5p plastic bag tax has been effective

Retailers in England moaned about having to charge customers 5p for single-use plastic bags and the government dragged its feet.

P1030059The good news is that since introducing the tax the number of bags in use has fallen by 85% or six billion.

That’s a lot of bags, almost 100 for every one in the UK.

The money raised by the tax goes to charitable causes. Most are environmental projects but some supermarkets have committed to help dementia research at UCL.

Some supermarkets give all the money less VAT to to charity while others make deductions

Overall the scheme has succeeded in producing benefits to wild life and the environment.

England might have come late to the party – long after countries like Denmark, Brazil, China, Mexico, Morocco, sub-saharan African states, Ireland, Wales and Scotland  – but it made good in the end.

Now let’s tackle plastic micro-beads!

A Storm in a coffee cup

Slide1after the Times revealed last week that only 1 in 400 takeaway cups were being recycled.

Simply Cups – which runs the only UK cup recycling service – said that only 3 million cups were recycled last year (expected to double this year) but 7 million cups are used each day.

The four biggest coffee chains in the UK; Costa, Starbucks, Caffé Nero and Pret a Manger, all make claims about recycling or suggest that they are environmentally friendly.

Costa uses the recycling symbol (see photo) although Pret and Caffé Nero only have it on their cardboard sleeves. Starbucks’ website says it wants to make 100% of its cups recyclable by 2015.

The Environment Minister has suggested a tax on coffee to reduce waste and litter along the same lines as the tax on plastic bags which worked (Tesco reduced disposable bag usage by 80% in two months). This is not going to happen however according to a government statement on the matter.

An alternative suggestion came from the Chief Executive of Viridor which recycles waste for local authorities. He said it’s too costly to remove the plastic coating and suggested burning them instead as a source of energy.

A British company, 3 Boys, is planning to start producing coffee cups from recycled paper with an easily removable plastic lining (necessary because EU food safety regulations prohibit contact between recycled paper and food and drink)

In the meantime Costa and Starbucks have pledged to do better at recycling!

We do love our coffee and if we can be environmentally friendly even better.

Mirror, mirror on the wall..

looking_in_mirror_1600_wht_5647Who is eating most of all?

Scientists are interested in factors that influence how much people eat.

Previous research has shown that the size of plates, even their colour can have an effect. As can background sounds e.g. the sounds of the sea makes fish tastier.

Eating with a fork rather than a spoon (which makes people underestimate their meals), using paper plates or even giving people toys with their meals can make them accept smaller portions.

On of the latest ideas is putting up a mirror in the dining room so you can see a reflection of what you are eating. Given a choice of chocolate cake or a fruit salad those eating in front of a mirror enjoyed the chocolate cake less (those eating fruit salad were unaffected).

Researchers at the University of Florida where the experiment took place said that having a mirror in the room makes diners more careful about their behaviour including watching how much they ate. “A glance in the mirror tells people more than just about their physical appearance. It enables them to view themselves objectively and helps them to judge themselves and their behaviours in the same way they judge others.

Maybe they also feel more guilty when they are being observed. There was some research which showed that people tucked away in dark corners of restaurants tended to eat more.

Researcher from the University of Texas found that telling people they were eating healthy food encouraged them to eat bigger portions because they found it less filling. This suggests that “low fat” and “low sugar” labels may encourage over-eating.

This research is to be published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research. One of the editors, Professor Brian Wansink from Cornell University is also releasing the results of a survey on what makes slender people different from overweight ones.

Half of people who are not overweight try to eat vegetables for supper every day, 34% eat salads for lunch and 30% would choose vegetables as part of their last meal on earth (what – no ice-cream?). And a quarter avoid chocolate altogether.

That sounds pretty boring to me but don’t forget the stats mean that the other half of people who are not overweight don’t do those things.

And before you start making New Year resolutions about losing weight, it’s also a time to remind you that diets only work for 10% of people, juicing takes the fibre out of the fruit and veg so nutrients aren’t absorbed effectively, removing whole categories of food from your diet is just a fad and can be unhealthy,  and the only sure way to lose weight is eat less and exercise more.

