Monday, 26 September 2016

All not what it seems in packaging

I have just had a lovely slice of apple and blackberry lattice pie from Waitrose. It came in a cardboard carton, which I turned over to read recycling codes: card is 'widely recycled'; foil is 'check locally for kerbside'; but the window of plastic in the carton is 'not recyclable'. Why not? Why produce such complex packaging? It is unnecessary.

I also had a lovely bit of toast from a slice of Vogel's Soya and Linseed bread 'crammed with bursting seeds and grains'. You can imagine the explosions of the seeds and grains! It was lovely toasted with a bit of cheese, cheese on toast being one of my favourite snacks. But the really good thing thing is that the plastic 'bag' it came in is recyclable. Well done Vogel. it leads me to a question. If they can use recyclable plastic bags for their bread, then why can't others? Why is the plastic wrap on the bunch of bananas from Waitrose not recyclable? And also why are bananas in a bag at all? The answer to the latter is of course sales promotion. It is easy to sell a bargain if it is packaged.

Recycling plastic is a mess, and it is a mess we the consumer is having to deal with. The onus has been placed on us to sort it out and put the appropriate bits in our recycle bins. But while the responsibility has been placed upon us, the producers appear to be doing little to ease the problem with mixed packaging, and with packaging for promotional reasons rather than necessity. It really is unnecessary to put apples in a cardboard carton with a plastic covering. Apples can be and should be sold loose.

Let's take black plastic Trays. Black plastic trays used for microwavable ready meals are not currently recyclable simply because they are black. The problem is that recycle companies use optical technology to sort the plastic, but it can't cope with black plastic! It is unable to detect the polymers.

You would think it would be sensible to make all plastic trays a colour that can be recycled, but I think the problem is that black is used to cover the colour impurities in the plastic. Some companies have been trying to overcome this problem, but meanwhile we are putting these trays in the recycle bin when they can't be recycled. The solution is simple. The government could act to make it mandatory for such trays to be recyclable. The government could act to stop this nonsense.

And then there are Yoghurt pots. Several manufacturers now use PET, polyethylene terephthalate, yoghurt pots, which are the same polymer type as plastic bottles. PET yoghurt pots can be recycled. That is good.

However, some yogurt pots are made from polystyrene and are not generally accepted in plastic recycling schemes. Polystyrene has an entirely different make-up to the polymers used in plastic bottles and there are currently limited outlets for this material. That is bad.

So here is the question: If some yogurt pots can be recycled, then why shouldn't it be mandatory on producers that ALL yogurt pots be recyclable? Doesn't that make sense?

We can stop this nonsense! Governments can act.

But our government has left us, the consumers, to sort out the problem with plastic. Surely it is time we stopped non-recyclable plastics being used for packaging.

When you buy fish and chips and they give it to you in a styrofoam carton it is not considered recyclable because when it is broken down it doesn't produce sufficient to be reusable. This is also why styrofoam cups can't be recycled. We should stop the use of such cups.

The UK uses over 5 million tonnes of plastic each year of which an estimated 29% is currently being recovered or recycled. Around 38%, 2.4 million tons of this is plastic in packaging.

The UK has a plastic packaging recycling target of 57% by 2020. Frankly I don't think this is good enough. It doesn't address the problem of too much packaging.

According to the Waste Resource Action Programme (WRAP), 1.7 million tonnes of this plastic waste comes from households and the rest from commercial and industrial companies. Plastic bottles, pots, tubs, trays, films and plastic bags are the most common types of household plastic waste.

The government has acted to reduce the use of plastic carrier bags. But what is the point of this when we go on using non-recyclable bags for our fruit? The onus has been put on us, the consumer to recycle our plastic waste. There is much talk of fines to households for not properly recycling such waste. We have a responsibility to ensure that the waste item is placed into a collection system which maximises the opportunity for collection and recycling of the material content. This is why I find it frustrating that so much of the outer packaging is not recyclable. Many don't realise this and they simply put it in the recycle bin. Tonnes of this wretched stuff, used for outer packaging, cannot currently be recycled.

We need a firner strategy on packaging.




Wednesday, 7 September 2016

A disconnected list of old and new targets isn't a climate strategy

Jeremy Corbyn is set to outline his energy strategy today.  It is expected to include

Promoting 200 new publicly owned "local energy companies" by 2025 able to supply towns and cities across the UK.
Encouraging 1,000 new "community energy co-operatives", backed by state funding to pay for connection to the National Grid.
Insulating four million homes to high energy efficiency standards
Phasing out coal-fired power stations by the early 2020s
Restoring the Climate Change Department
Supporting plans to plant 64 million trees in next 10 years

It is good that Jeremy Corbyn appears to be putting together a more coherent approach to the environment. But it is still a hotch-potch with little that is new. Indeed much is old. We need to be much bolder and more innovative.  


