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

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    Reducing your domestic waste is easier than you think. We're challenging you to reuse or recycle everything you can for a week - instead of popping it into the bin.

    Challenge three in our series is all about helping you to cut your waste at home.

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    This month we're looking at recycling, reducing, reusing and (the lesser known fourth R) refusing. Tell us what you want to know and we'll find out

    Over the last few years most of us have done a pretty good job of reducing the amount we put in the bin. According to Defra figures, household waste has fallen 12% since 2006.

    The amount we recycle has risen from 11% in 2001 to an impressive 43.2% in 2012-12. Local authorities have managed to nearly halve the stuff they're sending to landfill it's fallen by 44% since 2001 and was down to 14m tonnes in 2012-3.

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    Without the luxury of municipal collections household and business waste is a serious health problem in the Gambia: one group is turning it into a opportunity

    Waste and resources in the UK has now evolved into a mature industry employing thousands, turning over billions of pounds, encompassing numerous disciplines and recognised as a vital component of a future circular economy. But what was it like 40 or so years ago when recycling and reuse was something promoted by a few lone voices against a majority that saw nothing wrong with landfilling most of our waste, where littering was more acceptable?

    I have recently returned from a trip to the west African states of the Gambia where I spent some time with Isatou Ceesay, founder of a revolutionary community recycling project, the Njau Recycling and Income Generation Group (NRIGG). And, as in the UK in the 1970s and 1980s, it is community-based groups leading the way. Few parts of the country receive a municipal waste collection service, let alone a recycling service, so it is up to communities to remedy this.

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    As part of our Live Better Challenge, we invited a group of London schoolchildren to take part in workshops on food waste, energy consumption and recycling organised by the eco charity for young people Global Generation. They have created pieces using left over materials in order to learn more about recycling Continue reading...

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    Jen Gale on the inspiration and challenges behind her mission to repair and create rather than buy new for 12 months

    What inspired you to start writing My Make Do and Mend Year?

    I remember reading an article in a magazine about Suzy Prince, who went on a second-hand safari in May 2012, and I thought about doing a similar thing. It was a bit of a lightbulb moment and I wondered if we could do it as a family. My eldest, William, was three years old at the time and as toddlers do, he was always nagging us for new things so I wanted to see if we could counter that a little bit.

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    Dark, rich, crumbly and nourishing, compost leaves nothing to waste. It's time to let the rot set in during International Compost Awareness week

    What do you want to know about composting? Put your questions in now and join Wednesday's live chat here

    My mother had some funny habits as far as composting was concerned. She ran a small free-range egg business so there was plenty of chicken manure and, for that matter, chickens.

    The deep freezer often had a dead chicken, sometimes many, at the bottom. Not for eating, mind, these were old birds saved for when a plant needed to be moved or something new to established, she would head to the freezer, pull out a dead bird, dig a big hole, put the birds at the bottom and the plant on top.

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    Three British companies have developed a system that means components can easily be separated by hot water

    Three British companies have developed a 90% recyclable and reusable circuit board, whose components can be easily separated by soaking in hot water. Funded by the UK government's Technology Strategy Board with a view to help industry conform to European electronic waste regulation, the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), In2Tec and Gwent Electronic Materials have devised an adhesive that helps manufacturers take apart electronic circuit boards and reuse their components to make new components. They call it ReUse Reusable, Unzippable, Sustainable Electronics.

    "What happens to end of life electronics is one of the fastest growing waste streams," says Chris Hunt, head of the Electronics Interconnection Team at NPL. "Existing electronic circuit assemblies are based on reinforced epoxy glass systems and solder. A circuit board itself is a significant part of a final product but it's made with a thermoset of glass that isn't easily recyclable.

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    Kate Armstrong aka Polytheen Pam explains the material origin and recycling mission of her Huddersfield-based blog

    Why did you start writing Plastic is Rubbish?

    One day, I noticed a plastic bag in a tree outside my house. It was too high up, I couldn't get it down. So it was there forever, just looking worse and worse. From there, I just started to notice plastic waste more and more, and how it seems to be increasing so dramatically. What were once beautiful beaches now look like open landfill.

