On Clean Air Day – A reflection on the UK Government’s effort to reduce air pollution.

Photo by veeterzy on Unsplash

Have you given your car a day off today on Clean Air Day?

Last month, during the International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies, we talked about the three main areas that we can act as individuals to help improve air quality: switch to renewable energy; take alternatives in transportation and; act together as a community. This month on Clean Air Day we would like to emphasis on the role of the government.

In December 2015, The Paris Agreement was adopted at the Paris climate conference (COP21).  It is the first-ever universal, legally binding global climate change agreement and the UK is among the parties stating that they would take every opportunity to reduce CO² emissions and achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Over the years, the UK government has submitted numerous national climate action plans to tackle air pollution and introduced measures focussing on reducing the level of Nitrogen Dioxide in the air.  Schemes such as retrofitting of buses, heavy goods vehicles & black cabs, scrappage schemes of older polluting vehicles, and cutting speed limits on polluted motorway sections are all welcome developments.

However, the UK government is also rewriting environmental policies for an easier Brexit.  Here our Managing Director, Georgia Elliott-Smith, has filed a legal case at the High Court seeking a judicial review of the UK Emissions Trading Scheme.

As most air pollution is produced by the burning of fossil fuels and waste, one of the World Health Organisation’s global recommendations is to promote waste reduction and use incineration only when unavoidable and when emissions controls are in place. However, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has recently published a document called “The future of UK carbon pricing” setting out their plans for a new UK Emissions Trading Scheme but excluding incineration from the measures. That means that the 48 incinerators in the UK can pour over 6 million tonnes of CO² into the atmosphere every year without penalty. This in turn encourages more waste to go to incineration instead of being recycled.

Air pollution is the most significant environmental threat to health in the UK and it is a major cause of diseases such as asthma, lung cancer, stroke and coronary heart disease.

Please donate to Georgia’s legal challenge on this Clean Air Day.

Visit https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/make-incineration-polluters-pay for more information.

Why Food Waste Matters

Photo by Ella Olsson on Unsplash

Have you ever thrown away uneaten food? Perhaps you have bought food and left it forgotten in the fridge, the next time you take it out it has already gone bad and you chuck it into the bin. Another common scenario you may have come across in a restaurant where you order too much food that you cannot finish and give permission to the waiter to take it away. Not surprisingly that food will end up in the bin as well.

Today is International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste. Here at Element 4 we always emphasise the importance of achieving the balance among the three pillars of sustainability: environment, social and economic. Let’s see how food loss and waste affect these three elements.

Environmental impact:

When talking about food waste, the first thing that comes to people’s mind is the methane it produces when the food waste ends up in the landfill. In fact, the food waste in UK can be associated with more than 25 million tonnes of greenhouses gas emissions (GHG)1 per year. However, food waste is not just about the potent GHG emissions, but also the energy that has gone into the production process of the food, including the water and carbon footprint in food production and logistics.

Social impact:

UK is one of the most wasteful countries in Europe when it comes to food with people throwing away over 10 million tonnes2 of food each year. Meanwhile, according to Fare Share, 8.4 million people in the UK are struggling to afford to eat, and this is equivalent to the entire population of London. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has pointed out that a third of the world’s entire food supply could be saved by reducing waste and would provide enough food to feed 3 billion people3.

Economic impact:

Food waste not only has a massive economic impact on itself, but the costs to local government of collecting and treating food waste are also significant. In a report by Friends of the Earth UK, the cost of handling food waste to the UK government is estimated at over £300 million. To the surprise of many people, the majority of food waste in the UK comes from households as opposed to restaurants, hotels and businesses, including supermarkets4.

What can we do to reduce food waste?

Have a look at the following waste hierarchy, which is adapted by WRAP UK from the original EU Waste Framework Directive (2008) with steps for dealing waste and ranked according to their environmental impact.

More practical ideas of reducing food waste can be found on the following links:

1 WRAP (2020). Food surplus and waste in the UK.

2 Which? (2019). Three food waste facts everyone needs to know.

3 FAO UN (2011). Global Initiative on Food Loss and Waste Reduction, study conducted for the International Congress – SAVE FOOD! at Interpack 2011, Germany

4 WRAP (2020). Food surplus and waste in the UK.

International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies

Today marks the very first International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies. It emphasises the need to make further efforts to improve air quality, including reducing air pollution, to protect human health. 

