‘Protecting the Planet’ (WEA course)

Week 2, continued. Case Studies and alternative solutions,

Air pollution possible solutions, soil & agriculture, bees & pesticides.


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Updates and extra notes

Week 2 notes: air pollution: solutions; bees, soil/agriculture.


These notes are a development of earlier notes on corporate responsibility to the environment: CSR 6 environment

SUMMARY: Different Possible Solutions to sample problems:

Note: different possible solutions are grouped in a similar way to the different approaches explained in Protecting 4

(a) voluntary level (i) individual, lifestyle choices, (ii) socially responsible business/industry

(b) government policies and regulations (local or national), including lobbyists

(c) pressure groups’ aims and more radical ideas.

(d) International

Sample problems:

1. #air pollution                                                                              }

2. #agriculture and the soil                                                            } Updates: Updates and extra notes

3. #bees and Havering Friends of the Earth #talk about bees      }


Not covered in May 2021 course:

4. #biodiversity [SEE ALSO: Week 8: Species Decline]           

5. #waste  including #plastics. [SEE ALSO: Lecture on Plastics] 


Outline summary:

1. Air pollution (acid rain, ozone layer) #air

1.1 Recap: (see Cases and industry for details).


1.2 Possible solutions:

(a) individual, industrial levels:

(i) gas fires rather than coal (less sulphur), drive less often if at all – walk or cycle, or get an electric car! Buses and trains are cleaner. No idling! Car-free roads outside schools

(ii) scrubbers in factory chimneys, in cars: catalytic converters (remove nitrogen oxides), electric and hybrid cars, cleaner buses. But for Dieselgate see  Cases and industry

(b) local and central government and EU: smoother traffic-flows, ‘air quality action plans’, monitoring stations, regulations on emissions (Euro-6). (Clean Air Zones). Car pool lanes, priority parking for electric cars. Cleaning up company/local authority fleets, etc. Scrappage schemes.

2009: Caroline Lucas attacked the government for not meeting EU P10 limits (should have been met in 2005).

(c) Stop Killing Londoners – Week of action – Tower Bridge, Brixton, 1 hour blockade of London Bridge – 7 people arrested – (5th July 2017).

Opposition to expansion of Heathrow. Direct action. Extinction Rebellion (see later).

 2. Agriculture and the soil: #agriculture

#soil damaged by: #large-scale agriculture leads to over-ploughing and use of fertilizers and monocultures, removal of hedges and ‘wild’ areas, removal of trees, hedges, shrubs; loss to buildings, roads etc; over-ploughing, over-use of nitrogen fertilisers, pesticides

#meat production

#deforestation due to production of soy for cattle.

#proposed Agriculture Bill 2020

Possible solutions: (a) reduction in use of chemicals, and less ploughing; more localism

(b) planning for ‘green infrastructure’; (c) organic methods, not national parks?

A note on GM: #GM

 3. Bees: #bees

3.1 #Importance of bees

3.2 Causes of decline - #colony collapse disorder:

Causes: threats to habitat, intensive farming, loss of wildflower meadows, disease, pesticides (especially neonicotinoids) – colony collapse disorder.

3.3 Pesticides: Neonics affect bees’ sense of direction, ability to communicate (waggle dance), reproduction, ability to shake out pollen...

Update: pesticides: including #glyphosate and #Monsanto

3.4 Possible #solutions: (a) more flowers including wild flowers in gardens, less use of pesticides; more meadows and edges of fields for wild flowers, natural methods of pest control; (b) controls on pesticides (see also 3.5); (c) less monoculture, more organic, oppose multinationals.

3.5 International controls and other dangerous chemicals, e.g. herbicide atrazine – an endocrine disruptor. The LD50 test (dose required to kill half the population tested), reference dose (‘safe’ level for human consumption, and other controversies over safe levels

Not covered May 2021:

4. Biodiversity decline and species extinction#biodiversity   (see also notes at Protecting 8).   

1 in 10 species in the UK is threatened with extinction, and worldwide there is significant decline:

Causes: habitat loss through urbanization, intensive farming, pesticides, climate change.

Solutions: (a) conservation, reserves, (b) re-wilding (return to recent normal) (c) re-wilding (return to older ecology)

5 Waste:  #waste 

5.1 food: in the UK we send 10m tonnes of waste a year to landfill sites. Of this, 60% is food, a quarter of which is reckoned to be edible. 200,000 tonnes of the food waste comes from seven major supermarkets. 70% of produce is dumped by producers and retailers before it even gets to the stores. Each adult throws away over £400 of food a year (plus a further £400+ in packaging).

5.2 packaging

5.3 electronics

5.4 water

5.5 plastics, PCBs, POPs.

Solutions: (a) consumer awareness, (b) regulations, fines (c) rejection of consumerism.



1. Air pollution

1.1 Recap of causes: internal combustion engine, factories (especially smelting & cement manufacturing), mining, construction, power stations, aircraft. Recent fog in London was partly caused by increased use of wood-burning stoves.  A world-wide problem. Millions die. Poor countries suffer most.

Deaths: 40,000 a year in UK, 9,000 in London, and costing £22.6bn. Nearly 40 million people are living in areas with illegal levels of air pollution.

New links being found between air pollution and: dementia, diabetes, kidney disease, mental illness, climate change. Also social class.


April 2019 UNICEF report: www.unicef.uk/healthyairnationalaction 

1.2 Possible solutions:

(a) (i) at the individual level:

- drive less often if at all – walk or cycle, or get an electric car! Buses and trains are less polluting (because more passengers per mile). Walking/cycling is more healthy anyway, and Dr Toby Hillman of Royal College of Physicians says government needs do more about cycling and walking.

- for householders: using gas rather than coal (less sulphur) for fires

- nearly two-thirds of teachers would support car-free roads outside schools during drop-off and pick-up times, according to Sustrans (Guardian Mon 25th March 2019). 43% of teachers are also concerned about idling...

(ii) industry: scrubbers in factory chimneys cleaned up emissions somewhat.

- in cars: catalytic converters (remove nitrogen oxides), electric and hybrid cars, cleaner buses. But see Cases and industries for notes on ‘Dieselgate’.

31st Aug. 2019. Leeds plans car-free school. If approved will be in a Climate Innovation District – a zero-carbon neighbourhood by the river Aire near the Royal Armouries Museum. Will include hundreds of homes – limited parking spaces (extra cost on the house) underground, with electric charging points at every space. Car access is limited. In the 1970s Leeds got a motorway through the centre – consequently Leeds had a street with the highest levels of NOx outside London. The school will share a building with a care home and flats. Communa;l courtyard, intergenerational living (which has been shown to have positive health benefits). ‘Living Streets’ welcomes the initiative. (Helen Pidd).

Other cities’ solutions:

Madrid’s ‘Plan A’

Plans to reduce air pollution by 40% in the Spanish capital include doubling the total space for pavements and a zero emissions zone ,which will only allow local residents, people with limited mobility, or zero-emissions vehicles to drive through the city centre (it will be truly zero-emissions only, including for residents, from 2020).

China’s electric buses

Every one of the 16,000 buses in Shenzhen is electric, and all 22,000 of the city’s taxis soon will be, too. The range of each bus is 123 miles per charge, which means that they only need to charge once overnight, and the fuel bill for the Shenzhen Bus Group has reportedly been cut in half. Across China as a whole, 9,500 new electric buses are appearing every five weeks, each typically replacing a diesel model.

Paris Crit’ Air discs

All cars, motorbikes and lorries in the French capital must now display a coloured, numbered disc called Crit’ Air, ranging from Crit’ Air 1 (which applies to electric and hydrogen vehicles) down to Crit’ Air 6 (for old, mostly diesel, vehicles). On a near annual basis, the older Crit’ Air numbers will be banned from entering Paris on weekdays between 8am and 8pm. The Crit’ Air 5 ban, enforced from July 2017, removed only 3% of vehicles, but reduced NOx by 15% and PM2.5 by 11%.

Singapore’s organic solution

Singapore is attempting to tackle its air pollution by increasing the greenery on the island. The green cover in Singapore was around 36% in the 1980s; by 2016 it was up to 47%. All new structures in the ‘Garden City’ must include green roofs or green walls. And a grove of 18 bay-side “supertrees” – artificial tree structures looming up to 157.5ft, the equivalent of a 16-storey building – provide vertical gardens for more than 162,000 plants.

23rd Oct 2019. Transport - shipping: Nicola Cutcher on The Upside – new clippers cleaning up sea transport. Ships burn the dirtiest oil, known as bunker fuel – but tens of thousands of ships are in use transporting goods. Shipping is responsible for about 2.5% of global carbon emissions = 950m tonnes of CO2 annually. Container shops carried 1.8bn tons of goods in 2017. Around 90% of everything we consume in the UK spends some time at sea. 80% of world trade goes by sea. There are some 60,000 merchant ships globally including oil tankers, bulk cargo carriers and container ships. A Dutch company Fairtransport is using sailing ships (a restored minesweeper and a wooden ketch from 1873). Timbercoast, a German company, also sails a restored schooner and is working on a second.  Even ethical products such as plant-based meat (ugh), and pointless products such as bottled water, are transported by sea from California. A new venture by one of the founders of Fairtransport aims to expand the scope of emission-free shipping – EcoClipper.  https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/oct/23/sailing-ships-cleaning-up-sea-transport-oceans


(b) at local/national government level:

Clearly government and local authorities need to be involved in making these changes easier.

Local authorities: cycling routes. Public Health England called for promoting car pool lanes, and providing priority parking for electric cars. Others have called for scrappage schemes (to encourage selling of cars – could also be used to encourage public transport by use of tokens)

Examples: Government (and EU) regulations on emissions, local authority ‘air quality action plans’, smoother traffic-flows, cleaning up older buses, and company/local authority fleets, low emission zones, monitoring stations etc


2009: Mayor Johnson took various measures: hybrid buses, smoother traffic-flows, cycling, opposing expansion of Heathrow. But nationally we are not doing anything. Caroline Lucas attacked the government for not meeting EU P10 limits (should have been met in 2005).

1st Feb 2017: Example: (Times): Cornwall may use compulsory purchases to get to move away from polluted areas! NICE (National Inst for Health and Care Excellence) recommends: average speed cameras on A roads, new homes and schools away from polluted areas, ‘no idling zones’ especially outside schools, hedgerows between cycle paths and roads, and cyclists allowed to pass quickly where vehicles idle, councils ‘should consider the impact of speed humps (?), roadside noise barriers and street trees which can trap pollutants beneath their canopies.’

EU: 16th Feb 2017: Britain has been sent a final warning to comply with EU air pollution limits or be taken to the European Court of Justice. Heavy fines could follow. 40 – 50,000 people die prematurely from respiratory, cardiovascular and other illnesses associated with air pollution (NO2, particulates and ozone).

NB Germany, Italy, France and Spain were also served with final warnings, and 23 of the EU’s 28 countries have breached limits – including 130 cities. Britain has been resisting the laws though.

May 2017: government admits defeat in its avoiding publishing its air quality plans, having been sued by ClientEarth founded by James Thornton. ClientEarth argue the government has put off any action until 2025.  It took the government to court to get it to publish a plan by the end of 2015, but it was such a poor plan that they went to court again and the government had to improve it and publish a better plan by April 2017. They had tried to get it postponed until after the elections (i.e. September) but they were again ruled against by the courts.


2nd August 2017. George Monbiot: cars have a chokehold on Britain. More roads is not an answer as more roads induces more traffic (known since 1937). There is even an economic danger now as more people take out purchasing plans to get new cars – more debt... Government claims high level of NO2 only affects some streets but there are thousands of streets in Britain and only 300 monitoring stations. Clean Air Zones: local authorities can introduce them when other measures have been tried, and when ‘compliance’ is reached they must be closed down...


The government’s proposal of no more new diesel or petrol cars by 2040 is pointless: a child born today will be 23 by then and their lungs will have been damaged already. The Dutch bank ING predicts all new cars in Europe will be electric by 2035. [And, I ask, what about all the existing diesel and petrol cars?]


25th August 2017: a report by the Green alliance, supported by CAFOD, Christian Aid, Greenpeace, RSPB and WWF, proposes all new cars and vans to be emissions-free by 2030. This would also reduce imports of foreign oil by 51%In 2016 transport accounted for 40% of UK’s total energy consumption, of which 75% was road transport. Other countries such as Norway, India, are further ahead in switching to electric vehicles. New jobs would be created in the new technology and in green technologies generally.