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    Our composting live chat was piled high with fascinating facts: see our summary from layers to wormeries and handy hair

    If your space is limited and you only produce low quantities of waste material, think about starting a wormery.

    You just need to keep a good balance of veg material and ripped up cardboard. Worms don't like lots of onions, citrus or chillies though. You'll get great worm compost and the nutritious "tea" and some pets to look after, they will increase in number if all is well. (Carl Legge)

    Once it's ready you then transfer it to your existing compost bin and hey presto, you can put food waste in your regular compost. It even helps to speed up the composting process. (Jonathan Adler)

    If you've heaps of leaves a full-size or mini single-use builder bag does a good job. Fill it with moist/wet leaves, then lash the handles together and forget for 12-18 months. You get to use every scrap of leaf mould this way. (John Walker)

    If you hide your compost far away in a damp, dank, dark area, you are less likely to use it and attend to it. Well managed compost arrangements are less likely to attract vermin because you are often there doing things and moving the compost. (Carl Legge)

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    Aren't they expensive, complicated, smelly and lots of hassle? One mother loves using cloth nappies, and explains why

    When people see that my small boy is wearing a cloth nappy, the questions they ask are: Arent they a hassle? Dont they make life more complicated? How do you wash them? Why are you using those, when disposable nappies are so much easier? Arent they expensive? This is an attempt to answer some of those questions.

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    Many of us have good intentions, but have you managed to save energy or cut down on waste at home in the last year? Continue reading...

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    Today's designers are increasingly seeing waste as an opportunity. Here we showcase some of the UK's best alchemists turning lead into gold.

    Read more: Why adhocism is the best kind of recycling

    Feeling inspired? Show us your best upcycled creations for the change to win a Panasonic Lumix TZ40 camera Continue reading...

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    Recycling can be a downward spiral, but upcycled, repurposed design transforms rubbish into something more valuable

    Recycling makes people feel good. We see those three arrows chasing each other and we like to believe that our garbage is part of a virtuous circle of production where a milk jug comes back as a milk jug. After all, the prefix re means again and implies that it is being used for the same purpose.

    In fact most of the time it is being what architect Bill McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart call downcycled, turned into a product of lower value. Recycling is not a virtuous circle; its a downward spiral. It should really be considered a poor third choice after reducing and reusing. There is also a fourth option that is seriously gaining ground, and thats repurposing.

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    Design partnership Elvis & Kresse explain how they created desirable bags and belts from London Fire Brigades waste

    Kresse Wesling: Id always been really interested in the environment, so back in 2004 I went along to do an ISO 14001 course. Which was great in many ways you learn how to audit absolutely everything but was also really really tedious. There were a couple of guys from the London Fire Brigade along too and we all sat together in the back row, cracking jokes, that sort of thing. And it turned that theyd come along because they were trying to solve a few environmental problems. And one of them was that they had all these firehoses they were having to put into landfill and they just couldnt find any other use for it.

    Basically if theres a hole in firehose which cant be fixed then you cant just cut it in half and use it anyway. A firehose has to be long so that you can reach the fire. And part of the hose was also just coming to the end of its 30-year lifespan. I went to visit them at work, and they had tonnes and tonnes of this beautiful, heroic material that was just going into landfill. I made a promise to them right then, that Id come up with a way to use it and Id give half the profits back to them. Theyve told me since they thought at the time that it was all hysterically funny and never really expected to hear from me again. But actually its ended being their longest-running, most successful recycling partnership.

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    Tell us about any steps, big or small, you've made. Cut down on plastic? Brought sandwiches to work? How easy or hard is it?

    Simple and savvy!

    One small thing - my partner hates paper tissues and talked me into buying real hankies about 10 years ago (I get organic ones from Organic Ally) so I've not bought paper tissues since then. They're softer than the paper ones and they go in with the normal wash.

