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Environment Agency warns construction sector over illegal plastic waste exports

Environment Agency warns construction sector over illegal plastic waste exports

Environment Agency said it stopped hundreds of containers carrying plastic waste from illegally being shipped abroad last year

Waste and construction industry firms have been warned they must take much stronger action to tackle illegal waste exports from the UK, after the Environment Agency revealed this week that almost a quarter of containers for shipping abroad it inspected last year contained waste plastic material.

The Environment Agency said it inspected 1,889 containers at English ports last year and stopped 463 being illegally exported. This, combined with regulatory intervention upstream at sites, prevented the illegal export of nearly 23,000 tonnes of waste last year, it said.

Had it not inspected these containers, the plastic waste would have been illegally exported from the UK, according to the Agency, which warned of increasing instances of plastic film and wrap from the construction and demolition sector being sent for export illegally. 

"We are seeing a marked increase in the number of highly-contaminated plastic film and wrap shipments from the construction and demolition industry being stopped by our officers," said Malcolm Lythgo, head of waste regulation at the Environment Agency. "I would strongly urge businesses to observe their legal responsibility to ensure waste is processed appropriately, so we can protect human health and the environment now and for future generations. It's not enough just to give your waste to someone else - even a registered carrier. You need to know where your waste will ultimately end up to know it's been handled properly."

Exports are frequently being classified as ‘green list' waste - which denotes material of low risk to the environment - but are often contaminated with materials such as mud, sand, bricks and wood, and therefore pose a risk to the environment and human health overseas, the Environment Agency explained. Illegal export practices such as these undermine legitimate businesses in the UK which seek to recover such waste properly, it said.

Those convicted of illegally exporting waste potentially face an unlimited fine and a two-year jail sentence, with construction firms also facing enforcement action if contaminated construction and demolition waste plastic is illegally exported, it added.

"We want to work constructively with those in the construction and waste sectors so they can operate compliantly, but we will not hesitate to clamp down on those who show disregard for the environment and the law," Lythgo said.

Construction trade bodies Build UK and the Construction Industry Research and Information Association (CIRIA) were considering BusinessGreen's request for comment at the time of going to press.

Global Briefing: In-person COP15 biodiversity talks braced for delay to 2022

Global Briefing: In-person COP15 biodiversity talks braced for delay to 2022

Plus all the top green business news from around the world this week, including EU's carbon border row with China, and fresh climate goals from Israel and Indonesia

COP15 biodiveristy summit braced for third Covid-19 delay

The crucial COP15 UN biodiversity summit in Kunming, China, which had been set to take place in October is now facing yet another delay, with Covid-19 concerns now likely to now push back the critical nature talks into early 2022, according to reports.

Reuters reported this week the COP15 summit could now be split into two parts, with an online event going ahead as planned in mid-October, followed by an in-person event in spring next year. The delay is set to be announced "within days", according to the news agency. It comes just a few weeks after The Guardian newspaper carried similar reports of an expected delay until next year, although no announcement has officially been made by the UN.

If the postponement goes ahead, it would mark the third time the vital talks have been delayed due to the pandemic, first from its original date of October 2020, and then once again from another resheduled date in May 2021.  

Contacted by BusinessGreen, a UN spokesperson declined to comment on the reports but said it "hope[d] to make an official announcement soon". 

National governments attending the conference are expected to hash out the terms of global treaty for biodiversity - akin to the Paris Agreement for climate - that aims to catalyse global action to reserve nature's decline. Earlier this month, the UN Convention for Biological Diversity published the first draft of a potential agreement, setting out a string of ambitious targets for 2030 and 2050 to be negotiated by world leaders at the summit.

China argues EU's carbon border tax violates WTO rules

China has slammed the European Union's proposed carbon border tax, arguing the policy is in violation of international trading rules.

In its first official comments about the EU's Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism on Monday, a spokesperson from China's environment ministry said the scheme was "essentially a unilateral measure to extend the climate change issue to the trade sector".

"It violates World Trade Organisation principles ... and (will) seriously undermine mutual trust in the global community and the prospects for economic growth," the statement said.

