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

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    At Agbogbloshie, young people scavenge for scrap metal amid the smoke from plastics fires. The health risks are obvious but the money is too good to ignore

    The orange flesh of a papaya is like an oval gash in the landscape at Agbogbloshie, Ghana's vast dumping site for electronic waste, where everything is smeared and stained with mucky hues of brown and sooty black. A woman kneels among the carcasses of discarded computer monitors, scooping the fruit's flesh for workers hungry from a morning's work scavenging to eat.

    If the appliances at Agbogbloshie were not being dismantled plucked of their tiny nuggets of copper and aluminium some of them could almost be technology antiques. Old VHS players, cassette recorders, sewing machines, computers from the 1980s and every period since lie haphazardly on large mounds in the dump, which stretches as far as the eye can see.


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    Millions of tonnes of old electronic goods illegally exported to developing countries, as people dump luxury items

    Millions of mobile phones, laptops, tablets, toys, digital cameras and other electronic devices bought this Christmas are destined to create a flood of dangerous "e-waste" that is being dumped illegally in developing countries, the UN has warned.

    The global volume of electronic waste is expected to grow by 33% in the next four years, when it will weigh the equivalent of eight of the great Egyptian pyramids, according to the UN's Step initiative, which was set up to tackle the world's growing e-waste crisis. Last year nearly 50m tonnes of e-waste was generated worldwide or about 7kg for every person on the planet. These are electronic goods made up of hundreds of different materials and containing toxic substances such as lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic and flame retardants. An old-style CRT computer screen can contain up to 3kg of lead, for example.


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    Yes, it is possible to make a beautiful table for less than £50. It all starts with salvaged planks. Let the restoration begin...

    Watch and learn with Sophie as she builds her table
    Five of the best reclamation yards to get you started

    I can pinpoint exactly when I decided to learn woodwork. I had gone on the website of a certain Scandi superstore and ordered far too many shelving units late at night, and then found myself surrounded by flatpacks for a month. Not that this had left me in flatpack hell - in fact it was flatpack heaven, digging my toolbox out and remembering the joy of making things. It's just that all you really do with those kits is shove some dowel into pre-formatted holes in fibreboard, bang about a bit, and curse the dude in the instructions who looks like Morph. I wondered why I was still buying furniture made this way. Especially given that it's no longer all that cheap.

    And so it was that I looked up woodwork courses and found the Goodlife Centre, which filled me with hope that an amateur like me could make something real a long, wooden kitchen table where Jesus might host a few disciples, to be precise.


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  • 03/26/14--10:20: Q&A: Recycling
  • How does recycling work and should we really bother?

    What is recycling?

    The recycling process involves waste materials being collected, sorted and made into new products and materials. The recycled product will often be the same thing it was before (a glass wine bottle, for example) but can also be "downcycled" into a new product or material (glass can be ground with other materials to make road surfacing).


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    Each week we put a different green app or gadget through its paces. This week we're looking at a cardboard radio and iPod speaker. So, how does this cardboard creation stack up?

    A portable radio made of recycled (and recyclable) cardboard, with a port to plug in your iPod complete with a retro aerial. You can find it in many places on the web: it's on Amazon, Tesco, in green shops like Nigel's Eco Store, or you could procure it straight from its charmingly-named gift brand Suck UK.

    Online reviewers were pretty pleased with it (names changed)
    "The quality of the sound is very good for such a simple item and I think it can go really loud too, I haven't had it up all the way as no need! I would say that I haven't been able to tune in the radio and get a station without a fuzzy sound. I will persevere with it." Trooper, UK


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    Better links between designers, manufacturers and recyclers are needed to stem the tide of electronic junk

    The developing world is becoming the west's digital dumping ground. Every year around 50m tonnes of unwanted electronic devices make their way to vast e-waste dumps in Guiyu in China and Agbogbloshie in Ghana often illegally.

    Some of them will be repaired and resold. Others will be broken into their components, at considerable expense to the environment and people's health, and sold as raw materials to manufacturers. Yet more will be left as piles of toxic litter.


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    What's the latest thinking on behaviour change in the home? How can we encourage people turn off the lights, waste less food or recycle? Explore insights from science to business - and then ask the panel a question

    Join the debate:What do you want to discuss in our live chat: April 8, 1-2pm BST
    Vote now:Which sustainable habits are hardest to do?