    Katherine's Waste Diary - Day 4

    I feel like Ive failed today. A combination of a busy week, not having time to buy groceries and waking up with a migraine meant that I scrambled my breakfast and lunch together from the Pret-a-manger down the road. Again. (Theyre getting some really good business out of me at the moment.) I picked up a croissant, a cup of coffee, a sandwich and a banana. The banana didnt actually cause any waste problems, mostly because I gave it to Bibi in exchange for an apple, but Im sure the banana skin went into the food waste bin, like my apple core. The paper part of the coffee cup I washed out and recycled, but Im left wondering about the lid. Can I take these to Lush? Im also left with the polythene wrapper from my sandwich and a strange plastic sheet that came around my croissant. Not a good day. Although I did use up some cheese, half an onion and a couple of eggs to make an omelette for dinner. Deliciously simple, and simply delicious.

    My window boxes have attracted a certain amount of attention already ...

    These two are most certainly interested in the new window boxes. Just stay off the chilli plant, Cato! pic.twitter.com/soOT5TnNas

    Peter: OK, why not? I'm joining too. Of course I like to make out I have a rock'n'roll lifestyle but I also cycle everywhere and a new hobby that's got me excited - window boxes. Blimey it'll be bowling greens and knitting next. I've got various herbs growing now and a chilli plant. Anyone like to recommend some salad plants that are easy to grow?

    Beautiful day. With new window boxes my plan: to be self-sufficient in herbs and salad inc a chilli plant. Hot stuff! pic.twitter.com/0RLVpGYXrx

    Katherine's Waste Diary - Day 3

    Today has been a mixed bag in terms of green behaviour. I was at home over the Bank Holiday weekend so clambered up into the loft to root through all my old university junk, retrieving a couple of pieces of tupperware and my old vacuum flask that I used to take everywhere. I filled it with coffee this morning before I left for work - saving money and the environment. Not even a jibe from our Production Editor about "going off to the allotment" could put a dent in my pride. I ate lunch from the canteen off a plate but my two packets of pre-cut fruit (they were on offer) have left me in a bind. Can I recycle these? There are no indications on the packaging.

    And here's the coffee flask Katherine's started to bring in to cut down on those pesky plastic coffee cup lids: pic.twitter.com/IF3WspDoRe

    Katherine's Waste Diary - Day 2

    Keen to avoid the same waste-creating mistakes as yesterday, I took a mug down to the canteen this morning for my morning coffee. No non-recyclable plastic lids here. My mother is in London for the weekend so I met her for lunch near the office, and gladly off-set my waste worries onto the restaurant. Thankfully, the restaurant gave us our food on real plates but I did wonder about our paper napkins can you recycle those after theyve been used?

    From energy saving to food waste to reduce, reuse recycle, we don't just want to hear how you're on specific Live Better challenges - tell us about any improvements you've made at home, on your journeys, or at work. Some people have started growing salad, others are bringing sandwiches to work, or you may have simply changed the type of shopping bag you use. It all helps. Tell us what you've done. Whatever you've done, or intend to do, it's also enjoyable to share your achievements and together build up a collective picture.

    Bibi: Every year I plead with one of my neighbours to give me his posh discarded wine boxes they make the most beautiful planters. My middle son had a brilliant time knocking holes in the bottom for drainage, and the tomato plants are now in. I worry a little that it may not be deep enough but I've grown lovely tomatoes in fairly shallow boxes before.

    Katherine's Waste Diary - Day 1

    Most mornings I grab a coffee from the canteen after I arrive at the office and by the end of the week my desk has a fair few coffee cups paper ones with a plastic lid - dotted around it. I always wash these out and pop them in the recycling bin, even though I never really checked to see if the plastic lid was recyclable. After a quick internet search it turns out that the lids are made from polystyrene, which is "not generally recycled in the UK". Drat - that's a lot of recycling bags I've contaminated, and now I have a coffee lid as the first item in my very own "pile of shame".

    We've been trying to achieve #zerowaste in the office. Here's what Katherine's amassed since Monday. pic.twitter.com/gDLzC8WgiF

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    This short animation shows how you can recycle and upcycle a plastic bottle instead of throwing it away and the benefits you can achieve for the environment. It's part of our Live Better campaign, which this month focuses on recycling and upcycling converting waste materials into something new Continue reading...

