Capsules = Pods = Waste

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The greatest trick companies ever played was making us think we could recycle their products. The New York Times

My most recent reference to pods could have been the last. Enough said. But my eye was caught by the title of this item yesterday, and all day I kept wondering whether I need to know more about the confidence game that has been, and is, recycling. Deciding this morning to click through I was rewarded with an update on my favorite coffee scandal. Insult on top of injury. Surprised by that? Nope. My thanks to Tala Schlossberg and Nayeema Raza for this creative op-ed video, and accompanying text:

The Great Recycling Con

The greatest trick corporations ever played was making us think we could recycle their products…

Skip The Cycle

9781635570106_custom-54da6225b0d86a33d85194d6b606615cc8db9066-s300-c85Adam Minter has not appeared in our pages before, surprisingly. Stories with recycling and upcycling themes have been featured dozens of times on this platform, but this theme is just enough different as to qualify as original, to us. Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for this review and author interview:

Author Adam Minter remembers two periods of grief after his mother died in 2015: the intense sadness of her death, followed by the challenge of sorting through what he calls “the material legacy of her life.”

Over the course of a year, Minter and his sister worked through their mother’s possessions until only her beloved china was left. Neither one of them wanted to take the china — but neither could bear to throw it out. Instead, they decided to donate it. Continue reading

Doing Something, Anything, About Plastic

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A to-scale sculpture of a juvenile humpback whale ribcage made of plastic bottles.
Kirk Siegler/NPR

An artist doing something about it. Whether or not the root problem is solved, we can all be more creative about doing something about the problem. Angela Haseltine Pozzi demonstrates by example. That’s a nice story to start the day with. Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for brightening our day:

On The Oregon Coast, Turning Pollution Into Art With A Purpose

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In her gallery in Bandon, Ore., Angela Haseltine Pozzi stands next to an enormous sea dragon sculpted from plastics found on Oregon’s famously ‘pristine’ beaches.
Kirk Siegler/NPR

At Coquille Point along the remote and rugged southern Oregon Coast, the wind is tumultuous and the sea just as violent. Huge waves crash up against the giant, moss-cloaked rocks perched off the beach.

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Angela Haseltine Pozzi founded Washed Ashore in 2010. The nonprofit turns plastics taken from Oregon’s beaches into eye-opening sculptures of threatened marine life.
Kirk Siegler/NPR

This particular stretch of the Oregon coastline is famous for being pristine and wild. But train your eyes down a little closer to the beach and sand as Angela Haseltine Pozzi so often does, and even here you’ll find bits of plastic.

“I think the most disturbing thing I find is detergent bottles and bleach bottles with giant bite marks out of them by fish,” she says.

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A sea star made mostly of plastic water bottles from the 2008 Summer Olympics in China that are still washing up on Oregon beaches today.
Kirk Siegler/NPR

Haseltine Pozzi is a local artist and longtime art teacher who’s made it her mission to collect as much of this shameful garbage as possible. It washes up from Asia, Europe, California and right here in Oregon.

In her gallery in the nearby town of Bandon, where she’d spend summers with her grandmother exploring the wild beaches, she’s now taking these plastic invaders and turning them into jaw-dropping sculptures. The plastic bottle caps, cocktail toothpicks, shotgun shell casings — anything — form life-size garbage creatures of the very marine life threatened by all this plastic. Continue reading

Joyful Artisan Ethos

At the same time Crist has been writing multiple teaser posts about our upcoming Authentica shops we continually search for both classic and innovative artisanally crafted items to highlight there. Each discovery feels like stumbling upon a gem while sifting through stones.

Those discoveries have even more personal impact when they have an upcycled or recycled element. Wagát Upcycling Lab is just one of those exciting discoveries. Continue reading

Convenience & Connivance

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‘I think we’ve taken convenience and just turned it into a monster,’ said Shaymah Ansari.
Photograph: Francis Gardler/AP

I acknowledge it has not been easy to eliminate plastic from my life. Plastic is everywhere. It is ubiquitous in developing economies as well as in more developed economies. But since recycling is costly, then at least radically reducing its use is important. So consider how seductive convenience is, and how conniving companies can be:

US recycling event is cover for enormous volume of plastic pollution, say critics

America Recycles Day promoted by EPA is brainchild of not-for-profit backed by companies that produce plastic products

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 Packaging for plastic food items that cannot be accepted for recycling. Photograph: Emily Holden/The Guardian

America’s government-backed national recycling awareness day is being used as cover by large corporations that are churning out enormous volumes of plastic that end up strewn across landscapes, rivers and in the ocean, critics have said.

The second annual America Recycles Day event on Friday is being vigorously promoted by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a way to encourage Americans to recycle more.

But critics point out that the initiative is the brainchild of Keep America Beautiful, a not-for-profit founded and backed by large companies that produce vast quantities of plastic products that end up as pollution.

Current backers include Coca-Cola, Nestlé, Pepsico, and Altria, the tobacco giant formerly known as Phillip Morris. Decades of campaigns by the group have emphasized individual responsibility for plastic recycling, which data reveals to be a largely broken system. Continue reading

Where Does Your Plastic Go?

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Plastic bottles bundled in a recycling facility. Bales such as these travel around the world on shipping containers. Photograph: Bloomberg via Getty Images

Thanks to the Guardian for this series on plastic waste management. It is not pleasant reading, but it should motivate change:

What happens to your plastic after you drop it in a recycling bin?

According to promotional materials from America’s plastics industry, it is whisked off to a factory where it is seamlessly transformed into something new.

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Nguyễn Thị Hồng Thắm is paid $6.50 a day to sort recycling on the outskirts of Hanoi. Photograph: Bac Pham/The Guardian

This is not the experience of Nguyễn Thị Hồng Thắm, a 60-year-old Vietnamese mother of seven, living amid piles of grimy American plastic on the outskirts of Hanoi. Outside her home, the sun beats down on a Cheetos bag; aisle markers from a Walmart store; and a plastic bag from ShopRite, a chain of supermarkets in New Jersey, bearing a message urging people to recycle it.

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Migrant workers sort through plastic bottles at the Thaiplastic Recycle Group plant in Samut Sakhon, outside Bangkok, Thailand. Photograph: Diego Azubel/EPA

Tham is paid the equivalent of $6.50 a day to strip off the non-recyclable elements and sort what remains: translucent plastic in one pile, opaque in another.

A Guardian investigation has found that hundreds of thousands of tons of US plastic are being shipped every year to poorly regulated developing countries around the globe for the dirty, labor-intensive process of recycling. The consequences for public health and the environment are grim.

A team of Guardian reporters in 11 countries has found: Continue reading

Reduce Is Best Because Recycle Is Costly & Re-Use Is The Next Big Thing

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Starbucks at South Terminal, Gatwick. The scheme is being launched by Starbucks and environmental charity Hubbub. Photograph: Zute Lightfoot

We have been using this cup since early 2017, and it really should have replaced the paper cup by now. But slow as the pace is, we are happy to read the news of this experiment and wish it well:

Gatwick hosts UK’s first airport reusable coffee cup trial

Customers buying coffee from South Terminal Starbucks will be able to borrow free refillable cup

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A sign will remind passengers to return their cup before they board a flight

The UK’s first airport reusable coffee cup trial gets under way this week at Gatwick, offering passengers the opportunity to borrow and return refillable cups in a bid to help cut waste and tackle “throwaway” culture.

Customers buying hot takeaway drinks from Starbucks will have the option to borrow a free reusable cup instead of using a paper cup, which they can then drop off at a designated point before boarding their flight.

The trial – starting on Monday in Gatwick’s South Terminal – will help customers reduce their disposable cup usage in a manageable “closed loop” environment that could be used in any travel hub. The scheme is being launched by Starbucks in partnership with the environmental charity Hubbub with support from Gatwick, the UK’s second largest airport. Continue reading

Travel’s Ambassadors

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A few years ago, as we were completing work on the final hotel of our work plan in India, we had visitors from Costa Rica. They brought this little thing as a gift. Bicycle as ambassador. Knowing that we had been developing relationships with artisan groups in India, this was a small token of what had been happening in Costa Rica in the many years we had been away. Using recycled materials, one group of artisans were designing and crafting mementos like this for people to take home with them after their vacation in Costa Rica.

During my doctorate years I had mementos from one place in my office. In my office now I have mementos from many different places to inspire the work we will do next. This little thing is in a prized place.

Plastic Soup & Creative Re-Use With A Critical Purpose

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Ocean Sole turns reclaimed flip-flops into colourful, hand-made animal toys and sculptures. Tonnes of flip-flops wash up on the east African coast every year.
Photograph: Courtesy of Ocean Sole/Plastic Soup

PlasticSoupAnd speaking of plastics, a new book has come to our attention thanks to the Guardian, and thanks to Island Books for the explanation of the book:

Plastics have transformed every aspect of our lives. Yet the very properties that make them attractive—they are cheap to make, light, and durable—spell disaster when trash makes its way into the environment. Plastic Soup: An Atlas of Ocean Pollution is a beautifully-illustrated survey of the plastics clogging our seas, their impacts on wildlife and people around the world, and inspirational initiatives designed to tackle the problem.

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Peter Smith made this floating work, World of Litter, in 2012.
Photograph: Courtesy of Jos van Zetten/Plastic Soup

In Plastic Soup, Michiel Roscam Abbing of the Plastic Soup Foundation reveals the scope of the issue: plastic trash now lurks on every corner of the planet. With striking photography and graphics, Plastic Soup brings this challenge to brilliant life for readers. Yet it also sends a message of hope; although the scale of the problem is massive, so is the dedication of activists working to check it. Plastic Soup highlights a diverse array of projects to curb plastic waste and raise awareness, from plastic-free grocery stores to innovative laws and art installations.

According to some estimates, if we continue on our current path, the oceans will contain more plastic than fish by the year 2050. Created to inform and inspire readers, Plastic Soup is a critical tool in the fight to reverse this trend.

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Washed Ashore makes larger-than-life sculptures of marine animals, like this parrotfish, to make people aware of plastic pollution.
Photograph: WashedAshore.org/Plastic Soup

Know Your Numbers

Credit Tyler Varsell; Shutterstock

Coinciding with Earth Day  the NYTimes Environment team recently initiated the Climate FWD newsletter, emailing readers weekly with stories and insights about climate change.

We’ve been writing about plastics since the inception of this site; it’s alternatives, environmental impacts, and even creative applications with it’s existence.

Studies are clear that reducing plastic use and production is multiple steps better than recycling, yet considering the ubiquity of the material, the latter has it’s place.

One Thing You Can Do: Know Your Plastics

Ever notice those recycling symbols, the triangles with the numbers inside, on plastic packaging and containers? I always assumed they meant the plastic was recyclable. But that’s not necessarily the case.

Those numbers are resin identification codes, and they tell what kind of plastic the item is made from. And not all plastic is created equal.

Identifying what types of plastics are recyclable can be challenging because plastics do not always carry a resin code and because not all recycling programs are equal, either. Generally speaking, though, some categories of plastic are more widely recyclable in the United States.

“We always encourage people to focus on Nos. 1, 2 and 5 because we have great markets for them in the U.S.,” said Brent Bell, vice president of recycling at Waste Management, a major garbage collection and recycling company.

Water and soda bottles, milk jugs, laundry detergent bottles, yogurt cups and butter tubs are mostly made of these plastics. You could lend a helping hand by rinsing these kinds of containers and removing labels.

Continue reading

Mass Transit Morphing

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Subway cars set sail on a barge in “Weeks 297, 2008.” STEPHEN MALLON

Thanks to Winnie Lee and Atlas Obscura:

Photographing the New York City Subway Cars That Retired as Artificial Reefs

How Stephen Mallon captured this unusual voyage to the bottom of the ocean.

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The rooftops of subway cars. “Abbey Road, 2008.” STEPHEN MALLON

The photographer Stephen Mallon specializes in documenting man’s industrial-scale creations. During his career, he’s focused his lens on the recycling industry, the largest floating structure ever built, and the transportation and installation of a new bridge in New York City. So it wasn’t surprising when, in 2008, he was drawn to an unusual program spearheaded by the MTA New York City Transit system: a multi-phased artificial reefing project that saw the shells of 2,580 decommissioned subway train cars repurposed and dropped into coastal waters off New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia, between 2001 and 2010.

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The abstract beauty of stripped-down vehicles in “Transfer, 2009.” STEPHEN MALLON

Mallon arranged to follow the outdated subway cars as they were prepared and cleaned, loaded onto barges, and finally plopped into the sea. As he traveled with a crew in a tugboat to get his shots, the photographer developed his sea legs.

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Subway cars hoisted in the air in “Mind The Gap, 2008.” STEPHEN MALLON

“I was never underwater, so just needed to keep myself steady on the back of the boat. It’s kind of like surfing or skiing—just keep your balance, keep the horizon line straight, bend your knees, and don’t fall overboard,” Mallon says. Continue reading

Taking Responsibility For Stuff

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Recycled materials being stacked at facility in Costa Rica last June. EZEQUIEL BECERRA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Some time a millennium or so from now, an article like this one, or perhaps like this one, will be written with wonderment about the waste management practices of the early 21st century. They will not be as amazed by how we digitally stored our most prized possessions, but curious what we did with all our unwanted stuff.

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Scrap metal at a dock in Liverpool, England, waiting to be exported. CHRISTOPHER FURLONG/GETTY IMAGES

And we have known for some time now that we have not been so clever. We have mostly been hiding that stuff. Out of sight, out of mind. If it seemed too good to be true, there was a reason for that. The long stretch of time during which China’s labor costs and their resource input equations made importing our unwanted stuff a win-win created a kind of mirage. Thanks to Cheryl Katz, writing in Yale e360, for making that clear in this story:

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A worker sorts through plastic bottles at a waste facility in Vietnam. Other Asian countries have increased their waste imports in response to China’s ban. NHAC NGUYEN/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Piling Up: How China’s Ban on Importing Waste Has Stalled Global Recycling

China’s decision to no longer be the dumping ground for the world’s recycled waste has left municipalities and waste companies from Australia to the U.S. scrambling for alternatives. But experts say it offers an opportunity to develop better solutions for a growing throwaway culture.

The story is big, which is why I was not surprised to see Alana Semuel’s story on the same topic. Both are worth reading, but this one takes a starker view, and the disturbance its title question causes provides an effective added prod to reduce how much unwanted stuff gets created in the first place.

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Bales of plastic are piled at a Recology facility in San Francisco. (Alana Semuels / The Atlantic)

Is This the End of Recycling?

Americans are consuming more and more stuff. Now that other countries won’t take our papers and plastics, they’re ending up in the trash.

After decades of earnest public-information campaigns, Americans are finally recycling. Airports, malls, schools, and office buildings across the country have bins for plastic bottles and aluminum cans and newspapers. In some cities, you can be fined if inspectors discover that you haven’t recycled appropriately. Continue reading

Gaining Ground

Cleaning plastic waste from the oceans is an ever-present issue. We thank the UN News for sharing this example of collaborations that inspire present and future action.

Boat made of recycled plastic and flip-flops inspires fight for cleaner seas along African coast

After completing a historic 500km journey from the Kenyan island of Lamu to the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar, the world’s first ever traditional “dhow” sailing boat made entirely from recycled plastic, known as the Flipflopi, has successfully raised awareness of the need to overcome one of the world’s biggest environmental challenges: plastic pollution.

The Flipflopi Project was co-founded by Kenyan tour operator Ben Morison in 2016, and the ground-breaking dhow was built by master craftsmen Ali Skanda, and a team of volunteers using 10 tonnes of recycled plastic.

The boat gets its name from the 30,000 recycled flip-flops used to decorate its multi-coloured hull. Continue reading

Consumerism’s Up(cycled) Side

Sustainability in both concept and practice has a long history in Scandinavian cultures in general, and Sweden in particular. As consumers become more conscious of the finite nature of materials, upcycling has to eventually be considered more mainstream. We applaud this type of public and private sector leadership that is the very definition of entrepreneurial conservation.

Thanks to the BBC for this story.

‘Welcome to my high-fashion, trash shopping mall’

Anna Bergstrom had a dilemma. She loved the glitzy world of high fashion, but had also come to feel that it was unsustainable and bad for the planet. She’s now found peace of mind by running a stylish shopping mall in Sweden, where everything is second-hand.

“Do you notice the smell?” Anna Bergstrom says, as she surveys her mall from the mezzanine level. “It smells nice here, doesn’t it?”

It’s very important to Anna that this place is enticing, because she feels it is making a statement. Everything for sale here, in 14 specialist shops covering everything from clothes to DIY tools, is recycled.

She is usually turned off by the smell of second-hand stores, she explains, even though she adores vintage fashion. For most people flea-markets and charity shops carry a stigma, she thinks – a mark left by countless bad experiences. Too often they are worthy but depressing, Anna says. Her mission is to bring second-hand shopping into the mainstream.

The mall itself is spacious and appealing, almost Ikea-like. An art installation – a tree and circular bench all fashioned from recycled materials – greets customers at the entrance. There is even a coffee shop and gift-wrapping service.

The mall is called ReTuna. “Tuna” because that’s the nickname for the city where it is based – Eskilstuna, an hour’s train journey west of Stockholm – and “Re” because the goods on sale have been recycled or repurposed.

It was set up by Eskilstuna’s local government in 2015, in a warehouse which used to house trucks for a logistics company. Continue reading

Accentuating the Positive

It benefits all to highlight the “non-rocket science” solutions to hugely global issues wherever we find them.

All It Took To Clean Up This Beach Was A Fish Sculpture Named Goby

As some rumors swirl around the internet that there will be more plastic than fish by 2050, there are also some great stories about local recycling, like this one about Goby the fish.

This local beach decided to do something simple, instead of placing a ton of boring old garbage cans around the beach, they made a giant see through fish out of some barbed wire and mesh, and added a sign to it that said, “Goby loves plastic, please feed him”. Continue reading

A Big Step To Reduce Plastic Pollution

 

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Volunteers cleared trash from the banks of the River Thames during the annual Big Bottle Count in London last month. Credit Matt Dunham/Associated Press

Thanks to Ceylan Yeginsu and the New York Times for this news:

European Parliament Approves Ban on Single-Use Plastics

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Under the proposal, 10 single-use plastics that most often end up in the ocean will be prohibited in the European Union. Credit Rafael Marchante/Reuters

LONDON — The European Parliament has overwhelmingly approved a ban on single-use plastics such as straws, plates, cutlery and cotton-swab sticks in Europe by 2021, joining a global shift as environmentalists emphasize the urgency of halting the use of materials that are detrimental to the planet.

Under the proposal, approved on a vote of 571 to 53 on Wednesday, 10 single-use plastics that most often end up in the ocean will be prohibited in the European Union, as well as oxo-degradable plastics, such as bags or fast-food container packaging. Continue reading

Teaching Lego To Play Well By Eliminating Plastic

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Tim Brooks, Lego’s vice president for environmental responsibility, says the company emits about a million tons of carbon dioxide each year. Credit Carsten Snejbjerg for The New York Times

For a company, and a product, that has been a part of so many lives for so long–and especially one whose name means to play well, it is still a shock to be reminded of their carbon footprint. And three years after first reading about their commitment, it is good to read details of their plan and progress:

Lego Wants to Completely Remake Its Toy Bricks (Without Anyone Noticing)

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At Lego, petroleum-based plastics aren’t the packaging, they’re the product — and the bricks making up these dinosaurs have barely changed in more than 50 years. Credit Carsten Snejbjerg for The New York Times

BILLUND, Denmark — At the heart of this town lies a building that is a veritable temple to the area’s most famous creation, the humble Lego brick. It is filled with complex creations, from a 50-foot tree to a collection of multicolored dinosaurs, all of them built with a product that has barely changed in more than 50 years.