Oct 2017 – toxicity charge in London: from later this month (October 2017) drivers of cars registered in 2005 or earlier that do not meet Euro 4 standard will have to pay £10 daily to enter central London, on top of the £11.50 congestion charge. London introduced the world’s first T-charge (toxicity charge) - the toughest emission standard of any major city - and will introduce the Ultra Low Emissions Zone to operate alongside the congestion charge. Will affect up to 10,000 vehicles – those that do not meet Euro 4 standards, that is. typically registered before 2006. It will operate on top of the congestion charge, so: £21.50 a day between 7 am and 6 pm on weekdays. It should reduce NOx emissions by 45% (Sadiq Khan, Nov 2018) Government needs to ‘stop burying their heads in the sand over this invisible killer. It is shocking that they have been taken to court three times over their inability to bring pollution down to safe levels – and have lost every time.’ Cities need more funding and more powers. We need a modern Clean Air and Environment Act.


Jan 2018. UK taken to court: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jan/23/renewed-calls-for-uk-to-tackle-toxic-air-ahead-of-high-court-hearing - and found for the third time to be breaking legal requirements! Clean air in the UK will now be overseen by the courts rather than ministers, in what was described as  a ‘wholly exceptional ruling.’

27th Feb 2018, Matthew Taylor – ClientEarth has found that 60% of parents want traffic diverted away from schools at the beginning and the end of the day. 63% oppose new schools being built where pollution is high, 60% are worried about the effects of air pollution on children, and 70% in favour of the government alerting schools on high pollution days. British Lung Foundation declares the situation ‘simply unacceptable’. The two organisations are launching Clean Air Parents’ Network to work together on this.

28th Feb 2018: German courts have agreed cities can ban diesels. 13,000 people are estimated to die from NOx each year. EU threshold is 40 mcg/m3 – it’s often 70 in some cities. There is some opposition, and no-one expects widespread banning just yet, as so many cars are affected. 15th Feb (Philip Oltermann and agencies): the government is considering temporarily scrapping fares for public transport in some cities. Berlin is struggling to meet EU targets and to avoid fines. Cities say they would need federal funds to make up for the losses. The proposal will be tried in five cities by the end of the year. Green Party politician Anton Hofreiter says the idea is vague and the government should concentrate on pressurising the car industry to free technical upgrades on some diesel cars.

July 13th 2018. ‘Park and stride!’ https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jul/13/uk-schools-move-to-ban-the-school-run-to-protect-pupils-from-air-pollution

5th Nov. 2018. Damian Carrington. Solutions: healthy energy transition and healthy urban planning transition – stop the use of coal, stop the massive use of private cars in cities, make our buildings more efficient. Maria Neira of WHO, director with responsibility for air pollution. See: The Invisible Killer by Gary Fuller, 2017 Commission on pollution and health: the Lancet. The Cost of Air Pollution: World Bank 2016.


March 2019, PHE report, and 2 letters to the Guardian:

Cars should be banned from idling near schools and congestion charges imposed across the UK as part of measures recommended by the government public health agency. In a report on Monday, Public Health England (PHE) said up to 36,000 people were dying each year from human-made air pollution.

It also pointed to emerging evidence of air pollution causing dementia, low birth weight and diabetes.

In a 263-page review of the options for improving air quality [pdf] the report calls for on councils to introduce no-idling zones outside schools and hospitals; the imposition of more congestion charges and low emission zones; and the development of a vehicle-charging infrastructure to promote a “step-change” in the uptake of electric cars.

The review favours measures that improve the air quality for as many people as possible, such as the wide implementation of low emission zones, rather than a focus on local pollution hotspots.

It also called for action against the sources of air pollution such as highly polluting vehicles and wood-burning stoves.

Prof Paul Cosford, the director for health protection and medical director of PHE, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I’m a doctor, I see a figure of 35,000 to 40,000 people each year dying as a result of the harm that is caused by air pollution.”

Calling for more urgency, he said: “If we were having a conversation about 30,000 people dying each year because of a polluted water supply, I think we would have a very different conversation. It would be about: ‘what do we need to do now and how quickly can we do it?’”

Cosford added: “Technologies are available, the things that we need to do we know about, so this is a matter of how we take this issue as seriously as we need to, and how we move the technologies and the planning and all of that into reality so we actually deal with this problem for us and for future generations.”

The review stops short of suggesting banning cars from the school run. Asked about the idea, Cosford said: “I do think that if we consider this to be an issue of future generations, for our children, let’s have a generation of children brought up free from the scourge and the harms of air pollution. And that does then take you to ‘what can we do about making sure schools are at least as clean as possible?’

“We should stop idling outside schools, we should make sure children can walk or cycle to school, and we should make sure that schools work with their parents about how they can do their best for this.”

In the US, the Dieselgate scandal has resulted in prosecutions against VW personnel and multibillion dollar fines (Where’s there’s smoke, 22 March).

In Europe, no one has been charged and nobody has gone to jail, though the EU commission has threatened action against the UK government for failing to prosecute VW.

Defeat devices result in higher emissions of nitrogen dioxide, but the real danger from a health perspective are small particulates, notably the ultra-fine nanoparticles that can penetrate tissue, reach a placenta and cross the blood-brain barrier. These are largely present in exhaust emissions, so while all vehicles generate particulates from tyres and brakes, researchers have demonstrated that medical effects such as low birth weight are tied more closely to exhaust particulates than to friction particulates. This is important as the government likes to pretend that all particulates are equivalent, regardless of the source. Thus its clean air strategy emphasises the contribution of secondary particulates generated from agriculture etc, even though these contain little in the way of ultra-fine particles. It is disheartening that the UK government seems more anxious to protect the interests of car manufacturers than the health of its own citizens, but this situation is likely to worsen post-Brexit.
Dr Robin Russell-Jones Scientific adviser, Geraint Davies MP Chair, All-party parliamentary group on air pollution

The proposals from Public Health England (PHE) that you reported (Ban cars from idling near schools, says UK public health agency, theguardian.com, 11 March) are welcome – positive action against all sources of air pollution, such as such as highly polluting vehicles and wood-burning stoves, is undoubtedly essential. However, I regret that PHE’s proposals on idling are not fully thought through.