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    The art of repairing clothes was being lost, but with half a million taking up sewing in the last year, a whole new generation is picking up the thread

    Start reading our How to Mend series with How to Mend ... a button

    When Make Do & Mend (we make things and mend things, says Pippa Bray, the shop's owner) opened its doors in 2002, they had expected to be reasonably busy. That turned out to be an understatement. They werent just busy, they were inundated, getting busier all the time. And then the economic crisis arrived and business went through the roof.

    When the recession hit, people became more conscious of cost and started valuing their clothes more. We do a lot of replacing zips, taking up hems, altering old clothes to fit, says Bray. The shop, in St Day in Cornwall, now employs 12 people, and turns out a constant supply of fixed pockets, patched jeans, relined jackets, and taken up hems. While the small jobs are the bread and butter of the business, they have also on request expanded into upholstery, marine-ware (such as boat covers and cushions), and even academic gowns for university graduates.

    According to Pippa, its a huge growth industry but there are not enough skilled people. Im always being asked to show people how to put in a zip or patch jeans. Its just not taught anywhere any more. Good clothes are like old friends and its nice to see when people dont have to throw away a jacket or something theyve had for 20 years.

    Making or altering clothes may seem like a humble pursuit. But research by the Craft & Hobby Trade Association (CHA-UK) shows that the entire crafting industry (which also includes knitting, cake decorating, painting and other handycrafts) is worth a whopping £3.1bn to the UK economy. It is also, as if from nowhere, wildly popular. About 3.5 million people in the UK are involved in making their own clothes with a sewing machine according to CHA-UK, and of that number 433,000 only started sewing in the last 12 months.

    The last few years have been epic for the industry, says Fiona Pullen, founder of the Sewing Directory and described by some as the godmother of the sewing world. She thinks the economic crisis has driven people towards a more Make Do & Mend mentality, and growing environmental awareness is making people more conscious of where their clothes come from. People are trying to be less disposable. They would rather buy something quality and keep repairing it. The Great British Sewing Bee helped a lot [John Lewis has seen a 22% increase in sewing machine sales since the show ran last year] but shows like that simply piggy back on existing trends. It was already happening.

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  • 05/20/14--02:16: How to mend a bike puncture
  • Don't throw away your inner tube extend its use and save money by following these step-by-step instructions

    Tomorrow: How to mend a dripping tap

    You will need:

    a basic patch repair kit, including:
    tyre levers
    fine sandpaper or emery board
    rubber solution
    patch
    bike pump

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    Thriving eco energy firm founder Juliet Davenport on power through profit and growing prospects of challenging the Big Six

    When you look at markets, the best thing is not to know what you know now. Because otherwise you just wouldnt do it. If you knew everything, you would never make a decision.

    Juliet Davenport set herself a simple but gargantuan task: to supply customers with renewably sourced energy. Her company, Good Energy, is one of a very few companies who do this Co-op is another, Ecotricity is the one my mum uses, but the strides these companies have made between them are incredible. Davenport herself is a fascinating mix of hard-boiled analysis and lavish optimism, not so much feel the fear but do it anyway as finely calibrate the fear with mathematical modelling, map the fear in a number of different scenarios, then still do it anyway.

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    Financial incentives, drinking fountains, food redistribution and reused furniture can reduce rubbish and recycling woes

    How are we going to crack waste? Emily Barrs zero-waste week has been a graphic illustration of how individuals can dramatically reduce the amount of non-recyclable waste we produce if were prepared to put in the effort. Recycling, composting and energy from waste are all ways of dealing with the problem once it has arisen. But its better to prevent waste in the first place, and that needs action by businesses and governments. Here are five ideas to help cut waste off at source.

    The first, and most controversial, is important because it makes any other effort at waste prevention more effective. The coalitions Localism Act took away councils powers to charge residents for the weight of rubbish they produce. A pay as you throw (PAYT) switches waste from a fixed charge to a metered service like electricity or gas, saving money for those who waste less or recycle more. Examples from across Europe show that well-designed PAYT schemes can cut household waste by 10% because they provide a direct incentive to householders and therefore save councils money.

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