Friends of the Earth calls for weekly food waste collections

July 30, 2007 at 10:53 am

Leading environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth has called for local authorities to introduce weekly food waste collections as part of the government’s strategy to cut waste, increase recycling and tackle climate change. They say the move would help counter concerns about fortnightly rubbish collections.

Refuse collection hit the news again in the wake of a report from the House of Commons Communities and Local Government Committee. MPs described plans for financial incentive schemes to reward recycling as ‘complex and timid’. They also said that while alternate weekly collections of waste worked in some areas, they were problematic in cities and urban areas.

Members of the public have expressed concerns that storing leftover food for a fortnight leads to bad smells, maggots and vermin. National newspaper The Daily Mail is running a campaign to save weekly rubbish collections. Research to date has found no increased risk to public health linked to alternate weekly collections, but the Commons report called for wider investigation.

According to Friends of the Earth, food waste makes up around 20% of household waste. If collected separately, it can either be composted or used to produce renewable energy. Campaigners say that recycling and composting help us use the earth’s resources more efficiently and play a vital role in the fight against climate change.

Friends of the Earth want more to be done to cut waste all round, not just that coming from households. They are asking the Government to announce a date after which it would be illegal for companies to bury or burn anything that can be reused, recycled or composted.

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Recycling regulations could inadvertently hinder higher recycling rates

July 28, 2007 at 10:35 am

If you are looking to do your bit to help protect the environment, then recycling used items seems the logical way to start. Each year millions of tonnes of recyclable plastics, paper and glass are dumped into landfills worldwide. Many of these materials do not decompose quickly and when they do, they release toxic chemicals into the environment. However, government regulations and poor collection and sorting facilities often hinder communities from achieving higher recycling rates. This is rather paradoxical given that these regulations were often introduced in the hope that they would allow for greater transparency within the recycling industry.

However, as recent developments demonstrate, not all organisations are restricted in their activities by regulatory barriers. McDonalds recently decided to run its delivery vehicles on bio-diesel, proving that large firms are able to deal easily with the existing framework of regulations. This, however, is not usually the case when it comes to recycling on the household level. Even smaller co-operations often find recycling used materials difficult. In the light of this situation, the Better Regulation Commission has been examining the current regulation surrounding the use of bio-diesel. In meetings with authorities, representatives from the organization have recommended that the government ease controls on the conversion of used cooking oil to bio-diesel, so that more firms can follow the example of McDonald’s green initiative. According to the Commission, the regulators must act as “a champion of progress and enterprise, as well as being a protector”, rather than frequently acting to hinder progress.

Improving the regulatory environment is essential particularly as far as renewable fuels are concerned. As it stands, road transport fuel targets demand that 2.5% of vehicle fuel be obtained from renewable sources by April 2008. This amounts to approximately 500,000 tonnes of vegetable oil. It is hoped that the current target will be increased to 5% by 2010. Whilst the United Kingdom does manufacture some 2 million tones of rapeseed oil each year, it makes sense to satisfy at least part of the fuel target through the use of fast food restaurants’ waste cooking oil.

However, the current regulatory framework makes producing bio-diesel from used cooking oil difficult. Lorries carrying waste oil must be registered to transfer waste and must be in possession of a waste transfer note. In addition, the individual responsible for transporting the waste must carry out numerous checks on the material before passing it on to the recipient organization.Then there are the pollution regulations that firms need to be mindful of. As Rick Haythornthwaite, chair of the Better Regulation Commission notes, “Turning waste cooking oil into bio-diesel, even on a small scale, is covered by the pollution prevention and control regulations because the UK has interpreted the term “industrial scale” in the relevant European directive as “for commercial purposes.”

Whilst the need to monitor the operations of firms within the recycling sector is essential, it is necessary to achieve a balance between having sound controls and ensuring that regulations do not prevent progress. As it stands, the current regulatory framework fails to meet this basic requirement.

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The world’s first recyclable vehicle

July 26, 2007 at 3:28 am

The world’s first recyclable vehicle could be a step closer to becoming reality thanks to an agreement between Defra (the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), car manufacturer Ford, and Hemcore, the UK’s largest grower and processor of hemp.

The Government is putting £500,000 into the project to develop new materials from hemp, flax and willow fibres which will be used as substitutes for metals, glass fibre and oil based plastics in car manufacturing. Once mixed with polypropylene, the new material will be moulded to create components likely to include accelerators, brakes and clutches. It is hoped that it will eventually be used for body panels and larger car components. Early estimates suggest that it could eventually replace up to 100kg of other materials in an average sized car.

