Sunday, 28 December 2008

UK's holiday waste smashes all records

Christmas packaging, millions of trees and up to a billion cards are heading to landfill – even though much of it could be recycled
By Rachel Shields Sunday, 28 December 2008

Officials want toy manufacturers to improve recycling information on packaging

This is a toy story, but it has no happy ending. As millions of households wade through crumpled wrapping, plastic ties and discarded boxes, the sheer weight of refuse in coming days is expected to smash all records.
Waste watchdogs warned yesterday that rubbish from the estimated 100 million toys unwrapped last week is likely to burn big holes in the ozone layer as well as in parents' pockets.
The Waste and Resources Action Programme (Wrap) said toy manufacturers are not putting enough information about recycling on their packaging and, as a result, most of it will be sent needlessly to landfill. Over Christmas 2008 alone, this will lead to more than 400 extra tonnes of harmful C02. The news is a blow to the Government's 2007 Waste Strategy, which aims to see 40 per cent of all household waste recycled by 2010.
A survey by Recycle Now showed that while 89 per cent of British parents with children under the age of 12 would like to recycle toy packaging, 53 per cent found it difficult to know what was suitable for recycling.
"A large proportion of the packaging material from toys is actually recyclable because it is made from paper or cardboard," said Andy Dawe, Wrap's head of retail. "It is helpful for consumers to have labelling on the types of material that make up the packaging and which of these can be recycled. It also makes a real difference if different materials can be separated. For example, where a box includes cardboard with a plastic window, it should be made as simple as possible to remove the window."
The government-funded agency is now calling on toy manufacturers to improve recycling instructions on their products, and for consumers to redouble their recycling efforts.
"It's for manufacturers, government-led organisations and consumers themselves to do this," said Natasha Crookes of the British Toy & Hobby Association (BTHA). "Seventy per cent of toy packaging is now recyclable, so it is really about getting people to recycle, especially at Christmas when everyone is busy unwrapping their presents."
British households generate 20 per cent more waste during the festive period, including one billion Christmas cards, eight million Christmas trees and 83 sq kms of wrapping paper.
Toy manufacturers are required by law to carry safety warnings on packaging, but are not obliged to include recycling instructions. The BTHA is currently drawing up new packaging guidelines that will include recycling.
Many retailers have made steps towards reducing packaging. Boots reviewed its gift sets and relaunched them this Christmas with reduced packaging. The online retailer Amazon recently launched a "frustration-free packaging" service, which reduces excess wrapping and which will begin in the UK after Christmas.
In 2007, the UK recycled 9.7 million tonnes of household waste, an increase of 10 per cent on the previous year. However, some fear that the current economic downturn may lead to companies prioritising profits over their environmental obligations.
"It is vitally important that we carry on recycling," Mr Dawe said. "If we stop, all materials will go to landfill – and that is the worst possible outcome."

Eco-town proposals receive fresh blow

The Government's flagship "eco-town" strategy has suffered another damaging blow after an independent report said one of the proposed towns was "unworkable".

