Guest Blog: Are you an unwitting polluter?

GUEST BLOG: Eco-conscious consumers are cutting plastic, but confused about how they can help most…

When it comes to recycling, do you have the best of intentions, but not always the information or knowledge to match? Are you an unwitting polluter? In this SustMeme Guest Post, Yanyan Ji, SVP Marketing at Gazelle, a known leader in electronic waste, talks us through the findings of a representative survey of British consumers, which explored their environmental beliefs and lifestyle behaviours, plus, in some cases, the disconnect between the two…

YJ: New research finds 83% of Britons are doing more than ever to cut the amount of plastic they use and throw away. Women are leading this plastic-cutting charge with 90% saying their desire to use less is higher than ever.

However, the survey, which was carried out by the phone-recycling company, Gazelle, also found that over 35 million Brits (57% of those surveyed) are still risking dangerous chemicals leaching into the ground and contaminating our soils and waterways, by throwing away electronic gadgets such as old phones.

The ‘Attenborough effect’ as it’s becoming known is in evidence. Eight out of ten people (81%) who have watched shows like Blue Planet and Climate Change: The Facts say that the programmes have made them re-evaluate their behaviour and consider the environment more.

For example, when at the supermarket, 67% of shoppers now consider environmental factors when choosing what to buy, rather than selecting products solely based on price.

Yet despite Brits’ noble intentions, eight out of ten (81%) of us say that they want to do more to help the environment, but feel confused about what can and cannot be reused or recycled.

Over half (57%) of those surveyed admit to having put a phone, laptop, tablet, charger, or other electrical item in the household bin in the last year. And on average, just one third of us (34%) have recycled our phones or tablets.

Well intentioned, but ultimately ill-informed Brits tend to go online to find out how to reduce their impact on the environment, with nearly 9 in 10 Brits saying that would consult the internet on specific eco-advice.

It’s been estimated that only 15-20 percent of all e-waste is recycled, and the rest ends up in landfill. Our latest research suggests the cause of that isn’t consumers being unwilling to change their behaviour — rather, they don’t always know what to do.

When asked what they recycled, the top ten items were found to be:

  1. Plastic bottles: 92 %
  2. Cans: 88 %
  3. Newspapers and magazines: 86 %
  4. Cardboard: 86 %
  5. Glass bottles: 85 %
  6. Hard plastic containers: 70 %
  7. Batteries: 59 %
  8. Aerosols: 56 %
  9. Mobile phones and tablets: 34 %
  10. Televisions: 26 %

Here at Gazelle, we’re hoping to play our part by making it clearer and easier than ever for people to trade in old phones, get instant payment, and avoid contributing to e-waste in landfill. Our 26 kiosks across the UK will even take phones that are beyond repair, and responsibly recycle them, diverting them from landfill.

Smart. Simple. Rewarding.

More information on Gazelle, what it does to reduce e-waste, plus how to locate a kiosk nearby in the UK, can be found on the company’s website:

Would you like to Guest Blog for SustMeme? Click here for more info…

SUSTMEME: Get the Susty Story Straight!

Explainer: How Microplastics Threaten Our Environment

Microplastic pollution is being found everywhere, literally: it is in our rivers; on our gardens; in the food we eat; it is even now in human poop.

Perhaps the worst aspect of microplastic pollution is that no effective and efficient way of removing the full range of debris has yet been found.

The EU has, however, recently proposed a wide-ranging ban on the use of ‘intentionally added’ microplastics, which if approved into law could see a phase-out starting 2020.

Meantime, recovering plastics from oceans and recycling them before they start to break down into small fragments is one way to fight this kind of pollution. When recycled, these plastics are used to create sustainable products.

This excellent infographic below, from Roman Chaloupka and GreenMatch, tells us more about how Microplastics Threaten Our Environment.

You can view the original, also learn about becoming ‘waste aware’ and fighting pollution, as well as the creators themselves here; plus Follow them on Twitter.

Micro Plastic Pollution

Green tide on the rise for electric shipping

New writing My latest piece for Eniday looks at the (slow) journey towards greater sustainability in shipping. You’ve heard of electric cars, buses and lorries, well, what about e-ferries? Championed by market leaders and supported by international policymakers, the drive towards tackling the climate impacts and carbon footprint of the the industry as a whole is gathering momentum, albeit belatedly. With the technology already proven, the opportunity to cut emissions of pollutants harmful to human health is real and immediate. The accompanying business case is made all the more attractive to countries such as the UK by the prospect of financial savings measured in millions of pounds. The green tide is on the rise – so, let the ‘E-ferries: Roll-on, off, up!’.

Future of Construction: Change is in the Air

New writing... Pleased to say I have another piece published in The Times newspaper today, as part of a special report on the Future of Construction, by Raconteur. It looks at how the construction sector stands accused as a polluter, but has an opportunity to clean up its act – not just on urban air quality, but environmental impacts and emissions in general, including carbon:

‘Change is in the air with city pollution’.

The full 16-page  report is available to view/download here.

Environmental Crime: From Ecocide, via INTERPOL, to Litter

Image courtesy of dream designs

What connects guns to gum?

Genocide and graffiti are worlds apart, as are the global trade in illegal timber and nuisance parking, gangland killings and the theft of rare bird eggs, right? Wrong. They are all simply and inextricably linked by a single issue, all part of the same one-planet problem: Environmental Crime.

INTERPOL: Serious and organised crime

A Detective Inspector attached to the National Wildlife Crime Unit in Livingston, Scotland, heading up an international INTERPOL team, has pioneered coordination of a worldwide operation across 51 countries fighting illegal trade in reptiles and amphibians. Results have included the seizure of thousands of animals and products valued at over €25M. The primary target here has been eco-cybercrime, widespread and big bucks; but this scale of intercontinental sting is by no means the only level of interest and involvement at which environmental policing pays.

Crime is crime. Investigations that get results are valuable and targeting environmental transgressions can represent an effective route into a known underworld network at national, regional, even local level. Convictions won as a result of an eco-crime investigation can bring benefits to law enforcement services in more ways than one: They might take a serious criminal temporarily out of circulation, albeit on a lesser charge; and/or they might help unearth evidence in connection with a serious crime, so providing the breakthrough the police needed.

As well as pursuing high-profile cases involving illegal trade in exotic items such as ivory or tigers, INTERPOL understands that supporting the likes of the Environment Agency in its pursuit in England and Wales of prosecutions in connection with waste licensing, management, transfer and disposal offences is an effective way of disrupting the activities of organised crime syndicates. Searches on the basis of skip-hire malpractice can result in arrests and convictions of much greater significance, with wider-ranging implications.

In short, whilst The Sopranos might be fictional, the dirty-money storyline links between gangsters and garbage are not entirely false and not so far removed from real-life drama, legal prosecution cases and convictions in the courts.

Conflict resources: Prosecuting the President for ‘pillage’

Serious and organised as the ‘The Mob’ might be, they are not however at the top of the tree in terms of environmental crime.

This week, the verdict due in the trial of the former President of Liberia, Charles Taylor, could set a significant legal precedent (according to reports in The Ecologist). Taylor is being tried on 11 counts, the final one of which is ‘pillage’, or conflict-related theft, prohibited in international humanitarian law under the 1949 Geneva Convention.

Wars cost money. Many brutal conflicts have depended on arms deals funded via ill-gotten gains, exploitation of rights and illegal trade in natural resources, such as timber and ‘blood diamonds’. This violent history has lead to the environment being described as the ‘unpublicised victim of war’.

Proof of ‘pillage theory’ is difficult to obtain. Prosecutions are complex and potentially costly, with outcomes uncertain, but the principle is valid and mainstream jurisprudence is becoming increasingly interested in exploring its application.

The price to be paid for ‘stolen goods’ is perhaps set to rise to a whole new level, where the concept of ‘costing the earth’ is to be taken as a literal measure of value.

Ecocide: A Crime against Peace

A stage further and bigger still sees environmental crime taken to the United Nations. In April 2010, Barrister, environmental campaigner, aspiring law-maker and activist Polly Higgins submitted to the United Nations the written proposal for Ecocide to be made the 5th Crime Against Peace (alongside Genocide, Crimes against Humanity, Crimes of Aggression and War Crimes).

Ecocide is defined as: The extensive destruction, damage to or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been severely diminished.

To highlight the campaign, a Mock Trial then took place in the UK Supreme Court, in London, which in turn lead to the sentencing of two fictional oil company CEOs, found guilty of Ecocide in relation to highly topical cases concerned with tar sands extraction.

In the land of environmental law, ‘Ecocide’ is intellectually and effectively building the bridge between the territories of human rights and crime. Crossing the boundary from fiction to fact at the UN would alter the legal landscape forever.

Environmental Crime: You, me and the dog

So, where exactly on this scale of escalating ‘biolence’ are to be found the petty eco-crimes, minor cases of community misconduct and household misdemeanours of the general public? Where does all of this leave you and me?

Well, at the level of Local Environment Quality (LEQ), mostly dealing with dog mess, chewing gum, fast-food and cigarette litter, surrounded by abandoned vehicles, fly-tipped fridges and tyres, mouldering back-street mattresses and graffiti.

This is the grim reality of combating environmental crime for the majority – a relentless and relatively thankless process of cleaning-up after the actions of the minority. More grime squad, than crime squad? Wrong.

Crime is crime. Results are results. The game is the same, whether chasing leads at INTERPOL, pitching Ecocide to the UN, or fighting for a clean and healthy neighbourhood. The job is to protect: One Planet; One People.

To protect, first you need to care. Environmental Crime? Take care. Give care. Care.


Further reading, legislation and links:

• The INTERPOL website provides information on operations, intelligence and projects in connection with environmental crime, covering the activities of both the Wildlife and the Pollution Working Groups.

•  Ecocide is a Crime can also be found on Facebook.

• The Environmental Protection Act (EPA) 1990 sets out regulations for England & Wales covering a broad range of environmental issues, from pollution to GMOs. Of primary importance, was its original constitution making it an offence to litter.

• The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act (CNEA) 2005 is the key policy document in Local Environment Quality (LEQ) regulations, providing more effective powers and tools, under which provision, for example, Local Authority enforcement officers are able to issue fixed penalty notices. It updates and extends an number of the legislative elements of the EPA above.

• The Antisocial Behaviour Act 2003 deals with (among other things) fly tipping, littering, graffiti, and fly posting.

• The Government in England and Wales works closely with the independent charity Keep Britain Tidy (KBT) to develop advice, research, support and training, plus deliver behaviour changing campaigns on LEQ matters, including the Love Where You Live campaign. KBT resources and outputs of note include Knowledge Banks, Surveys and Reports – particularly the landmark Local Environment Quality Survey England – plus special projects such as the Eco Schools initiative, the Green Flag awards scheme for parks and the Blue Flag programme for beaches.

• The Government-lead Chewing Gum Action Group (CGAG) works closely with industry and Local Authorities to reduce the amount of gum litter on streets of the UK.

• For concerned individuals living and working in England & Wales, there is also additional information available online regarding street cleaning, litter and illegal dumping matters, offering help and advice on what can be done about LEQ issues.

Author: Jim McClelland