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

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    Making producers of plastic rubbish pay for it is sensible but the government needs to go further, faster

    The prioritising of plastic packaging in the government’s new waste strategy for England is sensible. Forcing producers to take responsibility for the rubbish they create is the right approach. Combined with measures including a deposit return scheme covering bottles, cans and coffee cups, a plan to reduce the confusing variation in services offered by councils, and a new focus on food and garden waste, at last this is a set of proposals that treats the UK’s waste problem seriously. The current system for dealing with packaging, which charges producers for just 10% of the cost of disposal or recycling, has failed. Businesses are sure to push back hard against proposals to make them – rather than local authorities – bear the full cost of their destructive practices. But provided the government sticks to its plans, the nettle of plastic pollution, and endlessly proliferating packaging, will have been grasped.

    Recycling rates in England are stuck at around 45%, though Wales does much better at 57.3%. An EU target of 50% by 2020 is likely to be missed. European countries including Germany, Slovenia and Austria are far ahead. The lack of progress can’t all be blamed on politicians, although cuts to waste services won’t have helped. Other factors include changing lifestyles, and patterns of consumption in which pre-prepared and takeaway meals play a large part. Communication by public authorities and businesses has often been poor, though this is unsurprising when the message is so complicated (on a street that is also a local authority boundary, items recycled on one side of the road might not be on the other). Thankfully, revelations of fraud in the UK plastics recycling industry, combined with growing public awareness of the extent of ocean pollution, and its impact on wildlife, has focused minds. Things cannot go on as they are. Although environment secretary Michael Gove understands this, his plans do not go far enough. While disruption on a massive scale to supply chains and the wider economy is anticipated as a result of Brexit, the much more modest inconvenience that would be caused by strict new rules banning, say, black plastic and polystyrene – neither of which is currently economic to recycle – has been judged unmanageable. This is an opportunity missed. So is the lack of action on textiles, 300,000 tonnes of which go to landfill each year. So is the caution: while Scotland is set to implement its bottle deposit scheme in 2020, England must wait until 2023.

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    Jackie Jones says slumps in retail sales should be seen as a positive thing for the planet, and Patrick Cosgrove has a suggestion for how non-recyclable plastic can be converted into fuel or new plastic

    You warn of the fears of the wilting economy (More retail gloom as Asos warns on profits, 18 December), quite rightly the main concern at the moment being the loss of jobs. The loss of share value and company profits are also mentioned. But nowhere do you discuss this in the wider terms of climate change. If the downturn in the economy means that there is less consumerism, then that is a good thing for the planet. The only way we are going to tackle the rising temperature and the ensuing disastrous results is to live simpler lifestyles; this means consuming much less of everything and not being so dependent on a capitalist society where a drop in sales is seen as a disaster.

    It is sad that it has taken the mismanagement of this government to reduce consumerism; but more needs to be done with regard to education, enforcement and information about the effects of shipping produce all around the world. Until a drop in the retail market is seen as a benefit, there is no hope.
    Jackie Jones
    Brighton

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    With China refusing foreign waste under its new policy, countries are forced to handle their own plastic pollution

    As holiday shopping ramps up, so do the dizzying varieties of plastic packaging tossed in recycling bins. And while we wish a Christmas miracle would transform this old garbage into something new, the reality is the waste left over from the holiday shopping frenzy is more likely than ever to end up in a landfill or incinerator. Until January of this year, the United States and other Western countries were foisting their low-value plastic waste on to China, with little concern for the environmental degradation this caused. To protect its citizens from the burden of foreign pollution, in the beginning of this year, China refused to be the world’s dumping ground and effectively closed its doors to plastic waste imports.

    China’s new National Sword policy of refusing foreign waste has brought a long-overdue moment of reckoning for the recycling industry, and by proxy, for manufacturers. It’s clear recycling alone cannot come close to addressing the ballooning amounts of plastic waste piling up all over the country. Even before China’s waste ban took effect,only 9% of plastic in the US was actually recycled. No matter how diligently Americans sort their plastic waste, there is just too much of it for the US, or any other country, to handle.

    Related: Plastic pollution discovered at deepest point of ocean

    Producers should focus on preventing plastic from being made in such large quantities

    Related: Packaging producers to pay full recycling costs under waste scheme

    Monica Wilson is policy and research coordinator and the associate director of the Global Alliance for Incinerators Alternatives (Gaia)

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    Throwaway garments contribute more to climate change than air and sea travel. Now clothing retailers are bracing for a backlash

    Fashion shoppers spent about £3.5bn on Christmas party clothing this year – but 8 million of those sparkly items will be on their way to landfill after just one wear.

    So-called fast fashion has ushered throwaway culture into the clothing business, with items so cheap they have become single-use purchases.

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    ‘Reverse vending machines’ receive 311,500 bottles to date, says supermarket Iceland

    Shoppers have received the equivalent of more than £30,000 in total for recycling plastic bottles in the first supermarket trial using “reverse vending machines” installed to reduce littering.

    The machines, introduced last year by the Iceland chain at five UK sites, reward consumers with a voucher worth 10p for every deposit of a bottle purchased at the shops.

    Related: Bottle and can deposit return scheme gets green light in England

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    Workers known as guajeros descend daily to search for recyclable items at one of the biggest rubbish dumps in Guatemala City. Hundreds carry out the work, which is dangerous due to mudslides and collapses but can earn them nearly twice the minimum daily wage

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    Green party MP presses Veolia to accept more plastic waste

    The recycling company Veolia has been accused of refusing to adapt a 30-year contract to allow Brighton and Hove council to collect more plastic waste as local authorities struggle to meet a national target of 50%.

    Caroline Lucas, the Green party MP for Brighton Pavilion, said the company had refused requests to change the contract. As a result, attempts by the city to increase the collection of plastic waste had failed.

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    We would like your help exploring how different local authorities and contractors deal with domestic recycling collections

    A row over recycling in Green MP Caroline Lucas’s constituency of Brighton Pavilion has highlighted issues authorities face carrying out and communicating environmental policies.

    Related: Plastic bottle deposit scheme in UK proving hit with shoppers

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    The change aims to reduce plastic waste, following readers’ feedback

    The Guardian’s print edition will no longer be sold in plastic packaging, becoming the first national newspaper to switch to biodegradable wrapping.

    The Saturday edition of the paper contains a large number of supplements which are currently packaged in polythene to meet the demands of retailers and ensure they reach readers.

    Related: Supporting the Guardian: how to make the most of our website and app

    Related: First they came for the journalists: why a free, independent press is critical in 2019

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    Quads, courts and Englishmen | Maggots in medicine | Gout | Compostable packaging | Glass half full | Guardian readers’ longevity

    In his review of Michael Peppiatt’s The Existential Englishman: Paris Among the Artists (Review, 12 January), Steven Poole states that “an Englishman ought to know that Cambridge does not have quadrangles (they are courts)”. I didn’t know that. But then perhaps I’m not the type of Englishman Steven Poole has in mind.
    Michael Coverson
    Nottingham

    • When I was nursing in Manchester in 1956, we successfully treated a patient with severe osteomyelitis with maggots, revealing a nice white femur (Maggots to be sent as aid to help heal Syrians’ war wounds, 11 January). He was soon walking with crutches and discharged home.
    Enid Braddock
    Horbury, West Yorkshire

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    Wearers of any brand of soft lens can now have them collected or drop them off at recycling bins

    The UK’s first free national recycling scheme for plastic contact lenses – worn by an estimated 3.7 million people – is being rolled out this week.

    Wearers of any brand of soft lens will have the option of either having their discarded items and packaging collected or dropping them off at a network of recycling bins at Boots Opticians and selected independent stores.

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    Firm to phase out all non-recyclable or hard to recycle plastic for all its products

    The food and drink multinational Nestlé has stepped up its effort to reduce its use of plastics, rolling out plastic-free packaging across several products and pledging to phase out plastic Smarties tube tops.

    Nestlé has pledged to phase out all plastics that are not recyclable or are hard to recycle for all its products worldwide between 2020 and 2025. In the UK, its focus will be on recycling and increasing recycled PET content.

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    Greenpeace sceptical about corporate polluters as alliance launched to reduce waste

    The scourge of plastic waste in the world’s oceans is the target of a new global alliance of businesses which says it will try to reduce the amount of plastic waste produced and improve recycling.

    The Alliance to End Plastic Waste, launched on Wednesday, includes companies producing consumer goods and plastic, as well as waste management and recycling firms. Among more than 25 companies joining the effort are household names such as Procter & Gamble, Shell, BASF and ExxonMobil.

    Related: Great Pacific garbage patch $20m cleanup fails to collect plastic

    Related: Indonesia: dead whale had 1,000 pieces of plastic in stomach

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