The war against single-use plastics goes global while “fast fashion” faces a similar backlash. Ethical lenders go bust at the fastest rate in years, Shell looks to double its investment in green energy, and a new process to turn steel green to be rolled out in 2030s. Lori Campbell rounds up the top sustainable stories of the week.
Ban on single-use plastics goes global
South Korea has become the latest nation to call it quits on disposable plastic bags.
From this week, the country’s main supermarkets are banned from using single-use plastic bags, including selling them at the check-out. Instead, they need to offer alternatives like cloth bags or reusable paper bags – or face a fine of up to 3 million won (£2.1 million).
Countries across the world are rejecting disposable plastic bags ahead of a potential European-wide ban set to come into place in 2021.
This week New Zealand banned single-use plastic bags from all its supermarkets, six months ahead of schedule. And as of yesterday (Tuesday), single-use plastic bags will not be allowed in Alaska’s capital, Unalaska. The city council unanimously passed the ban in August after six months of discussions and overwhelming public support.
In Ireland, the prime minister Leo Varadkar has asked his Climate Action Minister Richard Bruton to lead a “war on single-use plastics” in 2019.
It comes as the world’s first plastic-free flight took off last week. Portuguese airline Hi Fly took off from Lisbon without any single-use plastic on board their flight to Natale, Brazil.
Collapse of ethical lenders stokes fears over access to credit
Ethical lenders that are seen as alternatives to high-cost firms such as Wonga and BrightHouse are going out of business at the fastest rate in years.
Eight credit unions across the UK have collapsed in 2018, affecting 14,000 customers with more than £25 million in savings, according to an analysis of data from the Financial Services Compensation Scheme. Meanwhile some of the most successful remaining groups are being forced to cut back on lending.
Their downfall is fuelling concerns that less well-off consumers are in danger of losing access to credit. The figures mark the worst year since at least 2010, as the sector battles against rising regulatory and technology costs.
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Shell wants to double green energy investment
Oil giant Shell is aiming to double its spending on green energy to $4 billion (£3.2 billion) a year. It’s a move that signals the Anglo-Dutch company’s desire to speed up its transition to a future beyond oil and gas.
Maarten Wetselaar, head of the gas and new energy unit which generates a third of the company’s revenues, said he wanted to raise Shell’s investment in low carbon energy.
The company has already committed to spend $1-2 billion (£787 million – £1.57 billion) annually in the next two years, with the rest of its total $25 billion (£19.7 billion) budget invested in hydrocarbons.
Wetselaar said if his initial investments generated a good enough return, he would be able to successfully argue for an increase from 2020 onwards.
Is it the end of fast fashion?
Fashion shoppers spent around £3.5bn on Christmas party clothing this year – and eight million of those sparkly items will be on their way to landfill after just one wear.
But many fashion experts believe the party is coming to an end for so-called “fast fashion” – clothing so cheap that it has become single-use. With a parliamentary committee set to produce a report on the issue in February, industry experts believe a backlash of the kind we have seen against single-use plastics is on the way.
Overall, the fashion industry is contributing more to climate change than air and sea travel combined. If trends continue, the industry could account for a quarter of the world’s carbon budget by 2050.
Mike Barry, director of sustainable business at Marks & Spencer, said: “The signals are [fashion is] on the same trajectory as plastics and forests and alternatives to meat.”
New process to clean up steel – but it won’t be rolled out until the 2030s
Indian steel conglomerate Tata is carrying out an experimental project to make steel cleaner and cheaper.
The process, which is being tested at the Ijmuiden steelworks on Dutch North Sea coastline, is capable of reducing both carbon dioxide emissions and energy consumption by one-fifth.
Hans Fischer, chief executive of Tata Steel Europe, said: “There is a very big duty for us, as the steel industry, because we are one of the biggest CO2 producers.”
But despite the enormous importance of the overhaul, this new steelmaking technology is unlikely to be rolled out on a commercial scale until at least the 2030s. Mr Fischer said: “It’s not a financial reason, it is not an investment reason. In fact, it’s for technical reasons that it takes that long.”
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