Because cannabis (the psychoactive drug rather than the plant genus) is a product of hemp, cultivation is strictly regulated. Hemcore has a licence to grow 3,000 hectares of industrial hemp, producing sufficient material for 60,000 cars. The fibres will be extracted at a factory in Essex. Hemp is already used in the production of clothes, paper and rope – its fibrous stalks are ideal for these products. Despite the fact that a “hemp car” would have low raw material and energy costs plus a low impact on the environment, Friends of the Earth is unimpressed. The charity feels that the government should be concentrating on trying to get cars off the road rather than investing in new technology to make them less damaging to the environment.

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Oxfordshire recycling rates hit all time high

July 26, 2007 at 3:18 am

A recent poll has revealed that Oxfordshire has taken the lead in the UK when it comes to recycling. Residents of the city of Oxford now recycle over 40% of all household waste. Last November, a new recycling scheme was introduced to deal with the county’s growing waste problem and local authorities have impressively succeeded in raising recycling rates to their current level within the space of just seven months. It is hoped that the current initiative will further bolster recycling efforts across the United Kingdom.

A few years ago Oxfordshire had a truly abysmal record when it came to recycling. The sector lacked investment: collection points were few in number, sorting facilities were poor and recycling plants were highly inefficient. Today, however, few counties surpass Oxfordshire in terms of recycling and rates here have exceeded all expectations. According to Oxford City Councillor Jean Fooks, current figures, whilst only reflecting recycling rates for the month of June, are indicative of a general trend.

According to Councillor Fooks, “In recent months we have witnessed a steady increase in recycling since the beginning of the year and to achieve 40 per cent so soon is great news. (This) demonstrates that the vast majority of Oxford residents have made good use of the new recycling services we have put in place.” Oxford City Council has asserted that over 11,000 tonnes of waste, otherwise destined for county landfills, have been recycled under the new initiative. In addition, “Council field officers and enforcement teams are out day by day…helping people to play as big a part in the scheme as they can.”

However, doubts have surfaced with regard to the viability of this program. Most skeptics of the initiative see the program as having little chance of success, pointing to Blackburn, where a similar scheme was eventually discarded due to poor implementation. At the moment, recyclable waste is collected from residents’ homes on a fortnightly basis. However, many residents believe that they would be able to recycle far larger quantities of waste if local councils reverted to a system of weekly collections.

In addition, there are fears that the aforementioned recycling figures as produced by the Oxford City Council have been exaggerated. Indeed, proponents of this view suggest that members of the public are unlikely to obtain accurate recycling figures until after the elections in May 2008. According to one activist, Eric Murray, it is likely that “There are no actual figures, only estimates. I do think that as we are suffering under this abhorrent scheme the residents should at least be able to rely on factual figures and not probable estimates.” Mr. Murray’s accusations have been challenged by members of the Oxford City Council who assert that “the recycling rate was calculated according to a formula specified by DEFRA and the Audit Commission.”

Further information about this initiative may be found on the website of the Oxfordshire County Council.

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Recycling roads

July 19, 2007 at 12:28 pm

We’ve all heard about recycling food, packaging and clothes, but recycling roads is not quite as common. Several roads in Hemel Hempstead are to be completely re-surfaced by recycling their old surfaces. Four roads have been targeted for much-needed improvement, as the existing road surface has become worn out. The top surface is taken up, processed and then placed back onto the same road that it came from. Research carried out by The Transport Research Lab (TRL) found that only 17% of the 70 million tonnes of construction and demolition waste generated annually is recycled. However, there is potential to increase this to in excess of 70%. Both local and central government are keen to promote more sustainable, environmentally friendly regimes of road construction, which will cut the demand on primary aggregates and the associated environmental impact that this brings. Recycling road waste will conserve resources, divert waste from landfill and also has several other benefits.

The process will cut the costs traditionally associated with laying a new road, due to the re-use of original material. Using this old material also has obvious environmental benefits. Furthermore, there will be a huge reduction in harmful emissions from the large lorries which are usually required to take away the old road-surface and subsequently bring in the new one.

Hemel Hempstead is not the first area to introduce such an environmentally friendly road laying scheme. The successful road recycling programmes initiated in Bishop’s Stortford, Harpenden and Ware last year encouraged authorities in Hemel Hempstead to adopt the scheme.

In recent years, the benefits of recycling roads have been at the forefront of environmental issues. There have been two series of workshops held by AggRegain, an information service dedicated to sustainable aggregates. These workshops retain a focus on increasing the specification, procurement and use of recycled aggregates – they were aimed specifically at local authority highway engineers, in order to encourage them and their contractors to adopt the environmentally friendly process.

If more local authorities can be encouraged to adopt the process of road recycling, a real difference can be made in the quest to help save the environment, whilst saving the taxpayer a considerable amount of money at the same time.

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Recycling plastic

July 19, 2007 at 12:22 pm

The UK as a whole generates a staggering two million tonnes of plastic waste each year, and sadly for the environment only seven percent is recycled. This is not down to a lack of desire from the public, but because of the difficulties in recycling plastics: there are so many different types of plastics that it is a labour intensive task to sort them all out. In addition, the high degree of contamination, especially with food, makes the recycled material less commercially valuable.

However, it is not all bad news. As plastics go, bottles are the easiest to recycle (being made predominantly of only three types of plastic) and 92% of local authorities provide some sort of recycling scheme for them. So far, a quarter of all the bottles in the UK are being recycled this year, twice the percentage for 2004. Last year 108,000 tonnes of plastic bottles were recycled according to Recoup, the plastics recycling body, saving around 162,000 tonnes of carbon. There have been calls from frustrated householders, however, to increase the kerbside collection of plastics. Only 60% of local authorities offer such collections, with the rest expecting the householder to take their bottles to a collection point. It seems that for one reason or another, our green credentials are put to the test when we have to take our plastics to a collection point with kerbside collection schemes being four times more effective.

Other plastic items such as margarine tubs are less easy to recycle because they are made from a blend of materials. Despite the difficulty however, there are thirty local authorities who offer recycling schemes for plastic items other than bottles.

The issue of plastic bags is currently a hot potato with all the major supermarkets competing to see who is “greenest”. Initiatives include the recycling of bags returned to the stores, jute bags for sale, reusable “bags for life”, “green points” awarded to customers who use their own bags and the use of recycled plastics in manufacturing the bags. Ireland introduced a tax on plastic bags in 2002 and has reported a 90% reduction in their use. The irony is that according to Defra, more people have been buying plastic bin liners, which are even more environmentally unfriendly, as a result of the tax. London’s mayor, Ken Livingstone, is pressing for some sort of tax to be levied on plastic bags or for the bags to be banned altogether. With the Government Office for London opposing the measures, however, they are unlikely to go ahead.

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Recycling is not enough: we must reduce consumption

July 19, 2007 at 12:11 pm

New research from The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) reveals that while recycling rates have risen, we must change our buying habits and attitudes to consumption to tackle the UK’s escalating waste problem.

The report Consumption: reducing, reusing and recycling warns that the benefits of recycling may be undermined by the sheer quantity of waste being generated. If household waste continues to rise by three per cent a year, the cost to the UK economy will be £3.2 billion and harmful methane emissions will double by 2020. The 300 million tonnes of waste produced in the UK each year does not even take account of the waste generated overseas in producing the goods we consume.

Proposals emerging from the report include:

  • Developing more “closed loop” systems, in which resources are recycled to go back to their original use; for example, returning composted food waste to the land as fertiliser.
  • Setting a “per capita” residual waste target to limit the amount of waste each of us produces and backing this up with variable charging of householders for waste collection services.
  • Using innovative producer responsibility agreements to reduce landfill and encourage the re-use and recycling of old products.

The report also argues that social science can make a valuable contribution to waste policy and recommends ‘social marketing’, which involves the use of commercial marketing techniques to influence attitudes and change behaviour for the benefit of society.Meanwhile, a step in the right direction is signalled as nine of the UK’s biggest brands, with a combined annual turnover in excess of £9 billion, sign up to the Courtauld Commitment. Established in 2005, the agreement engages retailers to work with the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) to reduce waste and introduce more recyclable packaging. The Courtauld Commitment’s target is to reduce the 6.3 million tonnes of packaging reaching UK homes each year by at least 340,000 tonnes by 2010. The latest signatories include Britvic, Cadbury Schweppes, Coca-Cola Enterprises Ltd, Mars UK and Nestlé UK.

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Only 2% of consumers aware of electrical recycling legislation

July 19, 2007 at 11:48 am

A survey carried out by electrical chain Comet reveals that only 2% of Britons are aware of important legislation giving electrical manufacturers and retailers new recycling responsibilities. Half of the 2,000 people surveyed had never recycled an electrical item and one in five were not aware that such items could be recycled.

The final parts of the Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment (WEEE) directive come into force on 1st July 2007. The directive aims to reduce the quantity of waste from electrical equipment and increase its re-use, recovery and recycling. It affects producers and distributors of electrical and electronic equipment, including household appliances, lighting, power tools, toys, and IT, telecoms, audiovisual and sports equipment.

Every company in the UK that manufactures, imports or re-brands such goods must now be part of an approved producer compliance scheme. This allows the type and number of goods produced by each manufacturer to be monitored. From 1st July, producers have to contribute to the costs associated with the treatment, recovery and disposal of WEEE. The Environment Agency provides information for producers, including a list of approved compliance schemes.

