Sunday, 30 December 2018

Environment 2018 > the good news and the bad news

More from this weekend's i newspaper looking back at the year:
These 27 good news stories show that there was a lot to be happy about in 2018 - inews.co.uk

And with a focus on the environment:

Environment: The good news and the bad news from 2018

Plastic waste continued to be a major environmental issue this year (Pexels)

Friday December 28th 2018

The good news


Having broken into the public consciousness in a big way in 2017, helped by David Attenborough‘s Blue Planet II series, supermarkets and other plastic producers were making pledges left, right and centre.

And while it’s true that these tended to focus more on recycling and less on eliminating plastic altogether – and while the government disappointed many in the budget by deciding against a latte levy charge for disposable coffee cups mooted earlier in the year – much progress has been made in 2018.

In one of the biggest developments of the year, major retailers such as Greggs, Costa, Starbucks, Morrisons, John Lewis and Heathrow Airport have set up more than 12,000 water refilling stations across the country offering free drinking water, so that people are less inclined to buy bottled drinks.

Compostable bags: Among numerous other developments, the Co-op has developed a compostable carrier bag to replace its plastic bag and began rolling it out to its stores, Tesco began selling water in cans, and

Iceland became the first major retailer to sell plastic-free chewing gum (which few had realised even contained plastic).

Tesco has promised to remove PVC and polystyrene from all of its product packaging by the end of next year to make items such as yogurt pots and pizza bases easier to recycle.

So while plastic remains a massive problem – and far greater action is needed to drastically cut plastic consumption and improve recycling – a decent step in the right direction has been taken.

Renewable energy: 

2018 was a year of positive landmarks for renewable energy.

Wind power continued to grow, overtaking nuclear power for the first time over the course of the year. And on a windy day in March, the industry reached the milestone by generating 13.9 GW, or 37 per cent of the UK’s entire electricity supply.

A report by respected researchers at King’s College London found that total capacity from renewables has over taken that of fossil fuels for the first time – although renewable energy does not operate at full capacity much of the time, so gas and coal still generated more electricity in 2018.

But by 2021, renewable capacity will have grown considerably and total generation from wind, solar and hydro power will then be outstripping fossil fuels.


When Scottish Power became the first of the major generators to produce all of its electricity from renewable sources.

Ozone layer: 

In November, a UN report confirmed that the ozone layer is well on the way to healing from damage caused by aerosol sprays and coolants.

The Earth’s protective layer had been thinning since the late 1970s and scientists raised the alarm before ozone-depleting chemicals were phased out worldwide. But it’s taken years for the repair to begin.

Now that it has, the upper ozone layer above the Northern Hemisphere should be completely repaired in the 2030s, according to the assessment.

And the gaping Antarctic ozone hole should disappear in the 2060s, the report added.

High in the atmosphere, the ozone shields Earth from ultraviolet rays that cause skin cancer, crop damage and other problems.

Use of man-made chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which release chlorine and bromine, began eating away at the ozone.

In 1987, countries around the world agreed in the Montreal Protocol to phase out CFCs and businesses came up with replacements.

At its worst in the late 1990s, about 10 per cent of the upper ozone layer was depleted. Since 2000, it has increased by about 1 per cent to 3 per cent per decade, the report said.

The bad news

Climate Change

A major UN report in October concluded that while it is possible to limit global warming to 1.5C – beyond which it’s effects are forecast to become rapidly more damaging – compared to pre-industrial times this would require a dramatic overhaul of the global economy, which would require most, if not all, fossil fuels to be ditched in just 12 years.

Experts say there is nothing to suggest such unprecedented action will happen – a point underlined this month by the annual UN climate change conference where world leaders meet to discuss measures to curb the problem.

This year the meeting once again put off difficult questions such as how to scale up existing commitments on cutting emissions, in line with stark scientific advice, and how to provide finance for poor countries to do the same.

Meanwhile, signs that the effects of climate change are already upon us continued to build up.

In December, the Met Office conclude that climate change made this year’s summer heatwave about 30 times more likely than it would have been under natural conditions.

That scorching weather offers further confirmation, if it were needed, that temperatures are rising. Over the past decade temperatures were an astonishing 0.8°C higher than they were between 1961 and 1990 – and nine of the 10 warmest years occurred in the past 15 years.

Air pollution: 

The British Heart Foundaton declared air pollution as being as big a threat as obesity after scientists confirmed for the first time something that had long been expected -air pollution causes heart attacks and strokes.

The declaration came just a day after the World Health Organisation warned that the average level of air pollution in the UK is 10.5 micrograms of particulates per cubic metre. above the organisations upper safety limit of 10 micograms per cubic metre.

Among various other reports showing that the effects of air pollution are worse than previously thought, a study from Washington University in St Louis, Missouri suggested it is responsible for nearly 15,000 new cases of diabetes in the UK every year, a study has found.

Others linked it to mouth cancer, declining maths ability and rising crime rates.

Brixton Road in the London borough of Lambeth breached its pollution limit for 2018 before the end of January.

And in February, Britain’s High Court ruled for the third time that the Government must do more to curb nitrogen dioxide levels – much of which comes from traffic, diesel in particular.


It’s been a particularly bad year for waste in the UK.

New government figures published in December revealed that household recycling rates are falling and more rubbish is being disposed of through burning.

English households recycled 44.8 per cent of their waste in the year to 31 March, and the amount of rubbish being incinerated increased by 6.5 per cent to 10.8 million tonnes, the figures showed.

These came out just a few days after the waste crisis was dramatically undermined by claims that austerity has prompted an epidemic of bin theft and back garden rubbish burning.

Many councils have introduced charges of £20 to £30 for new bins in recent years, meaning some households cannot afford to replace them when they go missing.

Councils have also cut the frequency of bin collections, making it harder to keep waste levels under control.

Rise in rubbish burning: 

As a result some households are resorting to disposing of their rubbish by burning it in their back gardens, or through fly-tipping, Mary Creagh, the head of parliament’s environment committee, told i in December.

And the issue of waste disposal looks set to get even bigger in 2019.

That’s because at the start of 2018, the Chinese government took the dramatic step of stopping the importation of 24 kinds of solid waste, including polyethylene terephthalate (PET) drinks bottles, other plastic bottles and containers, and all mixed paper.

China has traditionally taken the bulk of Britain’s plastic waste and so it needed to find an alternative overseas home for it. As early as January, 2018, reports circulated about a build-up of waste at Britain’s ports – while in October the Malaysian government said it would stop imports of plastic waste within three years after being flooded with it following China’s decision. Britain sends a quarter of its waste to Malaysia. How the UK will deal with the waste problem in the coming years remains to be seen.

No comments: