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.

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

People from different parts of the world dialling in for the Sustainability Kick-Start Workshop

Our Agents of Change Programme has come to an end! Over the last 4 weeks we have been sharing questions around sustainability such as: –

•        Why become an Agent of Change?

•        Who is ready to build a community?

•        What will you do?

•        How we can all make changes?

We interviewed other Agents of Change and hope their personal stories inspire more people to make a positive change in their organisation or community.

We were pleased to see so many people join us for our Sustainability Kick-Start workshop including delegates from Canada, India, Iraq, Mexico, South Africa and across Europe.  We want to thank everyone for sharing ideas and questions that sparked off some great debate.  Due to the constraints of time we could not answer every question on the webinar but everyone is welcome to join our #AgentsOfChange LinkedIn group to continue the conversation.

Here at Element 4 we want to get people inspired and motivated to make real change within the environment and encourage greater sustainability. Let us know what topics interest you helping us to plan future webinars!