And don’t forget that when you eat out you are being psychologically manipulated from the moment you walk in the door. Read here to find out how.

Size matters when it comes to plates

tape_measure_around_plate_1600_wht_15585It’s been officially confirmed by scientists that the smaller your crockery, the less you eat.

Researchers at Cambridge University looked at over 60 studies about the effect of portion size on calorie consumption. And surprise, surprise, the more food you give people the more they eat!

Giving people bigger plates encourages them to eat more. Tweaking plate sizes and portion sizes could reduce calorie consumption in the UK by 12% and by 16% in the USA.

It may seem obvious that the larger the portion size the more people eat but until this systematic review the evidence for this effect has been fragmented” said Gareth Hollands at the university’s behavioural and health research unit.

There has been a tendency to portray personal characteristics like being overweight or a lack of self-confidence as the main reason that people overeat. In fact the situation for most people is far more complex. Our findings highlight the important role of environmental influences on food consumption”

Short of controlling the amount of food people consume one way to cut down is to use smaller plates (plates have increased in size by 25% since 1900).

Reducing the appeal of larger portions (which may provide better value for money) is a challenge for future research.

Previous research has looked at other environmental factors.



Britain now in top 10 best places to grow old.

help_old_figure_1600_wht_3597That’s due to generous pensions (not as good as our EU neighbours in Germany though), free bus passes, and being listened to by those in power.

That’s if you believe the research from Age UK International and Southampton University.

Britain was ranked 10th out of 96 countries. One negative aspect was healthcare where we ranked 27th, behind Chile and Costa Rica, despite providing a free service.

However we don’t have a joined-up service when it comes to support for people leaving hospital and the mental health of older people was judged to be poor.

On a day-to-day basis Britain ranked in the top 5 scoring well on public transport, physical safety and fear of crime. Elderly people also think politicians take note of their concerns and have high levels of engagement in public policy.

This last point makes me scratch my head. When do politicians listen to the concerns of the elderly on things like migration or employment?

The survey also found that elderly people lost heavily during the financial crisis and have little cicvic or political power. So there’s a contradiction which supports my point above.

Ranking of countries for retirement

  1. Switzerland
  2. Norway
  3. Sweden
  4. Germany
  5. Canada
  6. Netherlands
  7. Iceland
  8. Japan –  strange giving the reported problems with old people in Japan
  9. United States
  10. UK – we don’t do so well in other surveys

France came 16th, Greece 79th, and the worst place for old people was Afghanistan

Several of the top countries regularly feature in the best places to live or the happiest places to live

We’re still using too many plastic shopping bags

woman_walking_shopping_cart_1600_wht_8020According to the latest research we each used 140 plastic bags last year and have 40 stashed away at home.

The number has increased every year for the last five years. Each of us took 11.7 bags per month, up on 10 the previous year, and the total now stands at 8.5 billion.

England is the only part of the UK where you don’t have to pay for your bags (with some exceptions e.g. Aldi and Marks and Spencer).

Wales introduced the 5p charge in 2011 and shoppers there use only 2.1 a month. In Northern Ireland which began charging in 2013 shoppers use1.6 a month. In Scotland, which started charging last October, consumption has already dropped 80%.

For some reason England is being different, some might say difficult about this as there are exemptions for smaller shops and for paper bags  – which are charged at the same rate as plastic bags elsewhere in the UK.

The Minister for Waste Rory Stewart said “We’re all guilty of taking a carrier bag from a supermarket, storing it somewhere safe at home with the intention of using it again, then forgetting to take it with us when we go shopping“.

I have a car boot full of re-usable bags I have bought from various supermarkets but invariably forget to take them into the store with me as I think I’m only going to buy one thing and I won’t need a bag!

I’ve posted on this before some years ago and also about its impact on the environment. At  last it’s finally going to happen here in England