Of course, an idling vehicle will emit more CO2 and use more fuel than one that is switched off, but that is not the whole story. Other pollutants such as particulates, NOx, unburned fuel and carbon monoxide are carefully controlled on modern vehicles by filters and catalysts – and catalysts do not work when they are cold, and take some time to come up to temperature.

The studies mentioned by PHE in its report advocating anti-idling do not consider most of these other pollutants, and there is a real risk of unintended harm, as emissions on start-up (whether warm or cold) often form a substantial part of the total emissions from a vehicle’s journey. A study from the US Department of Energy showed that a vehicle would have to be idling for 10 minutes or three hours to emit as much NOx or carbon monoxide (respectively) as a single (warm) restart. There is a significant need for more research in this area – particularly on modern vehicles that use substantial levels of exhaust gas after treatment to control emissions.

There is a serious need to tackle air pollution, but to do so effectively will requires coherent interdisciplinary engagement and evidence-based policy making. The PHE document is a well-intentioned start, but we have a long way to go. Dr Felix Leach. Associate professor of engineering science, Shell-Pocock fellow and tutor, Keble College, University of Oxford

15th April 2019. https://airqualitynews.com/2019/04/15/car-emissions-down-17-since-2008-figures-suggest/ - largely due to developments in manufacture, so there is now a choice of different types of car, including electric, and emissions are reduced.

31st Aug. 2019. Leeds plans car-free school. If approved will be in a Climate Innovation District – a zero-carbon neighbourhood by the river Aire near the Royal Armouries Museum. Will include hundreds of homes – limited parking spaces (extra cost on the house) underground, with electric charging points at every space. Car access is limited. In the 1970s Leeds got a motorway through the centre – consequently Leeds had a street with the highest levels of NOx outside London. The school will share a building with a care home and flats. Communal courtyard, intergenerational living (which has been shown to have positive health benefits). ‘Living Streets’ welcomes the initiative. (Helen Pidd).

1st Jan 2020. York will ban car journeys in the city centre within three years. A majority of councillors voted for the plan, and the city aims to become carbon neutral by 2030 (before the national target).  According to FoE, 12 locations in the centre exceeded 40 Mcg of NO2 per cubic metre – some were at 59.9 and 57.7.


(c) pressure groups and more radical:

Radical:  Stop Killing Londoners – Week of action – Tower Bridge, Brixton, 1 hour blockade of London Bridge – 7 people arrested – another demo tomorrow (5th July 2017).

Opposing expansion of Heathrow: Heathrow etc: (9th Jan 2017 Andrew Simms G2) and global warming: 70% of all flights by UK residents are accounted for by just 15% of the population.

Direct action... Extinction Rebellion (see later).

Greenpeace and four local councils are taking legal action against expansion (Gwyn Topham, 26th Oct 2016: government announces a third runway will go ahead) which would worsen air quality, increase noise, and jeopardise Britain’s climate change commitments. Mayor Sadiq Khan also opposes the expansion. The number of planes taking off will go up by about 50% to 740,000 annually. Air quality around Heathrow has already broken legal limits – it may be mitigated by congestion charging and better public transport but up to 200,000 more people will be overflown.

Warnings about levels of pollution (see also local authority), e.g: COPI - Humphrey Milles has set up Central Office of Public Interest (COPI) – a non-profit advertising group, that will put notices on houses up for sale, warning of high air pollution in the area. An air quality index rating can be worked out for every house. Some notices will be on billboards. (Damian Carrington, Guardian Weds 1st May 2019).

Finally: Cleaning up helps the economy: since US Clean Air Act 1970: levels of the six major pollutants had fallen by 70%, while GDP had gone up by 250%...

(d) International: May 2020. Jasper Jolly. Discussion over EU subsidies to boost demand for new vehicles because of slump during pandemic lockdown. But Franz Timmermans, commission’s executive vice president for the green new deal wants to tie CO2 emissions to any subsidy. Greenpeace says only purely electric, small and light vehicles should be eligible.


2. Agriculture, farming and soil:

The importance of the soil:

May 2013. Soil is crucial (May 19th 2013 New York Times), not only to grow food and feed animals, but we get most of our antibiotics from it, and scientists are looking for more. Soil is rich in biodiversity: it contains almost one third of all living organisms, according to the EU Joint Research Centre.

Only 1% of its micro-organisms have been identified. A teaspoon may contain billions of microbes, divided among 5,000 different types. Not to mention thousands of species of fungi, nematodes, mites etc. See the Global Soil Biodiversity Initiative.

Feb. 2017. Here is a quote from a review of book (The World-ending Fire’) a collection of essays by Wendell Berry, selected by Paul Kingsnorth (review from the New Statesman, by Andrew Marr, 2nd Feb 2017):  ‘Without topsoil the thin layer between the Earth’s scores-of-miles deep crust, and the atmosphere we breathe, we could not exist. The historian JR McNeill describes topsoil thus: ‘It consists of mineral particles, organic matter, gases and a swarm of tiny living things. It is a thin skin, rarely more than a hip deep, and usually much less so. Soil takes centuries or millennia to form. Eventually it all ends up in the sea through erosion. In the interval between formation and erosion, it is basic to human survival.’

Wendell Berry is a farmer and writer, with radical views: modern industrial capitalism is a machine based on greed and short-termism that produces grotesque unfairness and waste – and will lead us, before long, to disaster. We must return to cherish and look after the soil we depend on. ‘Our destructiveness has not been, and is not, inevitable. People who use that excuse are morally incompetent, they are cowardly, and they are lazy.... All of us, regardless of party, can be inspired by love of our land to rise above the greed and contempt of our land’s exploiters.’

In other words, soil is basic to human survival. Berry uses horses not tractors. Like John Berger, Berry has championed the cause of migrant workers, and he is one of the most compelling writers on racism in America.  

In Ali Smith’s novel Autumn there is this epigraph taken from a Guardian article published last July: ‘At current rates of soil erosion, Britain has just 100 harvests left.’ (Andrew Marr loc cit).


Graeme Willis, the senior rural policy campaigner at the CPRE, says: “Soil is fundamental to delivering productive farming, a healthy countryside, and can play a key role in tackling climate change. But decades of neglect have degraded our soils to a point where much of this life-giving asset, which underpins the health of all living things, is no longer able to function as it should.