Coal-fired generators are due to be phased out by 2025 under this Tory government plans, so not a lot new there. There is very little on how we enhance renewable, although planting trees goes a long way. However, we need to see where, when and how these trees could be planted. 
Home Insulation is way behind targets despite government support. Estimates by the Committee on Climate Change in 2014 suggested that 4.5 million cavity walls remained un-insulated, 10 million easy-to-treat lofts could benefit from additional insulation and 7 million solid walls were still without any insulation.What we need to see is the detail on how to make progress on the targets. Setting targets just isn't working.
Restoring the Climate Change department is good, and necessary, but isn't a great leap forward. It speaks more of how important climate change is than putting forward a clear strategy on dealing with climate change.  It is more politics than substance. 
I give Jeremy marks for effort, but the real problem from a global point of view is that the UK has been 'meeting' its targets for emissions largely by exporting manufacturing abroad to China and India. If we took account of the pollution of our imports then we are doing very badly. Tackling this will need a substantial revival of UK manufacturing with an emphasis on environmentally clean production. I see nothing here on that. However, if this is tackled in the overall economic strategy, then we could really be making new ground.
What I want to see from Labour is not just the targets but how it would be done. The last manifesto was pitifully weak on this. It is time we began to put flesh on the old bones that keep being put forward. Yes, we need more home insulation, but how best can we meet the targets? Yes we need our consumption to be 'clean' but how do we do that when we export our polution to China and India. We need a new manufacturing strategy that promotes clean production in the UK. Labour has time to develop a coherent strategy for the next election, but I don't see it  presented here by Jeremy Corybn. Marks 6/10.

Monday, 5 September 2016

For Labour to abolish university tuition fees it needs to find the funding.

Funding for higher education has become an issue in Labour's leadership election.  Most Labour party members I talk to would like to abolish university tuition fees.

Up to the 2012/13 academic year, higher education institutions in England could charge a maximum annual fee of £3,375. This changed in 2012/13 when the cap was increased to £9,000. The vast majority of universities and courses charge the £9,000 maximum.

Now the cap has been increased to £9,000 there is some evidence that it is deterring potential students from poorer backgrounds, or at the least it is affecting the decisions poorer students make. This was always the concern.  

But, whilst there is evidence that fees may affect decisions, the doomsday predictions of a massive decline in students from poorer backgrounds has not materialised. There are now more young learners entering higher education from lower socio-economic groups than at any time before. This number continued to increase even when the cap was lifted to £9,000. But as UCAS point out 'it is likely that application rates remain a little below what they would have been if higher fees had not been introduced.’

The bottom line is that if we abolish fees altogether then we need to find funding for the universities, and that would need to come from tax revenue.  Labour should at least consider whether fees should still be a component of funding. We can't just have a wish list of state funding without knowing the costs and how they would be met.  We should at least consider whether there is a sweet level of fees that would help raise revenue without being a deterrent to poorer students entering higher education.

The expansion of universities and the numbers of students put a considerable strain on universities. There has been a huge expansion of student numbers. This is good, particularly if it is broadening access and opportunities. But it needs funding. 

Funding from fees now makes up a substantial amount (47%) of university funding. The government has systematically reduced the amount of direct funding for universities in England and Wales. One alternative would be a graduate tax, but it is not clear this would raise sufficient revenue to replace the funding from fees, or if it could be imposed fairly. The universities need funding up front, not at some time in the future when graduates start earning sufficient to pay a premium tax rate.

Those who advocate abolishing fees altogether must come up with alternative funding. We could make it a priority to increase direct funding, but it competes with the need to fund the NHS and social care. I have yet to see any real costed alternative. We need to find one.

My approach would be to systematically reduce fees over a period of years, with a gradual replacement with direct funding. It is sensible to consider  a graduate tax as a temporary measure to find such funding in the future, but the devil would be in the detail. It is also sensible to see some level of fees as part of the mix, but at a much lower cap.

If Jeremy Corbyn promises to abolish fees, then he needs to be honest about its cost, and where he will find the funding. The Universities have no faith in government commitment to increase funding. There is also a great deal of anxiety about the loss of revenue from EU students post Brexit. None of this is easy. Don't believe anyone who claims it is.

