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Throwaway razors and nappies should be taxed as luxuries, says Defra

Sadie Gray, The Independent
Disposable razors and nappies could be taxed as luxury goods in order to cut the amount of waste going to landfill, a Government-funded report to ministers has suggested.

In the same way as taxes were applied to discourage the purchase of cigarettes and alcohol, they should apply to disposable goods that cannot be reused or recycled in order to prevent people from buying them as cheap and convenient alternatives to reusable items, the report said. Taxes would also encourage manufacturers to focus on the development of more durable products. If disposable razors were taxed at the same rate as cigarettes – about 80 per cent of the price goes to the Treasury – a single Gillette Mach 3 would leap from £1 to £5.

The report, commissioned from Eunomia Research & Consulting by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), says: “Some products considered ‘luxury’, such as alcohol and tobacco, have heavy duties on them. If disposable products were categorised in a similar way, they could be subjected to similar duties.” The report also advocates new taxes on household rubbish, claiming they could halve the amount of waste each person throws away from 800lbs to 400lbs a year…
(31 August 2008)

Oil costs bring thinner bin bags

Thinner bin bags have been brought in by a Kent council because of the rising cost of oil.

Sevenoaks council said its bill for the polymer-based bags would have gone up by £17,000 if it had not opted to cut the thickness of the sacks.

The density of the bags is being reduced by one micron – about 0.001mm.
(2 September 2008)

Ghost Species

Robert Macfarlane, Granta 102
On a cold morning last January, I travelled out to the Norfolk Fens to see a ghost. [in East Anglia in the UK]

… Entering the Fens always feels like crossing a border into another world. Various signs mark out the transition. Ash gives way to willow. Phragmites reeds flock in the ditches, as do bulrushes. The landscape becomes rectilinear: ruler-straight roads and ?eld edges, a skyline as flat as a spirit level, and on every horizon smart rows of poplar trees, planted to break the prevailing winds.

… Among his different types of ghost, Justin is most interested in East Anglia’s family farmers – the agrarianists and smallholders who still muddle by on a modest acreage. Until the twentieth century, the agrarian tradition in East Anglia was strong: thousands of family-owned farms existed, worked by people whose craft and local knowledge had been acquired over centuries and passed down through generations.

But then, in the ?rst half of the 1900s, came the mechanization of British farming. The application of the internal combustion engine to agriculture meant that the horse was usurped by the tractor, that the boundaries of the village exploded and that the number of people required to work the land was enormously reduced. When the drive to maximize productivity began in the years before the Second World War, the flatness of East Anglia made it an ideal landscape for conversion to big-?eld or ‘prairie’ cultivation. Now, very few small farms are left in the Fens. Those that have survived are islanded by the landholdings of the mega-farms which now dominate. The rest have vanished: driven to extinction by competition with agribusiness, by the tangled demands of farming regulation, by climate change and by the lack of a younger generation willing to take over their running.

… [Eric Wortley, a farmer in the Fens] is ninety-eight years old; Peter and Stephen are somewhere in their ?fties. Between them Eric and his sons have put in more than 150 years of service on the farm. Eric is old enough that his early experiences on the land would not have been much different from those of someone who had grown up in the 1700s. No one knows quite how long a Wortley farm has been in the Hythe, but Wortley is accepted to be one of the most venerable names in the village. At present, though, with neither Peter nor Stephen married or with children, there is little prospect of the farm’s survival. They are the last of their line: ghosts of a kind.

… Eric has exceptional kinds of local knowledge. He knows the water tables, the weather habits and the wind histories of every part of his parish. He holds in his head a detailed memory map of the surrounding landscape. He has walked, ridden and ploughed every foot of his land countless times, and watched its changes through decades as well as seasons. He knows the stories of the inhabitants, living and dead, and the species of bird and animal that have thrived or failed here throughout the twentieth century. And he has no interest in questions about the land that can be answered in the abstract.
(Summer 2008)
Recommended by Kit Stolz at Gristmill (Ghosts of the 21st century).

Johnson unveils secret weapon in war on climate change – the roof garden

David Adam, The Guardian
To some they are a rural escape in the centre of the city, to others they are a chance to test their green fingers and design skills. Now London mayor Boris Johnson has found a new use for urban roof gardens – as a key weapon on the front line against global warming.

An increase in the number of rooftop gardens to soak up rainwater across the capital is among a series of measures suggested by Johnson yesterday, as part of efforts to prepare London for the effects of climate change.

The mayor’s adaptation strategy, billed as a world first, aims to address the challenges of flooding, extreme temperatures and drought. It calls for compulsory water metering, greater awareness of flood risks and more tree planting, alongside stronger efforts to resist attempts by local authorities and insurance companies to fell existing urban trees.

The mayor’s team said they were also looking to copy a heatwave emergency plan used in US cities, including Philadelphia, where old and vulnerable people are collected in air-conditioned buses and taken to cool public buildings, such as libraries, shopping centres, churches and offices…
(30 August 2008)