“Through conservation agriculture, farmers can reduce costs, use fewer chemicals and rebuild biological life in the soil, making it healthier, more resilient to extreme weather and able to support more wildlife. It’s win-win for farmers, the people they feed and the environment.”

Willis says there was a stark similarity between the human gut and soil in terms of planetary and human health. “Looking after the soil is much like looking after a healthy gut biome where variety is key: eat lots of different foods, especially plants, not too much wheat and cut back on the chemicals – for farming, pesticides and synthetic fertilisers, and for the gut, antibiotics and ultra-processed foods.”

150m hectares of farmland are managed using conservation agriculture = six times size of the UK


April 20 2019. Deep life’: from ‘Up from the depths...’ (source?)  Last December scientists revealed their discovery of a vast ‘deep life’ ecosystem in the Earth’s crust, twice the volume of the world’s oceans, containing a biodiversity comparable to that of the Amazon, and teeming with 23bn tonnes of micro-organisms – hundreds of times the combined weight of all living humans.’

Aug. 2020: Peat – a carbon sink (see Global Warming (causes) and Global Warming (effects): Peatlands cover just a few percent of the global land area but they store almost one-quarter of all soil carbon and so play a crucial role in regulating the climate... Peatlands form in areas where waterlogged conditions slow down the decomposition of plant material and peat accumulates. This accumulation of carbon-rich plant remains has been especially strong in northern tundra and taiga areas ... When plants grow they absorb CO₂ from the atmosphere and as this material accumulates in the peat, there is less carbon in the atmosphere and therefore the climate will cool in the long-term... We found that peatlands cover approximately 3.7 million square kilometres. If it were a country, “Peatland” would be slightly larger than India. These peatlands also store approximately 415 gigatons (billion tons) of carbon – as much as is stored in all the world’s forests and trees together.

From: https://theconversation.com/we-mapped-the-worlds-frozen-peatlands-what-we-found-was-very-worrying-144235?  

The problem(s):

Large-scale agriculture, which leads to removal of hedges, and over-use of pesticides. Also, repeated plowing kills off beneficial fungi and earth-worms – the soil then requires more fertilizer and is prone to being washed away in heavy rain (and the nitrogen etc spreads into rivers and streams). Each 1% increase in soil organic matter helps the soil hold 30,000 more litres of water per hectare. Organic matter also helps the soil store carbon dioxide (reducing global warming).

Fiona Harvey, Guardian 14th August 2017.

Antibiotics and farming: the use of antibiotics in Asian factory farms is set to double in just over a decade. Half of all antibiotics are used in China. Two Chinese meat and animal feed producers are among the 10 biggest animal feed manufacturers in the world. The growth means more greenhouse gas production, and the knock-on effects include deforestation – more than a third of Brazil’s soya bean production is for Chinese animals. A report: Factory Farming in Asia: Assessing Investment Risks suggests investors should put pressure on companies to improve their use of antibiotics, look after the health of their animals better, and ‘manage sustainability issues’.

Meat production: Shana Galagher, of Mighty Earth. From alternet food 27Oct 2017:

In America there are five times as many livestock animals as humans. Over a third of America’s agricultural land is used for producing corn and soy, but humans consume less than 10% of this, and the rest goes into livestock feed.

This livestock feed production is controlled by a very small number of large and powerful corporations, such as ADM, Bunge and Cargill. They make huge profits, but create huge pollution – but they are not held responsible for this as run-off and excess fertilizer use are ‘non-point source’ pollution.

Less than 30% of fertilizer is absorbed by plants, the rest runs off. There is now a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico: 8,000 square miles – the largest in US history. The majority of US waterways are polluted with fertilizer.

The Environmental Working Group estimates that more than 200 million Americans (over half the population) are exposed to contaminated drinking water as a result of fertilizer pollution. Nitrates and phosphorous are associated with cancers, birth defects etc. Rural communities suffer most as their water treatment systems were not built to deal with this level of pollution. ‘85% or more of the communities with elevated levels of nitrate have no treatment systems in place to remove the contaminant. (EWG)

Campaign is under way to get America’s largest meat producer (second largest globally): Tyson to ‘clean up’. Produces over 20% of all (US?) meat (chicken, beef and pork).

Some companies have committed to improve their fertilizer and soil-health practices: Kellogg’s, General Mills, Walmart, Pepsi Co and even Smithfield.

Soil becomes useless after intensive production...

Deforestation is another result of soy production: Cargill is the biggest private company in the world and feeds its poultry on imported soy, grown in the Brazilian Amazon and savanna – there was a moratorium on cutting trees in the Amazon, but the companies have simply moved production into different parts of Brazil and Bolivia. UK chickens are bought from Cargill, by e.g. Morrisons. Cargill’s plant in Hereford slaughters over a million birds a week.

In the Bolivian Amazon an area twice the size of Greater London has been deforested for agriculture each year since 2011 (twice the rate seen in the 1990s). This also reduces the amount of forest that can absorb CO2.

March 25th 2015: The Soil. George Monbiot: according to the UN we need 6m more hectares of land every year to grow food for the growing population of the world. In fact, we are losing 12m hectares a year due to soil degradation.

Intensive methods are the problem: allotment holders (according to UK researchers last year) produce 4 - 11 times more food per hectare than farmers do!!



17th Feb 2018 (Tom Levitt): Dutch cows are producing so much waste the authorities don’t have space to store it! The Netherlands is the fifth-largest exporter of dairy. It has 1.8 million cows and there are legal restrictions on where the manure can be deposited. Farmers are dumping it illegally, the country is breaking EU regulations on phosphates, and the high levels of ammonia are affecting air quality. WWF is calling for a 40% reduction in cow numbers over the next decade. Its Netherlands head says they have the lowest biodiversity in Europe after Malta, with only 15% of their original biodiversity left. 80% of farms produce more dung than they can legally use on their farms – the Dutch are already allowed to spread more manure on the land than the rest of the EU. Some political parties support restrictions on the number of cows.

8th Feb 2018, Fiona Harvey: level of antibiotic use on US farms is five times as much as in UK, and nine times in the case of beef cattle, according to Alliance to Save our Antibiotics. It is three times higher in chicken, twice in pigs and five times in turkeys. Europe has banned the import of beef from America, largely owing to growth hormone use. This issue obviously affects Brexit! The fear is of superbugs developing through the growth of resistance. Nearly three quarters of the total use of antibiotics worldwide is thought to be on animals.