By Patrick Sawer Last Updated: 10:08PM GMT 27 Dec 2008

Artist's impression of the proposed eco-town of West Carclaze, Cornwall. Photo: PA
The Pennbury plan for a 12,000 home development near Leicester is one of 12 shortlisted by ministers as part of their plans to build a string of environmentally sustainable new towns across the country.
But a leading consultancy on urban design and planning has damned the Pennbury scheme, submitted by the Co-operative supermarket and property group, as economically "unsustainable", "ambiguous" and "fundamentally weak".
The Halcrow Group, which was commissioned by four local authorities covering Leicester and the surrounding towns and villages to assess the Co-op's plans, said the new town was likely to produce fewer jobs than envisaged, would suffer from poor transport links and would be out of keeping in what is currently a rural setting.
The report's findings are another major setback for the Government's eco-town proposals, which have already been widely condemned by opponents as threatening the green field character of many sites for little if any environmental or economic benefit.
The four councils who commissioned the report are themselves split on the question of Pennbury. Leicestershire county council opposes the scheme and has accused Leicester city council, which backs it, of being “too easily bought” by the promise of £5 million from the Co-op for a feasibility study into running a tram from Pennbury to the city centre six away.
The eco-town strategy been beset by problems since it was placed at the heart of Labour's policy agenda by Gordon Brown at his first party conference as leader last September.
A shortlist of 15 was cut to 12 after developers dropped out and schemes were reconsidered. The final list of 10 is expected to be announced in the New Year, after which they will go through the normal planning process. But there are growing doubts over the viability of several of the schemes in the wake of the worsening housing crash.
Eco-towns, which will contain between 5,000 and 20,000 homes, are intended to be carbon neutral and act as an "exemplar" for environmentally friendly development.
Each must contain at least 30 per cent "affordable" housing, while properties must be on average only a 10-minute walk away from public transport and local services such as doctors' surgeries and primary schools. At least one person in each household should be able to get to work without a car.
The Government, however, admitted in November that only one of the 12 sites being considered is officially ranked as "generally suitable" for an eco-town.
Rackheath, in Norfolk, was judged to be Grade A because it was nearer Norwich and a working railway line.
The vast majority of the schemes, including Pennbury, were judged to be Grade B – which meant they "might be a suitable location subject to meeting specific planning and design objectives".
But the new report on Pennbury casts doubt on this.
It states: "The Co-op have at this stage in the planning process provided insufficient information to support the Pennbury proposal at this moment. We have serious reservations at this stage that neither the required transport infrastructure, nor the level of jobs required can actually be delivered.
"Both the economic strategy and transport proposals should therefore be substantially revised, as these are fundamental to the overall sustainability of the concept."
Dr Kevin Feltham, a Leicestershire county councillor and anti-eco town campaigner, said: "This report has left the Co-op's plans for Pennbury in tatters. The time is now ripe for them to withdraw their bid in the face of overwhelming evidence that its plans are unworkable."
The report's findings are a particular blow to the Pennbury scheme because Halcrow's consultants said it could have brought potential benefits to the region "in terms of new jobs, homes, community facilities and infrastructure, as well as pioneering new approaches to zero carbon living".
But it said the plans "are not matched by sufficiently detailed commitments and proposals to ensure that these objectives can actually be delivered."
It found:
* The Co-op had produced no convincing evidence to support the assumption that 60 per cent of residents would be able to work in the town
* The planned location has poor transport links, making it unattractive for potential employers and businesses
* It is unclear from population projections whether there is in fact a need for so many new homes in the area
* There has been no survey of local environmental features such as ecology, landscape and cultural heritage
However, the Co-operative Group defended its proposals, claiming the Halcrow report recognised the potential benefits of the Pennbury eco-town. Ruairidh Jackson, its head of planning and property strategy, said: "We are in close discussions with Leicester Regeneration Company about the benefits our proposals offer and to improve the regeneration potential of the city as a whole. This story goes far wider than simply employment. It's about education and skills, about helping regeneration sites to come forward, about housing in the city, about unlocking public transport investment and, not least, about helping Leicester to market and promote itself to additional sources of investment.
"Our proposals are fully complementary to these objectives and we believe that we can help Leicester to be an even stronger and more successful city."

Climate change takes its toll on British countryside

Daffodills at Christmas and snow in October were just some of the unusual weather patterns noticed by the National Trust in the last year as climate change begins to takes its toll on the British landscape.

By Louise Gray, Environment Correpsondent Last Updated: 2:41AM GMT 27 Dec 2008
The National Trust saw plants emerge early because of a warm spring only to be washed out by a wet summer.
Poor weather led to a bad breeding season for birds and mammals due to a lack of insects. Scientists blamed climate change and said further extreme weather could wipe out many species altogether.
Matthew Oates, the National Trust nature conservation adviser, said a warm January and February brought out plants and encouraged birds to nest early.
However, the spring and summer was cold and wet, meaning there were fewer insects to pollinate plants or for birds to feed on.
By the autumn the wet weather meant a profusion of colour as the leaves turned and flowers bloomed early but a cold snap killed off more bees. Winter was mild, but species such as bats will struggle to survive because of the lack of feeding earlier in the year. Mr Oates said many species could not survive another poor spring and summer.
"A cold late spring, a wet summer, with few sunny days, and the long dry autumn has shown how dependent our wildlife is on the weather," he said. "Many species closely associated with the four seasons are having to cope with higher incidents of poor weather as our climate becomes more unpredictable.
"After two very poor years in a row we desperately need a good summer in 2009. Climate change is not some future prediction of what might happen, it's happening now."
Already daffodils are out in Guernsey this Christmas and spring flowers are expected to come out earlier.
Dr Tim Sparks, a climate change specialist at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, said Britain would experience warmer, drier summers and wet, mild winters, which could mean an increase in invasive species. He said: "The likelihood is we will gain species from the south and lose more vulnerable native species."

Money in old coal

Drax, which produces about 8 per cent of Britain's electricity, might seem an odd choice for a stock tip. One of Europe's dirtiest coal plants, it churns out millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide every year. With Europe planning a tougher carbon emissions trading scheme in 2012, the theory is that such dirty plants will be gradually priced out of the market. But power station owners, and the government, are scared stiff about Britain's looming generation gap - by 2015 many older coal plants will be shut down because they do not comply with EU laws on air quality. The word is that the industry will ask the government for an exemption to keep the old coal plants open. Drax, which already complies with these EU rules, would quite rightly cry foul and expect some compensation in return - for example some easing of the carbon penalties it must pay under the EU trading scheme. It may not be good for the environment, but expect some haggling from the coal power lobby in the next year or two. With the government not wanting to risk blackouts, expect the likes of Drax to get their way.