Anyone selling new electronic and electrical equipment must provide facilities for domestic customers to return old equipment free of charge when they purchase a replacement item. There are no such requirements for sales to businesses. There are two main options for distributors:

  • Join the Distributor Take-back Scheme (DTS), run by Valpak which supports a network of collection facilities where consumers can return their WEEE.
  • Offer in-store take-back of old equipment when consumers buy a replacement item. Collected equipment must then be made available to producer compliance schemes for treatment and recycling.

One in ten people surveyed by Comet said that their local authority had not made recycling policies clear and 7% believed that they had no facilities for electrical waste recycling available to them. Comet have announced that they are expanding their collection and recycling facilities for large electrical items to all UK households. The Comet service has recycled more than 3 million items so far.You can search for local recycling services at the Recycle Now website. Search results list categories of items accepted by home collection services and recycling sites, including electricals. Detailed information on the WEEE directive, including factsheets for producers, distributors and exporters, is available from the Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform.

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New rules on the export of recyclable waste

July 19, 2007 at 11:20 am

New regulations affecting the export of recyclable waste such as paper, cardboard and certain types of plastic have just come in to force in the UK. The rules, set out by the European Commission, mainly affect businesses exporting so-called “green list” waste, which poses only a low risk to the environment. They will also support measures to stop toxic waste being dumped in developing countries, following an incident last year when 16 died and thousands fell ill in Africa’s Ivory Coast after waste was dumped from a Dutch-chartered ship.

Although controversial, millions of tonnes of recyclable materials are shipped overseas from the UK every year. The Environment Agency argues that there is a legitimate and growing trade for this waste, which is seen as a valuable resource in many countries.

As of 12th July, it will be the responsibility of recyclable waste exporters to check that the country they export to is happy to receive the waste and if so, under what conditions. Businesses must check which category the waste they are exporting falls in to:

  • Prohibited – Waste that cannot be exported under any circumstances. This includes the export of hazardous waste to developing countries.
  • Notifiable – Waste which cannot be moved without prior written permission from the relevant authorities. This includes hazardous waste being moved for recovery.
  • Green List – Waste which can be moved without prior permission, but is subject to other requirements. This is mainly non-hazardous waste.

The application of the rules depends not only on the type of waste but also on the status of the countries sending and receiving it and whether it is to be recovered or disposed of. The Environment Agency is warning that the new rules are complex and urging those affected to read their guidance on International Shipments of Waste. They say that getting the process right means efforts can be focused on pursuing those who export mixed, poor quality waste to countries that don’t want it.

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Fashionable recycling

July 19, 2007 at 11:14 am

Are you eager to help the recycling cause but find going into a charity shop to buy second-hand clothes a bit of a turn-off? If so, you are not alone. Many people regard charity shops as a place to cast off their unwanted, old, often hugely unfashionable and unflattering items of clothing. For this reason, if you are looking for a new designer dress or a new pair of stunning heels, a charity shop is probably the last place you would think of looking. However, there is a solution to this problem that is becoming ever more popular, particularly in Canada: the consignment store. In the UK, these stores are not as popular but you may hear them be referred to as dress agencies.

Consignment stores are like charity shops except they only stock high-quality, fashionable items. There are different types of consignment store, with some checking every single item they receive to make sure it is a genuine designer item and not a fake and others which are less strict but still sell great quality stock. In relation to the charity shops we are accustomed to in the UK, consignment stores are relatively expensive, with some tops being sold for hundreds of dollars (bear in mind though that this same top could have cost thousands of dollars originally). Having said this though, there are bargains available too, perhaps the best example being a Burberry raincoat for just over 17 dollars. If any items are not bought after being discounted like this, they will go to charity.

If the knowledge that you are helping to save the planet isn’t enough to encourage you to search through your wardrobe and pick out the old designer dress you haven’t worn for years, then you might be persuaded by the fact that you will be paid for donating your clothes. Unlike charity shops, which expect strictly free donations, consignment stores are more realistic and clients can expect a healthy cut of the profit.

Stores work with thousands of clients, who regularly buy and sell goods. Their identities are strictly private and they are identified only by an account number. By building up personal, respectful relationships with rich, even famous clients, consignment stores ensure that they are always fully stocked with the best of the best.

One dress agency in Cobham, Surrey, recently attracted attention due to the relocation of Chelsea Football Club to the village. The influx of footballer’s wives to Cobham caused mass hysteria among many local women who frequent the dress agency, Phoenix, who hoped to see the WAGS’ cast-offs at a cheap price!

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