26th March 2018, Michael McCarthy: a quite optimistic assessment, that if we leave the EU’s agricultural policies we will have a lot of money to spend on ensuring our agriculture is sound for the environment. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/mar/26/wildlife-modern-farming-insects-birds

25th June 2018. Catherine Bloomfield, who writes on farming and keeps cattle on a grassland farm in Devon, argues Brexit is an opportunity to have a national debate about farming. ‘For 40 years Britain has been subject to [the common agricultural policy]’s perversities, inefficiencies and unintended consequences... creating a generally dysfunctional relationship between farmers and the public.’

She mentions the 25 year environment plan, launched earlier this year, and its bold ambition ‘to leave the environment for the next generation in a better state than we found it.’ But will Gove actually do anything about this? How to keep feeding a growing population should not be left to Defra – it’s beyond farming, and there is a battle between NFU and ‘environmental zealots’ who indulge in ‘mutual myopia’!! But they need to work together. The premise of farming, she says, is to deliver health. The Defra consultation paper talks about farming and the natural environment but not about health... Farming also has to speak less to itself and more widely with society. Problems also include declining soil fertility, over-consumption of food water and energy.



Other examples:

Chickens: farming contributes to destruction of forests: https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/news/is-eating-chicken-better-for-the-environment-than-beef/?

Around the world, the amount of chicken being eaten has rocketed, almost doubling in the last 30 years. Today, more chicken is eaten than beef, and there are billions of chickens being reared for eggs and meat. 

All these chickens need feeding. Most are kept in intensive factory farms, where they’re provided with processed, concentrated feed made largely from soya. Much of this soya comes from South America, grown in areas which, not long ago, were forests or savannahs. Now, they’re huge soya bean plantations.

There are now 30 chickens for every 10 people on the planet. There are so many chickens, the balance of nature has shifted. Farmed chickens and other poultry make up 70% of all birds on Earth (measured by biomass, or the weight of living organisms). Rearing animals for food is literally squeezing out nature, leaving no space for wild animals.

As things stand, chicken consumption is only going to increase. Eating habits across the world are changing, and more people are eating more meat. Influenced by modern western diets, China, India and other countries are shifting from traditional balanced diets to ones heavy in meat and dairy.

Huge amounts of soya from Brazil end up in the EU, which is the second biggest importer of soya in the world. Most of this is used for animal feed, and half of that is fed to chickens. The UK alone imports over 3 million tonnes of soya per year.

The animal feed industry is doing untold damage to many of Brazil’s natural landscapes, including the Cerrado. This vast savannah, characterised by dry grasslands dotted with trees, contains a bewildering variety of plants and animals. It’s also known as the “cradle of waters” as it feeds most of Brazil’s major rivers, including the Amazon.

South America’s second largest forest, the Gran Chaco, is also being devastated by soya, as well as cattle ranching. Jaguars, armadillos and giant anteaters roam among the thorny shrubs of this dry tropical forest. However, the Gran Chaco is disappearing faster than any other forest as industrial agriculture expands into the region.

The Amazon rainforest is currently protected from being turned into soya plantations. In 2006, a ground-breaking deal ended the destruction of the Amazon by soya companies. The deal is still in place, but those same companies who signed up are now destroying the Cerrado and the Gran Chaco.

April 2019, from Ecowatch, on beef production: https://www.ecowatch.com/beef-and-climate-change-2634244134.html

June 14th 2019. Ammonia from farming. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jun/13/revealed-uk-government-failing-to-tackle-rise-of-ammonia-serious-air-pollutant  causes 3,000 deaths a year

Aug 2019. Agriculture/soil: reactions to George Monbiot article on IPCC special report on climate change and land – the report does mention the Nature paper on carbon opportunity costs (ch 5) and it does explicitly address the advantages of reducing meat and dairy. However, priority must be reduction of fossil fuels and deforestation. Changes in agriculture will take a long time.

Another view: the report is disappointing: no mention of conservation agriculture (CA) – even though it says that soil is being lost 100 times faster than it is being formed where it is ploughed, and 10 to 20 times faster on no-till areas. CA is based on (i) continuous no or minimum mechanical soil disturbance (ii) permanent maintenance of soil mulch cover (iii) diversification of cropping system. (Reduced tillage alone is not CA).


See also: Felicity Lawrence, author of Not on the Label, and Eat Your Heart Out.

Chlorinated chicken: (not the same as chlorine in tap-water, as WHO recommends maximum 50mg per litre – US allows poultry to be washed in up to 50mg per litre. Salad in UK can be washed in 15-20mg per litre, but industry is moving away from this because of consumer concern) leaves behind residues which can be cancer-causing compounds. There has been very little study of effects of chlorine on food. Salmonella and e-coli are reduced but not removed. (In UK we have a different problem, with campylobacter – causes food poisoning). To argue ‘free trade’ (as did Cobden and Bright, against corn laws) is no longer relevant: our food is extremely cheap. We face crises of climate breakdown, loss of natural species, and epidemics of diet-relate disease globally – these will not be addressed with the same old intensive production.  The problem is poor income leading to poor diet – but the share of GDP going to wages has fallen, while the share going to profits has risen. ‘...nurturing agro-ecological systems, combining traditional knowledge with cutting-edge science, will be vital for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting diversity.’ 

20th Sep 2019. Beef and climate change: (see also 6. Climate change: causes)

NFU says British farming can become climate neutral by 2040 without cutting beef production or converting large areas into forest. Their suggestion is growing fuel for power stations and then capturing the carbon dioxide. Energy plants could them become our biggest crop after wheat. Agriculture causes about 10% of the UK’s climate-heating emissions, with 90% of that being methane from livestock and nitrous oxide from fields. Farmers are seeing the effects of climate change with extreme weather. The plan also includes feed additives to cut methane, gene editing to improve crops and livestock, and controlled-release fertilisers. [Good examples of ‘high-tech’ proposals...]