China is the country most exposed to the EU's new policy, as the world's top manufacturer of many of the industrial raw materials that will be slapped with tariffs entering the EU to compensate for their climate impact.

The news comes as China's special envoy for climate change Xie Zhenhua told a financial conference the country is gearing up to release a strategy for how it will reach its headline climate goals of peaking carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 and achieving carbon neutrality by 2060.

Indonesia submits updated 2030 climate plan

Indonesia, one of the world's most prolific thermal coal producers, has submitted an updated climate plan to the United Nations that suggests it intends to rely on the fossil fuel for power well beyond mid-century.

strategy document published late last week retains the country's previous "conditional" 2030 target to lower greenhouse gas emissions by 41 per cent compared to business-as-usual, but also includes new measures setting out how it plans to adapt to escalating climate impacts, remove emissions by rehabilitating degraded land, and ramp up low carbon development.

The plan, which offers three scenarios for reducing emissions, commits the world's eighth-largest greenhouse gas emitter to phasing out coal, oil and gas in its power sector by 2060. But analysis by Climate Home News has warned the most ambitious of three decarbonisation scenarios outlined in the strategy document would still see the amount of coal used for Indonesia's primary energy growing until at least 2050.

The report's preface also confirms the country is committed to "further exploring opportunity to rapidly progress towards net zero emission in 2060 or sooner".

The country's minister for maritime and investment affairs Luhut Pandjaitan told a seminar this week that he was optimistic the country could achieve net zero within 40 years, according Reuters. "I have no doubt," he told delegates. "Previously we targeted 2070, but now we aim for 2060 or sooner after our deep discussion with [US climate envoy] John Kerry."

South Africa calls for global climate adaptation target

South Africa's environment minister Barbara Creecy has called for national leaders to ratify a global goal for climate adaptation, Climate Home News reported earlier this week.

At a two-day climate summit held earlier this week in London, the politician suggested that countries work towards increasing the climate resilience of the global population by 50 per cent by the end of this decade and by at least 90 per cent by mid-century, according to the news outlet.

The minister told delegates that applying pressure on countries to deliver quantifiable improvements in resilience to climate impacts could drive adaptation up the political agenda and ultimately boost vulnerable countries preparedness to climate change. The focus should be on increasing health benefits, food and water security, and adapting infrastructure to anticipated climate impacts, she said.

Rio Tinto ready to drop $2.4bn on Serbian lithium project

Rio Tinto announced on Wednesday it will spend $2.4bn building one of the world's largest lithium mines in western Serbia, in the latest indication of mining majors' shift away from fossil fuels into battery minerals.

Once fully operational in 2029, the Jadar mine will annually produce 58,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate, a key ingredient in electric cars batteries and energy storage, according to the update. The project will also produce borates, a mineral used in solar panels and wind turbines.

Rio Tinto said the project would establish the producer as the most prolific lithium supplier in Europe for "at least" the next 15 years.

The company expects to start construction in 2022, subject to receiving relevant approvals, permits and licenses and its ongoing engagement with local communities, civil society groups and government.

The project has spurred protests from locals, NGOs and opposition politicians, who have accused authorities of altering the local urban plan to meet the needs of the miner's investment and have warned the miner's activity in the region has already caused significant environmental damage, according to a report from regional news outfit Balkan Insight .

The miner has committed the funding some four years after it first signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Serbian government to develop the deposit.

Israel unveils plan to slash emissions by 85 per cent by mid-century

Israel has announced plans to slash its emissions by 85 per cent on 2015 levels by mid-century in a bid to meet its Paris Agreement commitments.

A plan approved by the government last weekend sets out a raft of industry-specific 2050 targets, including delivering a 96 per cent reduction in transportation emissions, an 85 per cent cut in power sector emissions and a 92 per cent decrease in municipal waste emissions.

Israel Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the targets would help the country transition to a "clean, efficient and competitive economy".

The strategy also commits the Middle Eastern country to reducing its overall emissions by 27 per cent by 2030, driven by a 30 per cent reduction in power sector and industrial emissions and a 47 per cent cut in solid waste emissions.

The country has also pledged to only purchase "clean" city buses from 2026 and reduce the amount of dumped municipal waste by 71 per cent by the end of this decade.

European Investment Bank announces green hydrogen partnership

The European Investment Bank has announced it is to work with Hydrogen Europe, an umbrella group representing Europe's hydrogen and fuel cell sector, to provide financial advisory and technical support for early-stage renewable hydrogen projects.

Under the terms of the agreement announced on Thursday, the EU development bank will develop dedicated financing products for green hydrogen projects and collaborate with the trade body on market development and outreach initiatives.

EIB president Werner Hoyer noted that green hydrogen presented a major opportunity to decarbonise industrial processes in notoriously hard-to-abate industries.

"One of the main strengths of the European Investment Bank is that it combines advisory and technical support in the initial phases of a project with attractive forms of financing later on," he added. "This model is perfect for the development and deployment of new breakthrough technologies, including those based on the use of hydrogen."

The data is in: Renewables confirmed Britain's top power source in 2020 as fossil fuels continue slide

The data is in: Renewables confirmed Britain's top power source in 2020 as fossil fuels continue slide

Proportion of power derived from gas and coal in Britain fell to record low in 2020, official statistics confirm

Low demand for electricity during successive lockdowns saw renewables displace fossil fuels as the dominant source of power on Britain's grid for the first time ever in 2020, government data has confirmed.

The annual Digest of UK Energy Statistics (DUKES) - unofficially dubbed as the UK's 'energy bible' by energy experts - was published yesterday by the government, officially confirming predictions in recent months reveals that the amount of electricity generated by coal and gas fell to an all-time low in 2020, with power from wind and solar taking the uppper hand on the grid for the first time ever.

Across the year, fossil fuels supplied 37.7 per cent of the country's power, according to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). 

Meanwhile, clean energy delivered 43.1 per cent of UK electricity in 2020, driven by the rapid growth of the UK's offshore wind industry, the data confirms. Wind power alone provided just short of a quarter of the country's electricity supply, generating 18 per cent more power than 2019.

Dan McGrail, CEO of trade association RenewableUK, touted the findings as "stellar news" and evidence of the UK's climate leadership as it geared up to host the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow in the autumn.

"It shows that this country is playing a leading role in the global energy transition, with renewables becoming the dominant source of new power generation - outstripping fossil fuels for the first year ever and setting new record highs across the board," he said. "It's another significant step on the road to net zero emissions, but we need to move even faster and decarbonise the power sector by 2035."

The UK's annual energy report reveals that coal now produces just a fraction of the UK's electricity mix, with generation from the carbon intensive fossil fuel falling to just 1.8 per cent in 2020 - marking a major turnaround from less than a decade ago, when coal accounted for around 40 per cent of the UK energy mix.

In came as clean energy celebrated a number of a major records and achievements in 2020, with plummeting electricity demand during the pandemic and the ongoing phase-out of the UK's coal generators allowing renewables to take an increasing share of supply on Britain's electricity grid. Great Britain went for more than two months without coal power in June, in the island's longest-ever coal-free run, and wind energy chalked up new records for the highest ever level of generation in December and the highest ever share of the electricity mix in August.

Meanwhile, solar power also set a first for its highest ever level of generation and its highest ever share of the overall power mix, providing a third of Britain's electricity supplies on several occasions in May.

In related news, meanwhile, data published this morning by the Energy Networks Association (ENA) also reveals the UK's electricity distribution networks purchased record levels of flexibility services this year in a bid to free up capacity on the electricity grid during peak periods, and offering a further stability as growing levels of intermittent renewable power sources come online.

The trade body calculated 1.6GW of flexibility has been contracted since the beginning 2021, marking a major increase on levels recorded in 2020, when 1.1GW was contracted for the whole year.

The record comes as a result of network operators adopting a "flexibility first" approach that saw them invest in "alternative solutions" that would tackle congestion on the electricity network, such as smart technologies that enable customers to reduce their energy usage at peak times or sell power back to the grid.

Randolph Brazier, director of innovation and electricity systems at the ENA, said flexibility services would play a pivotal role in the UK's net zero transition.

"Local flexibility services are a relatively new market but one that has seen an incredible growth over the past three years alone in Britain," he said. "Breaking the previous record for flexibility after only seven months of this year is great news for customers and great news for net zero."

Brazier added the new record was "only the tip of the iceberg", predicting the amount of flexibility on the UK's grid would surge over the coming years.

"There is still plenty of room for growth and we are not resting on our laurels," he added. "Networks, Ofgem and government are working together to increase the amount of flexibility in the energy system of the future, and we very much welcomed the release of the latest version of the Smart Systems and Flexibility Plan. With Northern Ireland also joining the fold with local DSO flexibility trials, it looks like this market will soon expand to the whole of the UK."

Research published by the pan-European trade association GEODE in May concluded the UK's electricity networks lead all their competitors in Europe for supporting and delivering flexibility services.

CNG Fuels cuts ribbon on latest biomethane truck refuelling station in Nottinghamshire

CNG Fuels cuts ribbon on latest biomethane truck refuelling station in Nottinghamshire

CNG Fuels now operates six biomethane refuelling stations across the UK, with plans to open another dozen by the end of 2022

Biomethane supplier CNG Fuels has cut the ribbon on its latest refuelling station in Nottinghamshire, enabling up to 500 low carbon trucks and heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) to fill up every day, it announced yesterday.

The Newark station - one of the biggest biomethane refilling stations in the country - is the UK's first in the North East region, and puts distribution centres in Lincoln and Sheffield and other areas in range of low-carbon truck biofuels for the first time, according to CNG Fuels.

The company estimates the new refuelling station could cut between 100,000-120,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases per year by encouraging the use of biofuels to power heavy trucks, rather than typical diesel fuels. It claims emissions associated with renewable biomethane produced from waste feedstocks are 85-90 per cent lower than that of diesel, as well as being 45 per cent cheaper.

"Fleets around the country can already make the switch to cleaner and cheaper fuel by adopting biomethane, and our growing network of refuelling stations is making biomethane more accessible than ever before," said Philip Fjeld, CEO of CNG Fuels. "Our new station in Newark will allow fleets in the region to support the local decarbonisation agenda and significantly cut both emissions and costs ahead of the UK's net zero target."

CNG Fuels is currently the UK's only provider of public access biomethane refuelling infrastructure. Including Newark, it now operates six stations around the UK, with plans to open another dozen stations by the end of 2022, including one already under construction in Scotland.

Demand for biomethane fuelled road frieght is expected to continue surging in the coming years as firms seek to decarbonise their fleets. The government is planning to ban the sale of petrol and diesel HGVs and trucks, which account for 4.2 per cent of the UK's CO2 emissions, by 2040, and the UK is expected to recognise biomethane as a carbon negative fuel in 2022.

The number of trucks running on Bio-CNG fuel is expected to increase five-fold over the next five years, according to CNG Fuels, which projects 20 per cent of the UK's high-mileage HGV fleet could be running on its biomethane in 2025. The company also aims to offer a carbon neutral biomethane gas next year, which will be sold at the same price as the current renewable fuel, it said.

Walmart awards $750,000 to fund consumer food waste research in UK and Canada

Walmart awards $750,000 to fund consumer food waste research in UK and Canada

Donation to WRAP and Canada's National Zero Waste Council aimed at researching new ways to nudge consumers to avoid throwing edible food in the bin

The world's largest retailer Walmart awarded almost $750,000 to UK waste charity WRAP and the National Zero Waste Council in Canada to help develop a range of new efforts to tackle food waste among consumers.

The funding will support the development of a number of new behaviour change interventions (BCIs) designed to encourage consumers to find new ways to reduce their waste, the US supermarket giant said. Research will take place in both the UK and Canada, with BCI prototypes to be piloted between March 2022 and 2023.

"We have an opportunity to reduce the impacts of food waste on the environment with even the slightest behavior modifications," explained Eileen Hyde, senior director for "Identifying these behaviors and applying interventions is a great step in the right direction to affect change. It will take all of us working together to address food waste, and we're proud to support WRAP's good work."