A short walk away in its research lab, though, Lego is trying to refashion the product it is best known for: It wants to eliminate its dependence on petroleum-based plastics, and build its toys entirely from plant-based or recycled materials by 2030. Continue reading

The Aha Moment Explaining One Challenge To Recycling

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Color-coordinated waste baskets for waste recycling in New York City. Credit Ramin Talaie/Corbis, via Getty Images

Thanks for this interview full of incisive interview quetions by David Bornstein, who is co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network, which supports rigorous reporting about responses to social problems. Thanks to Mitch Hedlund, executive director of Recycle Across America, for the explanatory answers in the interview that follows:

The Conflict of Interest That Is Killing Recycling

Some of the biggest recycling operations are owned by landfill companies whose profits improve when recycling doesn’t work well.

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Mitch Hedlund, executive director of Recycle Across America. Credit Shelly Mosman/Recycle Across America

In the past few years, one of the core pillars of the environmental movement — recycling — has fallen on hard times. News dispatches reveal hundreds of cities and counties scaling back their recycling programs because of the high costs associated with processing recyclables and the lack of demand for the materials. A new conventional wisdom is gaining ground suggesting that recycling may not be worth the effort.

But is that true? And has recycling ever gotten a fair shake? After decades, less than a third of municipal solid waste is recycled — and much of that is contaminated with garbage, which diminishes or destroys its value. Almost 50 years after the first Earth Day, are we really ready to admit defeat and return to the “Mad Men”-era ethos of the “throwaway society”?

There may be another way. For most of the past decade, Recycle Across America, a nonprofit organization I covered in this column six years ago, has been demonstrating that it’s quite possible to get people to recycle properly, just as it’s possible to get most people to wear seatbelts, quit smoking and stop driving drunk. But the recycling industry has never taken the logical steps needed to create a successful societywide recycling habit — and today it may not be in the economic interest of some of the big recycling companies to build it. Recently, I spoke with Mitch Hedlund, the founder of Recycle Across America, about this dilemma and the possibility that a recycling collapse can be avoided. Continue reading

Plastic Straws Going, Going, Gone

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Marriott International became the latest company to announce it will stop using plastic straws, saying it would remove them from its more than 6,500 properties by next July. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

We did not foresee the straw revolution gaining such momentum so quickly. But we are certainly happy to see it going mainstream, going global, going company-wide:

The days of plastic straws are drawing shorter.

Marriott International on Wednesday became the latest big company to announce it will stop using plastic straws, saying it would remove them from its more than 6,500 properties by next July. The giant hotel chain said it will stop offering plastic stirrers, too.

It said the environmentally friendly move could eliminate the use of more than 1 billion plastic straws and about 250 million stirrers per year. Marriott said its hotels will “offer alternative straws upon request.” Continue reading

Last Resort Waste Management

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In our sustainable hospitality practice we do from time to time think of incineration as an option worthy of consideration. Especially in India, where waste management is at a completely different stage of development, we thought about it quite seriously. But in the UK, it is clearly not the first best option. If you want to learn a thing or two about waste management, a few minutes with this article will be worth your while:

Waste incineration set to overtake recycling in England, Greens warn

Amount of rubbish burned by local authorities triples while household recycling rates stall

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Full recycling bins on pavement in Bristol. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

England is on the brink of burning more of its rubbish in incinerators than it recycles for the first time, according to a new analysis.

The amount of waste managed by local authorities and sent to incinerators, or energy-from-waste plants, tripled between 2010-11 and 2016-17. By contrast, household recycling rates have stalled since 2013.

If those trends continue, the millions of tonnes of waste incinerated will overtake the amount sent for recycling by the end of the current financial year, a report by the Green party found. Continue reading