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    Do you struggle to cut your shower? Recycle? Eat less meat? Vote for your biggest challenge, and join our behaviour change live chat on 8 April at 1pm BST

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    Do you find it easy to follow a sustainable lifestyle? Why is behaviour change so complicated? Join seven experts on 8 April from 1-2pm BST to discuss the freshest insight on the topic

    Do you switch off every light? Plan each meal to avoid food waste? Keep your hot showers short even on cold winter mornings?

    Few of us can claim to be a sustainability saint, and yet we know these changes are important to make. So why are they so hard to do in our everyday lives? Tackling human behaviour change goes to the heart of the global and local questions about whether, and how, we can live on our beleaguered planet in a more sustainable way.


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    How do we create better habits for ourselves and the planet? Catch up on highlights from our expert and reader debate

    Explore the experts and full behaviour change debate.

    ""We're not as rational as we would like to think. More information is not the answer" opened GreeNudge and CICERO's Steffen Kallbekken. Unilever's Richard L Wright added "Successful communication requires a very high level of engagement - making it expensive. We need cleverer, more cost-effective ways to engage people." To illustrate this, Sainsbury's Sarah Ellis reminded us: "Customers can spend as little as 6 seconds making a decision at the shelf."

    "We have to identify behaviours we'd like to see, then arrange rewarding environments - or disincentives for undesirable behaviours...If it's not practical to make permanent changes to the environment, or if the effects wear off as we habituate to their presence in our environment, then we may not see long term impact

    "For example, the environmental impact of carrier bag charging is in many ways debatable. However, the change pushes reuse and environmental impact to front of mind, raises awareness and reminds at every checkout. This wider impact and the creation of a new social norm have yet to be quantified but achievable change in incremental steps is crucial. (Carl Hughes)

    "People need at least seven portions, but there was an understanding that this would be unachievable by most. It therefore made sense to encourage five on the basis that this would have a positive, albeit lesser effect."

    If the motivation is extrinsic (eg: monetary) the change is unlikely to be sustained once the incentive's removed, and also unlikely to be transferred to other domains of behaviour. If the motivation is intrinsic (eg: value-based) the behavioural change is much more likely to be sustained over time (Steffen Kallbekken)

    Explicit pro-environment and sustainability attitudes have little predictive value in terms of behaviour. This is not specific to sustainability our habits, impulses, and desire for comfort and convenience have trouble competing with even our best intentions and dearly held beliefs. (Michelle Shiota)

    There is a broad societal desire to become more sustainable, less wasteful and more efficient, however there are barriers to this becoming a reality. First, not everyone shares these desires. Second, those who do may not actually behave in accordance with these desires - the Value-Action gap. (Carl Hughes)

    When faced with a £30 two hour flight or a £100 six hour train, I will often fly even though I know I shouldn't. And that probably offsets everything else 'good' that I do.

    In reality it varies, some things stick after you've done them twice, because they just make sense (less water in your kettle), others take more persistence (smoking). At The DoNation, all pledges are set to two months, if users succeed, 81% of them continue for the long term (Hermione Taylor)


    ...leveraging the natural human motives to play, compete, test ourselves, earn rewards, and take care of our loved ones

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    Customers will be able to recycle all elements of discarded Easter eggs packaging in the first facility of its kind

    Sainsbury's is to become the first UK retailer to offer customers a dedicated recycling facility in store for all their Easter egg packaging, as part of its drive to cut the amount of household waste still going into landfill.

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    The tops on our milk bottles are changing colour and the reason may surprise you

    If you have a suspicion that supermarkets have been subtly changing the colours of milk bottle tops, then you are a more observant person that I am, and you are right. The green colour of the semi-skimmed milk bottle tops has become an issue for materials engineers over the past few years, and it is they who have been putting pressure on the supermarkets to change it. The reason is not that they want the colour to better reflect the green meadow grass that cows eat, nor is it that they have discovered a shade that makes the milk taste creamier; no, it is because the green pigment of semi-skimmed milk bottle tops affects the ability of the plastic to be recycled.

    High density polyethylene (HDPE) has replaced glass for milk bottles because it is much tougher and lighter than glass, which radically cuts the energy costs of transportation, while also being less prone to breakage. This is all good but there is more: because HDPE is a plastic it can be made into complex bottle shapes, yielding a hollow handle which is better for grip, and a thin pouring lip, which means less drip. The rectangular cross-section of HDPE milk bottles enables them to be stacked efficiently, allowing more milk to be put into a lorry or a fridge door, further increasing utility and their general pleasingness. In other words, the modern HDPE milk bottle is close to being a design classic. And it would be but for the problem with the colour of its lid.

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    Oliver Wainwright visits the International Building Exhibition (IBA), a six-year experiment to build a zero-carbon extension to Hamburg in northern Germany. The project is home to all kinds of Passivhaus buildings, solid timber construction, the recycling of greywater, and even a building with a bubbling bio-reactive algae facade. Wainwright meets some of the key representatives of the project to examine a variety of different examples of eco architecture Continue reading...

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    Our expert panel have created a shortlist of 10 houses all in the running for the title of UK's best eco home. Between April 21 - 24, we're inviting you to vote for your favourite. Day five: The Pavilion, a modernist house based on Passivhaus principles in grounds of a grade II listed garden pavilion

    Read more:
    1. Marsh House in Nottingham
    2. Princedale road in London
    4. Hemp Cottage in County Down, Northern Ireland

    This modernist, detached house is tucked in the grounds of a grade II* listed garden pavilion in south east London. The original pavilion was designed in 1768 by William Chambers, the architect behind Somerset House and the Chinese pagoda at Kew Gardens. After two years of fastidious planning, the proposed project eventually won the support of English Heritage, the Georgian Group and the Blackheath Society. "The Pavilion is a completely environmental house, responding to its local and global context and climate," says Sam Cooper, director of E2 Architecture and Interiors, who built the house for his parents for a total cost of £980,000. "Like William Chambers' pagoda, it is a highly contemporary design at the forefront of modern construction and technical know-how and is built to last at least 200 years."

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    Our expert panel have created a shortlist of 10 houses all in the running for the title of UK's best eco home. Between 21-24 April, we're inviting you to vote for your favourite. Day six: Plummerswood, a Brettstapel structure on the Scottish borders

    Read more:
    1. Marsh House in Nottingham
    2. Princedale road in London
    4. Hemp Cottage in County Down, Northern Ireland

    Plummerswood stands on a weather-beaten slope overlooking the Tweed Valley. The owners of this £1.25m development, Ian and Ann Nimmo, bought the land from the Forestry Commission and enlisted the expertise of Gaia architects a firm with an "eco-minimalist" philosophy. The end result is a striking three-bedroom Brettstapel structure.

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    Karen Luckhurst is in the middle of a self-imposed 60-day ban on plastic wrapping.


    "This year, we'll be having homemade chocolates for Easter."

    No doubt there are some households where this statement would be greeted with clasped hands and shining eyes. But in mine it prompts a longsuffering groan that rattles the windows and startles the cat. The reason for such antipathy is that we are in the middle of a self-imposed 60-day ban on plastic wrapping a move that has brought about the absence of shop-bought sweets, crisps, biscuits and now Easter as we know it. For when it comes to superfluous plastic packaging, Easter eggs take the proverbial chocolate fondant filling.

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  • 04/16/14--11:05: Top 10 eco homes: Lammas
  • With the help of a panel of experts we've chosen 10 candidates for the UK's best eco home. Between 22-24 April, we'd like you to vote and choose your favourite. Day seven: Lammas

    Lammas ecovillage is a thriving example of low-impact rural development. "It is decidedly deep green," says Simon McWhirter, the director of Happiness Architecture Beauty.

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    Energy bills may be reduced by two-thirds with a variety of treated waste alternatives to stuff into your walls, floors and lofts

    Unsure what to do with that tatty old pair of curtains? How about stuffing it into the walls?

    Perhaps that's not as mad as it sounds: waste textiles old clothes, curtains, carpets are the latest materials to be developed into insulation to help save energy and lower utility bills.

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    Environmentalists said the 10 cents refund proposal was vital to tackling the amount of rubbish dropped throughout Australia


    A plan to make beer, wine and soft drink bottles refundable throughout Australia appears to be out of reach, with the states at odds over the 10 cents cash-for-containers scheme.

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    It's a growing interactive website on every subject you can think of, but how eco-conscious and useful has it become so far?

    One thing the internet has given us thats truly life-changing is crowdsourcing (and funny cat videos, obviously but for the purposes of this weeks column Ill focus on the crowdsourcing).

    Unless youre religious, the collective knowledge of people is the closest thing we have to omniscience at our fingertips. Its also a reminder of the helpfulness of folk Im always amazed and pleased that people bother to answer questions on forums, on anything from How do I resize a photo? to Is it OK to boil headphones? (a real question asked on Yahoo answers, and the responses were more thoughtful than you might imagine).

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