Friday, 2 September 2016

His way or none? Why I can't vote for Jeremy

There is an assumption that all would be well with the Labour Party if people hadn't expressed their genuine concern with what they consider the inadequacies of Jeremy Corbyn's leadership. If only, it is said, the Parliamentary Labour Party and his Shadow Cabinet had supported him, instead of undermining him, all would have been fine. If they had been quiet and towed the line, then the party would not have been in the mess it is in. So, should they have stayed silent, or speak of their concerns?

There comes a point when the cost of staying silent outweighs the cost of speaking out. This is a judgment. Many call it a coup by the PLP. They paint a picture of a right-wing PLP out of touch with the membership.  This is the narrative of the Corbyn camp.

But Jeremy Corbyn, over the decades he has been in politics, showed the way.  It was Jeremy Corbyn who opposed almost all Labour leaders and rarely held back from speaking out, or voting time and again against the party line. As Secretary of the Camapaign Group, he led the attempt to oust Neil Kinnock in 1988. Sadly, he has continued this approach even when he was elected leader last year.

Opposition comes naturally to Jeremy Corbyn, the responsibilities of leadership are more tricky, and certainly more messy. Thus he continued to oppose rather than seek understanding and compromise for the greater good of party unity and electability. The Labour party 'establishment' were still the enemy. The PLP became the enemy.  The shadow cabinet became the enemy.

Rather than lead, he picked unnecessary fights with his shadow cabinet. This was ill-conceived, and it was doomed to failure - and failure is what it is.  If he wins the current contest, which appears likely, then unless he adopts a different approach it is likely to destroy his party.

This is the problem I have had with his leadership. In so many ways he has been leading Momentum rather than the Labour Party. He is more at home addressing their rallies than he is leading all of Labour. From the start he failed to seek compromise or reach out to the parliamentary party, and he failed to seek a way forward. Trident is an example. It has been Labour's position to support renewal of UK's nuclear deterrent and the party fought the last election on a manifesto pledging to keep a nuclear deterrent.

We cannot expect the Parliamentary Labour Party to abandon that position simply because Jeremy has become leader. Yet this is what he expected.

Corbyn rightly agreed to set up a review, and the then Shadow Defence Secretary, Maria Eagle, was to lead it. But without consultation, Corbyn made Ken Livingstone a joint chair of the review. It was a provocative move.

We hear so much from his supporters that the PLP would not work with him. On the contrary, many were willing to serve in his shadow cabinet. Maria Eagle was one of them. She didn't run to the press shouting about his lack of consultation. But it was symptomatic of the way he would treat his shadow team.

By all accounts, he rarely consulted with his shadow team on an individual basis, and yet he made policy statements. He repeatedly declared war on his own shadow cabinet. He opposed them. His experience in politics is only to adopt positions, not to negotiate with others.

Jeremy's supporters would have us dismiss the entire PLP as 'Blarite' or 'Tories', or worse (go on twitter to find much worse). But we would be foolish to ignore what they have been saying telling us from their experience of his leadership.

Jeremy Corbyn has succeeded in uniting his PLP, but only in as much as he has united them against his leadership. Now, when anyone expresses similar concern they are subjected to the same dismissal of their points. They are not listened to. The reply is always simply 'if you would support him' then it would be different.

Corbyn's supporters won't listen. They are on a mission. It is their way or none. That is what is so damaging about them. That is what is so damaging about Momentum. That is what is wrong with Jeremy's leadership - 'his way or none'. And then there is Momentum, a party that now straddles the Labour party.

Momentum is not just 'Labour supporters'. It embraces also The Socialist Party (former Militant Tendency) and The Socialist Workers Party. Neither of these parties wish Labour to succeed. Yet they bus people to Corbyn rallies.

I have voted for Owen Smith 2016. I believe Jeremy is leading Labour to destruction because of his 'take it or leave it' approach to policy. It is their way or none, and that ignores a substantial number of members who do not support 'his way'.

Labour's greatest achievements have come through compromise. They come though embracing the broader church of the Labour party not narrowing it. The NHS, welfare reform, equality legislation and much more was achieved by being electable, not by saying 'its my principles or none!'. To achieve little is easy enough, to achieve much is difficult. It requires more than a wish list. It requires a coherent programme on the economy and on social policy. It requires priorities and a degree of pragmatism about what can be achieved. But nothing can be achieved without power. Nothing can be achieved without reaching out and addressing voter concerns and becoming electable. We need a Labour government.

A good leader does not hold his party ransom for his principles. That is unprincipled.