In the UK it is estimated that we drink around 70 million cups of coffee per day and 2/3 of us tend to buy from coffee shops rather than make our own at home. It is estimated that if you placed all the paper cup used in the UK in one year end-to-end, they would go around the world 5 and ½ times! While this trend is good for our highstreets, in 2012 the estimated turnover for coffee shops was £5.8 billion, there is a growing environmental issue. Less than 1% of paper cups are being recycled, with most ending up in landfill.
One of the main issues is with the composition of the cups themselves. As they are made from a combination of paper and plastic, they have to undergo special treatment in order to separate the paper for recycling. At the moment there are only 2 facilities in the UK that can do this process, and while they are hoping to expand in the next few years, they are currently struggling to meet the demand.
This composition also makes the cups difficult to sort when recycling. Due to the plastic liner they cannot be placed in paper recycling and they aren’t always filtered correctly when mixed recycling is sorted. There is also an issue with contamination, as items often need to be clean and dry before they are recycled. This sometimes means that even if the cups are put in the correct recycling bin, they still end up in landfill.
There have been calls from campaigners for a tax on disposable cups, similar to the one introduced on plastic bags in October, as a way of encouraging the use of reusable cups. However the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has released a statement that there are currently no plans for a tax.
One of the easiest ways to tackle this issue is to use a reusable cup when ordering take-away coffee. Starbucks has even introduced a 25p discount on drinks if you bring your own cup (and it doesn’t have to be Starbucks branded!). There are many types of reusable cups available to buy in high street and online stores, which many people claim even help improve the flavour of the coffee!
British Coffee Association: http://www.britishcoffeeassociation.org/about_coffee/coffee_facts/
Simply Cups: http://www.simplycups.co.uk/
Air pollution is a growing environmental and health issue in many countries across the world. In 2012 the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated that seven million people died as a result of air pollution exposure and it is almost certain that this figure has continued to rise.
In developed countries it is estimated that traffic pollution is related to 1/5 of deaths and worldwide to 1/20. This has led to some drastic measures in some countries to try and reduce levels, including:
- In Mexico City all cars have to remain idle for one day a week and one Sunday a month until the end of June 2016.
- Both Milan and Rome put restrictions on car use as a result of rising smog levels in 2015.
- Earlier this year in Delhi, cars were banned on alternate days according to whether they had an odd or even licence plate.
In the UK, the campaign group Healthy Air reports that air pollution is linked to around 29,000 premature deaths each year and is responsible for reducing life expectancy by up to eleven years. Much of the air pollution in the UK is attributed to road traffic, particularly from diesel fumes. These fumes contain Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) which is associated with respiratory conditions and is extremely harmful to health. A link has also been found between the use of fertiliser and increased pollution levels, as the ammonia in the fertiliser reacts with traffic fumes to form soot particles.
In fact air pollution levels in the UK are so bad that in 2011 the environmental law NGO ClientEarth took the government to court over their failure to achieve safe levels. The case finished in 2015 with the Supreme Court backing ClientEarth and ordering the government to deliver more effective plans to reduce levels of air pollution.
In London, where many streets exceeded the annual target for pollution levels in January, there are plans to introduce a new Ultra Low Emissions Zone in the coming years. This builds upon the existing Low Emissions Zone by:
- Setting new exhaust emissions standards and a daily non-compliance charge for vehicles from September 2020.
- Ensuring all taxis and private hire vehicles will have zero emissions by 2018.
- Ensuring all double deck buses will have hybrid engines and all single deck buses will have zero emissions by 2020.
These standards will operate in the same area as the current Congestion Charging Zone. Clean Air Zones are also planned for Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton by 2020. These zones will not affect private vehicles but will instead discourage old or diesel powered buses, coaches and lorries from entering parts of the city.
Campaigners say that there is still not enough being done, as targets are still not being met and there is little focus on agricultural or industrial pollutants. There are even reports from Mexico City and Delhi that since the introduction of the restrictions, the production of fake licence plates has dramatically increased!