World Health Organisation (WHO) data shows that 9 out of 10 people breathe air containing high levels of pollutants. Air pollution kills an estimated seven million people worldwide every year; either by bad outdoor air or indoor smoke. 

There are three main areas that we as individuals can do to help improve air quality: –

1) Switch to renewable energy

It is a known fact that coal is the worst among burning fossil fuels as it releases more carbon dioxide (CO²) per unit of energy than oil or gas; however more than a third of the world’s electricity is generated by coal. If more people switch to renewable energy, this can help reduce CO² emissions and also the toxic particulates which contribute to air pollution. 

2) Taking alternatives in transportation

As the majority of cars run on either petrol or diesel, they emit CO² and other gases like Nitrogen Dioxide (NO²) from the exhaust fumes and these all contribute to air pollution and climate change. 

Walking, cycling and taking public transport are alternatives to driving and encourage more active and healthy living. Car owners can also consider switching to electric cars and consuming renewable electricity to achieve zero-emissions both ‘at the pipe’ and from the power source. 

3) Act together as a community

There are many movements going-on initiated by environmental bodies like Friends of The Earth, Green Peace and Climate Tracker. We can act together as a community and help to enforce our governments to enact upon air quality issues. 

Our Managing Director Georgia Elliott-Smith is fighting for cleaner air. Georgia has initiated a legal challenge against the government’s decision to exclude waste incinerators from its new carbon trading scheme. You can read more about her challenge in the Guardian here: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/aug/25/legal-challenge-uk-exclusion-waste-incinerators-emissions-trading-scheme

Have you looked up to the sky today? Tell us what you think about air pollution. 

What we have learned from Plastic Free July?

Photo by Dustan Woodhouse on Unsplash

“Just because you can’t see it; it doesn’t mean it’s not there”.

Have you ever realised how much waste we produce each day?  Do you know where your waste ends up? Most of the time we do not think much about our daily consumption of products and the associated waste but if we spend some time thinking about it logically, even though our waste disappears from our sight; it still exists somewhere on the planet. 

According to Greyer et al. (2017)1, as of 2015 an estimated 79% of global plastic waste was discarded in landfills or the natural environment, 12% was incinerated and only 9% recycled. Another publication issued by UC Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS)2 in 2015 highlighted that on average 8 million metric tons of plastic ends up in our oceans every year. These figures are alarming and as a citizen of Planet Earth, is there something we can do?

You might think the developing world is mainly responsible for poor waste practices, but the London average household recycling rate is less than 30%, despite around 80% of what we throw away being recyclable.

As we approach the end of Plastic Free July, I would like to share this shocking video of plastic waste discarded in the Mediterranean Sea: –

Here are a few ideas we can all try to help minimise plastic waste: –

  • Identify the types and quantity of plastic you use. Is there more you can recycle? Consider buying products or food in bulk to minimise excessive plastic packing.
  • Replace disposable products with reusable ones. For example, using reusable bags when shopping decreases single-use plastic bags but you could also try using reusable drinking straws, cutlery and coffee cups.
  • Switch to brands that use planet-friendly packaging and materials. More and more brands are switching to packaging made from recycled and / or biodegradable materials. Try to develop a habit of looking at the packaging / content label and choose wisely to help with reducing plastic waste.
  • Contact your favourite brands by social media or email asking them to reduce their packaging or change to more sustainable practices. You never know, you could be the tenth person to ask the same question that week and that’s how we start to show businesses there’s profit in being green.

Plastic waste reduction requires a shift in both industry and individual practices. We need to make employees and communities aware of the need to adopt the 5 Rs suggested by Bea Johnson (2013)3: –

  • Refuse
  • Reduce
  • Reuse / Repair
  • Recycle
  • Rot (applicable for compostable plastics only)

We can voice the need to reduce plastic waste to politicians and government who have the power to enact policies to reduce the production and consumption of plastic. For example, imposing bans on plastic products including single-use cups and cutlery and levying a green tax on certain single-use plastics. For any policies put in place, government and organisations should continuously monitor and evaluate the performance and communicate them openly to help curb plastic pollution in the environment.

1 Geyer, R., Jambeck, J. R., & Law, K. L. (2017). Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made. Science Advances, 3(7), e1700782.

2 Jambeck, J.R. et al. (2015). Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean. Science, 347(6223), pp. 768-771. 

3 Johnson’s, Bea (2013). Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste