sustain far more gulls than the birds’ former more traditional marine habitats. Indeed, in a paradox that might define the Anthropocene era, surviving coastal birds are now regarded as threatened with local extinction, while the same gull species in urban areas are so prevalent they are thought of as pests.

    Related: Seagull rage: why humans and birds are at war in Britain

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    Dutch artist Suzanne Jongmans creates photographs that echo the old masters, but with a modern twist: she crafts intricate costumes using recycled plastics, old blankets and used packaging. Jongmans finds inspiration in painters such as Jan van Eyck, Rembrandt and Holbein, whose level of detail she aims to replicate. “When you look at the old masters, you can really see the time that is put into the paintings,” she says. “And that fits with the method I developed.” There is an implicit environmental message in her work but, she says, her primary objective is giving a new life to these old materials. “I’m a collector mostly – I collect all kinds of things, like blankets, wool, things from nature. And I would like all these materials to tell a story.”

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    As the public turns against plastic, celebrities and designers are making reusable bottles a fashion statement

    What does your water bottle say about you? An awful lot judging by the £5.5bn industry that has sprung up to convince us that a designer reusable bottle is a fashion statement and status symbol that comes with added environmental kudos.

    Arguably, it all began with celebrity endorsements: actress Julia Roberts photographed with a S’well bottle (£45); model Gisele Bündchen seen leaving a gym clutching a BKR (£30); actor Jonah Hill lugging a 64oz Hydroflask (£45).

    This is more than a fashion. It’s the start of a fundamental shift

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    Stella McCartney, Gucci and Adidas among companies inspired by ‘Blue Planet effect’

    Fishing nets and discarded plastic are finding their way into wardrobes around the world thanks to a rise in the number of fashion designers using materials made from recycled ocean waste.

    Brands including Gucci, Stella McCartney and Adidas are increasingly partnering with organisations such as Parley for the Oceans – which raises awareness of the destructive effect of ocean plastics – and sourcing materials regenerated from companies such as Aquafil, the textile manufacturer that transforms ocean waste into sustainable materials such as Econyl.

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    Brands, activists and charities are questioning the annual consumer feeding frenzy

    Black Friday may be one of the biggest shopping days on the calendar, but it has also spawned a flurry of alternatives to the consumer frenzy from brands and charities.

    Greenpeace has teamed up with partners including Fashion Revolution and Shareable to back Make Smthing week, during which artists and crafters lead workshops on creative ways to reuse, repair or recycle goods.

    Related: I’ve discovered the Joy of Missing Out. Black Friday isn't for me | Stuart Jeffries

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    She was a Broadway actor, a wife and mother – and now, at 93, a theatre blogger. The one thing that hasn’t changed is Blanche Marvin’s memory-filled house

    When Blanche Marvin moved to her flat in London, it was on a temporary basis, until she could find somewhere more suitable. That was 50 years ago. Rent was £8 a week: “It was déclassé to live above a shop, so it was cheap,” she says in her throaty, well-bred New York accent. She has rented it for so long that she now has residents’ rights. And besides, no one would dare turf this small but formidable nonagenarian on to the street: she has gale-force opinions on everything from plastic bags to actors.

    Marvin, a former actor and producer, is probably one of the most active theatre critics you’ve never heard of. At 93, she still goes to the theatre “most nights”, and writes thorough reviews which she publishes at blanchemarvin.com. She regards her pieces as providing a service; they are written, she says, for the industry – directors, producers, other critics. “My reviews don’t put bums on seats. I’m older than anyone else – I’ve seen the originals, I can provide the context. Critics used to be authorities. Now they’re just journalists. I’m the only one left.”

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    Retailers including Primark and Boohoo face questions over impact of fast fashion

    Major high street names including Primark, Boohoo and Missguided have come under fire for fuelling a throwaway fast fashion culture that has been linked to the exploitation of low-paid workers in UK factories.

    Britons buy more new clothes than any other country in Europe and MPs are looking at the environmental and human cost of £2 and £200 T-shirts amid growing concerns the multibillion-pound fashion industry is wasting valuable resources and contributing to climate change.

    Related: Ten ways to make fashion greener

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    Residents insulted by red, sad-face emoji placed on rubbish bins in botched campaign

    Peterborough city council has apologised for offending residents after thousands of stickers reading “waster” were put on bins as part of a recycling campaign.

    Dozens of households said they were insulted by the stickers depicting a red sad-face emoji on their black wheelie bins.

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    Brighton and Hove’s first ever reuse manager, Cat Fletcher, says there’s nothing hippyish about repurposing second-hand scrap

    Many people think waste is smelly, rotten and useless. But Cat Fletcher, the self-styled “resource goddess”, doesn’t see it that way. In fact, she’s keen to get her hands on it. “To me there’s no such thing as waste – there’s just stuff in the wrong place,” she says. Fletcher, who runs several reuse programmes in Brighton and whose own home has “absolutely nothing new in it”, says we all need to reuse old things. And she says every business and council should employ someone like her to help them do it.

    Fletcher, 55, founded Freegle UK, where thousands of people give their old things away online. “It’s a lovely social activity,” she says. For example, if you’re giving away a tennis racquet you might meet someone else who plays tennis. She also built the award-winning Waste House, along with architect Duncan Baker-Brown, on the University of Brighton’s campus in 2014. The house is filled with repurposed rubbish, such as old duvets, cut-off jeans and CDs. And it looks surprisingly stylish, too.

    Related: The UK's green discoveries: plastic-eating enzymes and seawater biofuels

    Related: The clothing industry harms the planet. What can fashion students do?

    Wear your broken umbrellas. “Fast fashion is so last century,” Fletcher says. Instead of buying a cheap T-shirt, which exploits cheap or free labour and damages the environment, Fletcher says we should “look at waste as a resource and think about how you can re-apply that material”. For example, she has used broken umbrellas as fabric for dresses.

    Make tables and chairs out of videotapes. “You just glue them together and make the shapes you want. Tapes have quite a lot of structural strength. There’s different plastics inside a video tape and there’s often some metal in there.”

    Upcycle your plastic bottles. The equivalent of a truckload of plastic enters our oceans every single minute. As well as recycling, there are lots of ways to reuse bottles. From making colourful sculptures, to collecting lids and using them to decorate, or even making Christmas trees and wreaths.

    Grow strawberries in an old toilet. “They’re perfect because they stop them from hanging too close to the soil. If you grow strawberries in the toilet they naturally grow outside the seat,” she says. She has also turned old filing cabinets into plant boxes take out the doors and put it on its back, Fletcher says. “Line it with plastic, fill it with soil and it makes a great planter.”

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    Rail operator said ‘safety aspect’ was involved in giving those on board disposable cups

    A rail operator has done a U-turn and agreed to let passengers use their own reusable cups for hot drinks bought on board its trains after criticism by environmental campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

    South Western Railway changed its policy after the chef complained on Twitter during a journey that buffet car staff – employed by catering company Rail Gourmet– had “refused” to pour tea into his refillable cup.

    Rail Gourmet on @SW_Railway just refused to make me a cup of tea in my keep cup - saying it’s company policy to use the cups provided. I’ve asked on many other trains (inc Great Western and Cross Country) and this is the first time I’ve been refused. ☹️ #WasteNot#WaronWastepic.twitter.com/vKoPdwbYeN

    Related: Reusable coffee cups are just a drop in the ocean for efforts to save our seas

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

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    More than 8bn Tetra Paks are sold every year in Vietnam – and only a few percent are recycled. It’s having a devastating effect on the environment

    It takes 45 minutes to pick up all the milk cartons that have washed up on Long Hai beach overnight. “I feel like all I do is collect them,” says Nguyen Thi Ngoc Tham, gesturing towards the quiet length of sand that fronts her beach house in the south of Vietnam. “I fill about three or four bags every morning, but then there will be a big wave, and when I look back over my shoulder the sand is covered again.”

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    Snack maker will install collection points across UK as well as free courier service

    Walkers has said a scheme to recycle its plastic crisp packets is not a publicity stunt but a genuine attempt to address environmental concerns.

    The company launched the initiative after a social media campaign titled #PacketInWalkers urged the company to make its packaging recyclable. Consumers published pictures of themselves online posting empty crisp packets addressed to Walkers, forcing Royal Mail to urge protesters to put the packets in an envelope before posting them.

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    Government strategy to make ‘polluter pay’, with penalties for difficult to recycle items

    Retailers and producers of packaging will be forced to pay the full cost of collecting and recycling it under the government’s new waste strategy.

    Supermarkets and other retailers could be charged penalties for putting difficult to recycle packaging – such as black plastic trays – on the market as part of the strategy, which aims to make the “polluter pay”. They would be charged lower fees for packaging that was easy to reuse or recycle.

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