(a) Voluntary:

No-till: March 22nd 2015: Putting the Plow Down to Help the Soil (by Erica Goode NYT/Observer):

A 2,000 hectare farm in North Dakota, run by Gabe Brown, uses no tilling, and applies ‘green manures’ etc – no nitrogen fertilizers, and no fungicide, and produces yields above the county average. Organisations like No-Till on the Plains encourage it. Some 35% of cropland in US is no-tillage. For soybeans the amount of no-till land has doubled in the last 15 years (12 million hectares in 2012). (NYT/Observer article 2015).

George Monbiot: allotment holders (according to UK researchers last year) produce 4 - 11 times more food per hectare than farmers do!!

We have used so much of our land for (intensive) agriculture, and removed hedges, that we have removed habitats for wildlife, so the RSPB has suggested a mandatory 4-5% of farmland to be out of production. Increasingly farmers are leaving uncultivated strips around their fields. When the EU had a ‘set-aside’ policy – which lasted about 20 years until 2007 (it was dropped when food prices rose after some poor harvests) the bird population flourished. [The policy was brought in because of over-production: grain mountains etc...]

Localism: (19th Oct 2005, John Vidal, Ian Sample, Guardian). Need return to localism for food production, as 4 companies sell 70% of the food in Britain – high costs in transport etc. 1500 shops feed half the country. Tim Lang: “Land around London that once fed the city now goes to stockbrokers’ ponies. It’s bonkers… Simply unsustainable”

Reducing pesticide use:

7th April 2017, Damian Carrington: research published in Nature Plants (peer-reviewed) analysed pesticide use, productivity and profitability across almost 1,000 farms in France, and found that 94% could cut their use of pesticides without any loss of production, and two-fifths would actually produce more. With insecticides the results were even more dramatic: in 86%, lower levels would produce more, and in no farms would lose production.

This comes on top of a UN report which said that it was a myth that pesticides were necessary (March 2017) and that they have ‘catastrophic impacts on the environment and human health.’ The report accuses pesticide manufacturers of a ‘systematic denial of harms.’



See above for references to the power of ‘dark money’.

‘Voluntary’ by industry (!): Genetic Modification:

Scientists are now experimenting with genetic modification of plants, and animals, and even cloning – the public is alarmed by these experiments, and there is widespread opposition, but commercial interests come into play and the experiments are going ahead in many cases.

Nov 2018 worrying article on GM potatoes: https://www.ecowatch.com/gmo-potato-simplot-health-fears-2618087647.html

John Vidal in the Guardian, 20th Oct 2011, on the ‘Global Citizens’ Report on the state of GMOs’ – this groups together 20 Indian, South-east Asian and Latin American conservation groups, representing millions of people. The report casts doubt on the effectiveness of GM crops:

- more insecticides have to be used, and Monsanto, Syngenta and Dupont control nearly 70% of global seed sales, and are the three largest GM firms. Monsanto has control of over 95% of the Indian cotton-seed market and this pushes prices up.

250,000 Indian farmers have killed themselves over the past 15 years, mainly because of indebtedness. See:


The Ecologist Magazine, Dec/Jan 2009 has article on Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser, who has battled with Monsanto over the contamination of his crops with GM rape seed – he argues that it is almost impossible now to buy non-GM seed in Canada, and these seeds would not be acceptable in Europe. ‘There is no such thing as containment; there is no such thing as co-existence; there is no such thing as choice. Your yields drop and you end up using three to five times more chemicals. We now have superweeds in our towns, on our golf courses, in our cemeteries and on our roads. The chemicals we have to use on them contain up to 70% of the constituents of Agent Orange.’

The Ecologist June 2009: French govt has agreed introduction of labelling ‘fed on non-GM feed’ on meat and dairy products, a victory for group Que Choisir. In Germany a ban on GM maize variety (because when fed to mice they showed reproductive problems) has led to lawsuit from Montano…

The Ecologist May 2009: criticises the publication by ‘Sense About Science’ – ‘Making Sense of GM’, which appears to have been written by people with connections with the GM industry, viz: Prof. V Moses, head of industry-funded GM lobby group CropGen; 8 contributors from John Innes Centre, which receives funding from the GM industry; and a draft version, obtained by Private Eye, shows that one of the contributors – whose name was removed from the publication! – was toxicologist Andrew Cockburn, former director of scientific affairs at Monsanto (when he was invited to author part of a government review there were questions in parliament and one of the other panellists resigned).  

More disturbingly, the publishers (directors of SAS) are part of the Living Marxism group, which also is ‘behind online magazine Spiked and the Institute of Ideas – the group promotes climate change denial, eulogises GMOs, human cloning and nuclear power, and portrays environmentalists as Nazis…’ (Jonathan Matthews in The Ecologist). LM lost a libel action against ITN when it tried to argue that news pictures of starving Bosnians were faked. The magazine had to close… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Living_Marxism.

See also Zac Goldsmith’s Guardian article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jan/05/sense-about-science-celebrity-observations.

Jonathan Matthews is the founder of GM Watch www.gmwatch.eu   



Set-aside (and the EU): (David Adam, G 25.05.09):

About 75% of British countryside is farmed.

During 1980s, farmers were paid a guaranteed price by EU for wheat, barley etc. this led to an oversupply, and ‘grain mountains’ …

The cost of storing the surplus grew, and it was then cheaper to pay farmers not to use the land. This led to the policy of ‘set-aside’ (though according to David Adam this was “voodoo economics”): 8% - 15% farming land set aside, the policy continued for 20 years, and during this time bird population flourished… (less chemicals, more weed seeds).

In 2007 the policy was dropped (it had lasted about 20 years) after poor harvests led to rising food prices. More food was needed, so farmers took set-aside land back into use.

Then a decline in cereal prices led to a slight rise in unfarmed land – and the government plans to start set-aside again (because concern over wildlife?), giving subsidies. [check...]

We have used so much of our land for (intensive) agriculture, and removed hedges, that we have destroyed habitats for wildlife. The RSPB wants a mandatory 4-5% of farmland to be out of production, while farmers want it left to them. Increasingly farmers are leaving uncultivated strips around their fields.

However, farmers say they can manage the problem, and compulsory measures mean farmers don’t deal with it so thoroughly/effectively.

Agriculture and Brexit:  3rd August 2017, Sandra Laville. National Trust warns Brexit is damaging countryside: farmers are returning to intensive methods because of uncertainty. Director Dame Helen Ghosh says farmers have ploughed up pasture which had been created with EU money. Legislation needed now. Maintain the £3bn a year subsidy with incentives for nature-friendly farming. Provide guarantees that food and environmental standards will be maintained or strengthened. Ensure £800m of greening subsidies are redirected in 2019 (and not later) into more effective incentives.