The UK throws away 6.6 million tonnes of food each year, most of which could be eaten, according to WRAP. And, in March last year, a 'Food Waste Index' produced by WRAP and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) for the first time showed that household food waste is similar in both lower-middle income and high-income countries, and not only a problem for richer nations.

As such, in addition to developing new behavioural change interventions, key insights and recommendations that arise during the project will be shared with international partners to help inform policy globally, the waste charity said.

Sarah Clayton, head of citizen behaviour change at WRAP, said the funding would allow the charity to continue its quest for new ways to "subtly nudge" individuals into reducing their food waste.

"Food waste is so often overlooked in relation to climate change, but more greenhouse gas is produced by food waste than by all international flights, so we ignore it at our peril," she said. "Having organisations like the Walmart Foundation onboard is crucial to deliver new work and generate new insights for the benefit of partners all around the world."

Government boosts travel funding by £81m as it touts plans for cyclist-friendly Highway Code

Government boosts travel funding by £81m as it touts plans for cyclist-friendly Highway Code

Department for Transport increases active travel fund to £338m as it unveils plans to update road rules to enhance safety for cyclists and pedestrians

The government has topped up its active travel funding by £81m to build hundreds of miles of cycle lanes, strengthen protections for cyclists and pedestrians in the Highway Code, and roll out schemes that encourage walking, it announced this morning.

The Department for Transport (DfT) said it had increased its cycling and walking budget to £338m today as part of its commitment to "build back greener" from the pandemic.

The funding package marks a 30 per cent increase on the original £257m allocated for active travel in the 2021-2022 financial year, which the government had set out in the Spending Review in November 2020.

The original funding package had attracted criticism from active travel groups, which noted the budget was 15 per cent smaller than the £300m allocated to cycling and walking during the previous financial year.

"This £338m package marks the start of what promises to be a great summer of cycling and walking, enabling more people to make those sustainable travel choices that make our air cleaner and cities greener," said Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

A portion of the funding will go towards developing a new version of the Highway Code designed to improve road safety for cyclists and pedestrians, which the government said it planned to publish in the autumn.

The new code will aim to ensure cyclists are given priority when travelling straight ahead at junctions, and establish a "hierarchy of road users" which puts more onus for road safety on road users who can do the greatest harm, the government said. It will also offer guidance on safe distances and speeds for passing cyclists.

In the foreward to the new cycling and walking plan, the Prime Minister said he expected opposition to low traffic neighbourhoods to wane over time and argued it would be impossible to fit more cars and vans on Britain's roads.

"I support councils, of all parties, which are trying to promote cycling and bus use," he wrote. "And if you are going to oppose these schemes, you must tell us what your alternative is, because trying to squeeze more cars and vans on the same not going to work.

"As the benefits of schemes increase over time, what opposition there is falls further."

The government's new provisions for active travel follow a record increase in cycling on British roads last year, with government figures estimating the number of miles cycled across the country rocketed by 45.7 per cent, driven in large part by successive Covid-19 lockdowns and public health advice to avoid public transport.

Shapps said that active travel promised to unlock myriad benefits for the environment, public health, and urban transportation systems.

"Millions of us have found over the past year how cycling and walking are great ways to stay fit, ease congestion on the roads and do your bit for the environment," he said. "As we build back greener from the pandemic, we're determined to keep that trend going by making active travel easier and safer for everyone."

Other key measures announced today include plans to promote electric bikes through a national e-cycle support programme and dedicated funding for local authorities. Ministers have also committed to publish a new ‘road safety strategic framework', train hundreds of new ‘bikeability' instructors, and explore how historic railway structures could be converted into cycle routes.

Xavier Brice, chief executive of sustainable transport group Sustrans welcomed the latest active travel announcements today, which he said would help encourage more people to travel by bike or on foot.

"This funding will bring major improvements to the National Cycle Network in England by linking communities together and enhancing valued and well-used cycling and walking routes," he said. "Most importantly of all, this vital boost will further enable those who want to cycle or walk to do so."

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