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