Clearly a lot of work is needed to reduce air pollution levels, especially as our understanding of the associated health impacts is still growing. Daily air pollution levels and forecasts are available at http://uk-air.defra.gov.uk/ and there are several apps for phones, such as Plume (https://plumelabs.com/) for real time data.
Healthy Air: http://www.healthyair.org.uk/the-problem/
Food waste is becoming a growing issue in the UK. The charity WRAP estimates that 15 million tonnes of food is thrown away every year. While only 1% is estimated to come from supermarkets, there has been lots of media focus on supermarket waste in recent months.
In January Asda started selling ‘Wonky Vegetable’ boxes in order to help reduce the amount of waste they produced. The boxes include seasonal vegetables that are misshapen or are a different size than average, and cost just £3.50. So far this seems very successful with many of the 128 stores taking part reporting selling out of the boxes very quickly.
Following on from this, Tesco has also recently announced that they will start selling “Perfectly Imperfect” vegetables in 200 stores. Tesco has also announced that they are extending their partnership with Fareshare, a food distribution charity, who work with community groups and charities to provide meals to vulnerable people, including the homeless, elderly and children.
While these schemes look positive in terms of reducing waste, there have been some criticisms over the high standards fruit and vegetables are held to in the first place. It is also worth remembering that a high proportion of food waste is created from households (for more tips on reducing your own food waste check out this previous blog post).
The term ‘circular economy’ has become popular in recent years in discussions about recycling and waste reduction, but what does it actually mean? The charity WRAP defines a circular economy as a system “where we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them whilst in use and regenerate products at the end of the resources life”. In more simple terms this means using items for as long as possible and recycling or reusing them, rather than just throwing them away.
One easy way to contribute to a circular economy is to donate and buy clothes from charity shops. This keeps clothes out of landfill, where approximately 350,000 tonnes are sent every year, as well as helping charitable causes.
Recycling everyday items also help to contribute to a circular economy, especially in the case of tin cans. Recycling aluminium can happen time and time again without any loss of quality. As a bonus, creating a can from recycled materials only uses 5% of the energy needed to create one from scratch.
There are many other ways to help develop a circular economy, from simple ways like using scrap paper, to the more entrepreneurial like using coffee grounds to heat your home (more details here http://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/feb/14/the-innovators-how-your-coffee-can-light-up-your-barbecue-and-boiler).
Please leave a comment or Tweet us @ACEnvironment with more ideas about contributing to a circular economy.
The UK government is aiming to have all schools classed as ‘sustainable schools’ by 2020, meaning that through lessons and day-to-day school life pupils are engaged with the environment and sustainability. Individual schools are responsible for the ways in which they achieve this, but help from local councils or other organisations is sometimes available.
Several London councils, including Croydon, Richmond and Sutton, are encouraging schools to join the Eco-Schools programme, which is an international award programme that helps schools embed sustainability into many aspects of school life. They provide resources and advice on how a school can become more sustainable and recognise improvements through a series of awards. Many councils also offer free recycling collection, helping schools to increase their recycling rates and engage pupils with recycling.
Beyond the economic and environmental benefits of becoming more sustainable, studies conducted by Ofsted have even shown a link between schools promoting sustainability and pupils getting better marks and becoming more engaged across many lessons.
The UK government has written a list of tips to make schools more sustainable, which is available here:
An article published by The Evening Standard in 2015 showed that London contains 6 out of 10 of the worst areas for cases of fly-tipping in the UK.
Fly-tipping happens when households or businesses illegally dump waste in areas that are not licensed to manage it. Common items include general household waste, household ‘white goods’ such as fridges, freezers and washing machines, construction debris (demolition and home improvement waste), garden waste, and waste from businesses.
These items may be dumped on highways, back alleyways and footpaths or other areas of public land. Not only does this impede access to these areas and look unpleasant for residents, this practice can lead to a host of environmental, health-related and economic consequences. Food waste can attract pests, and the products dumped may be toxic or hazardous waste. This can cause problems for people and wildlife that come into contact with it, and if liquids are not contained they can seep into the ground and contaminate waterways. The economic cost of identifying cases of fly-dumping, collecting the illegally dumped waste, and pursuing law-enforcement measures across the UK was said to cost £45 million in 2013.
Keep Britain Tidy campaign: fly-tipping: http://kb.keepbritaintidy.org/flytipping/Content/Publications/flylaw.pdf
An article published by The Guardian last year highlights how the use of landfills for waste treatment has decreased across the UK in recent years, from treating around 90% of all waste in 2009 to around 50% in 2015. This is forecast to represent only around 10% in 2020.
This has happened for a combination of reasons. Since the 1990s, many landfills in the UK have closed down, as they have gradually become full and haven’t been replaced with new ones. Although landfills in the UK are well managed, they take up a very large amount of space and are considered unpleasant for local residents. A landfill tax has further made it more expensive to operate landfills in the UK. Businesses and municipalities that bring their waste to landfill now have to pay £82.60 per tonne of waste brought to landfill.
Although recycling is prioritized in the first instance as a method of waste treatment, government policy now favors incineration for final disposal, which allows energy to be generated by burning waste at very high temperatures.
In 2015, the European Commission finalized an ambitious Action Plan for waste management, setting targets which included:
- A common EU target for recycling 65% of municipal waste by 2030
- A binding landfill target to reduce landfill to maximum of 10% of all waste by 2030
Rates of recycling for household waste in the UK were at 40.4% in 2014.
EU Circular Economy directive: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/circular-economy/index_en.htm
Technology to drive sustainability in 2016
It is a commonly known fact that New Year’s resolutions are notoriously difficult to keep. In fact, one study conducted at the University of Scranton suggested that only 8% of resolutions are completely achieved. Researchers cite unrealistic expectations, vague goals and a lack of accountability as common reasons.
But those of you who made the resolution to be more sustainable, do not despair. People who start with small steps and monitor their progress have a much higher chance of succeeding. And a bit of fun in the process never hurts!
Here are some links to help you go green this New Year, whether your chosen target is saving energy at home, recycling more consistently or making better choices with food.
Top 5 apps for sustainable behaviors
And our own free game with ACE: http://sustainablecommunitiesproject.com/
This week, a workshop was held with SAMAFAL- a Haringey Somalian women’s group to discuss how to reduce food waste at home. Reducing food waste has been set as a priority by the UK government, as people in the UK waste a staggering 7 tonnes of food each year in their own homes, either by not eating food before it has gone off, or by cooking too much and throwing away the leftovers.The workshop covered tips on how to avoid food waste by planning meals, proper storage and checking food labels properly, and how to re-use cooked food to make a variety of different recipes.
The women from SAMAFAL were no strangers to correct food storage and cooking with leftovers, being avid cook themselves, but they were surprised by some of the questions in the workshop. Can you guess the answers?
1. Which of these 10 foods gets binned the most in the UK?
Milk, poultry meat, ready meals, carbonated soft drinks, bread, fresh potatoes, processed potatoes, fruit drinks and smoothies, pork meat or cakes?
2. How much is the right portion of rice for 1 person?
If you are part of a community group and would like to sign up for workshops with ACE, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Sources: Love Food Hate Waste
Question 1: The most commonly wasted food is bread, followed by fresh potatoes, milk, ready meals and carbonated soft drinks.
Question 2: 75g
COP 21, also known as ‘The 21st Conference of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’ is now in full swing. 195 countries are holding discussions with the hope of reaching a legally binding agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, limiting the extent of global warming to 2°C by 2020.
If this sounds like a familiar story, that’s because it is! Global negotiations on climate change have been going on for over 20 years, since the ‘United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’ was signed in 1992. So what makes this conference different? Here are some useful links and videos on the topic.
The background of the Climate talks
Why 2°C as target?
Why should we care? What are different nations hoping to achieve from the conference?