NT is part of the Greener UK coalition, along with FoE, Greenpeace and RSPB.  We need to repair historic damage, adapt to climate change, restore soil and water quality, habitats, species, natural flood protection and damaged landscapes. Over the last 50 years 60% of species have declined in the UK and 31% have strongly declined. Farming yields are suffering because the soil is exhausted largely as a result of the industrialised farming methods which have been incentivised since WW2.

Food sovereignty’: from War on Want, June 2020:

North African countries are deeply affected by the failing industrial food system. Agribusiness corporations in league with International Financial Institutions exploit the land and water – farmers cannot eat the basic food they produce, and the countries are forced to import the majority of their food despite their rich lands.

But communities are resisting the plundering of their natural resources and fighting for an agricultural system based on food sovereignty.

The industrial food system only produces about 30% of the world's food while 75% of the global agricultural land is exploited by agribusiness companies that only produce export-commodities (like soy and maize) as feed in industrial animal farming, as biofuels/biomass, and as food additives that contribute to the ultra-processed food industry. This industrial system makes it so that many people only have access to food that has low nutritional value, and this is a key cause of the current pandemic malnutrition, both in the global north and the global south..

 In some areas of North Africa nearly all the water is virtually exported in the form of water-intensive export crops such as tomatoes. The food crises and uprisings in the last two decades in countries such as Tunisia and Morocco highlighted this utter failure, both in the region and globally.

Now, War on Want's partners in North Africa are equipping grassroots activists and peasants with the knowledge and skills to fight against agribusiness. The North African Network for Food Sovereignty is unifying the struggles and raising the voices of peasants, fisherfolk and agricultural workers.

See more at: https://waronwant.org/food-sovereignty/NAWA - including a short film.

June 2020: relief of poverty can reduce deforestation!


(c) More radical/controversial views:

Going organic: Soil Association: less than one sixth of the land on Earth is suitable for growing crops – and now one third of this is degraded, and 75% of that is severely degraded. It can take a thousand years for one centimetre of topsoil to form. The UK countryside has only 100 harvests left.


Seven ways to protect and support our soils:

- recycle plant and animal matter for natural fertilizers

- improve soils health monitoring

- encourage soil organisms

- protect soils with continuous vegetation cover

- plant and retain trees on vulnerable and marginal land

- reduce soil compaction from livestock and machinery

- crop rotations designed to improve soil health


(i) remove subsidies for maize grown for anaerobic digesters. Maize is already subsidised under CAP, so it shouldn’t also get the Feed-in Tariff and Renewable Heat Incentive subsidies. (ii) Maize is harvested in autumn when soil is wet and compact – rain then washes pesticides and fertilizers into waterways (causing flooding too as the rain doesn’t sink in).

(ii) introduce strict management measures to minimise soil loss. UK accounts for 5% of soil erosion in Europe although it occupies only 1% of the land area.

Organic matter reduces the amount of sediment washed off. 89% of agricultural CO2 emissions can be mitigated by improving soil carbon levels. Organic farms in N-W Europe have 20% more SOM (soil organic material) than non-organic – and organic farms store more CO2 in topsoil. There are now 186,000 farms with organic farmland across the EU, and the area is increasing by half a million hectares every year. Organic farming may be less productive than conventional farming, but this is not definite since many organic farms are situated on less favourable land. It requires more labour, and the same amount of fossil fuels, but of course no synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, so is ‘low input’. 


Agroecology: https://theconversation.com/three-ways-farms-of-the-future-can-feed-the-planet-and-heal-it-too- 

May 2020. News from the Landworkers’ Alliance:

The Agriculture Bill was debated in the House of Commons on Wed, May 13th. We asked members and supporters to support Amendments 18/19 on Agroecology (only applicable to England) and sponsored by MP Kerry Mc Carthy, and NC2 on trade (UK wide) put forward by MP Neil Parish, chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. An amazing 4,990 letters were sent to MP’s regarding these two amendments, so thank you to everyone for your support.

Agroecology amendment 
The agroecology amendment was designed to raise the profile of agroecology, especially certified organic farming with MP’s and to secure promises from government that the new ELMS schemes would provide for environmental measures adopted across the whole farm. Government made commitments to the principles of agroecology and MP Kerry McCarthy mentioned the Landworkers' Alliance in her excellent speech defending the importance of a commitment to agroecological farming practices. 

The LWA is pleased that the profile of agroecology has reached a new level. Even if they don’t agree with the need for an amendment on agroecology, no MP can claim to have not heard of agroecology and none have disputed the importance of the principles. It has also recently become clear that whole farm agroecological principles are being considered in the English ELMS process as recent discussions of the outcomes framework have incorporated a wide range of across the farm measures, from reduction of pesticides to soil management to reducing the carbon emissions. Social outputs are also being considered with regards to public access.

We are now hoping that devolved governments will make a stronger commitment to organic farming- increasing organic maintenance payments and making a commitment similar to that in the new EU Biodiversity Strategy which commits to these targets by 2030:

Read more: https://ec.europa.eu/food/farm2fork_en and 
Parks – how English ‘national parks’ are ‘neither national nor parks’ (George Monbiot G 1st June 2015):


March 6th – 7th 2014: Landowners and farmers:

Useful and controversial piece by George Monbiot: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/mar/03/rich-landowners-farmers-welfare-nfu-defra

and replies in Guardian 7th March: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/mar/06/mistake-claim-all-farming-same


Glyphosate (see also below): ‘Unearthed’ reveals lobbying by farmers is funded by ‘Red Flag Consulting’


Sheep farming:

Lake District: should it have World Heritage status? George Monbiot argues against, as the groups pushing for this are preserving sheep-farming, which is not good for the environment.




3. Bees:

3.1 Importance. There are many different species of bees, and they have two extremely valuable roles: to produce honey (honey bees) and to pollinate flowers, fruit and flowering vegetables. They pollinate roughly 70% of our food crops. See Havering Friends of the Earth #talk about bees.

3.2 The history of colony collapse disorder:

In America an industry has grown up around using bees as pollinators: in the early 2000s, two things shook up this industry. First, the world discovered almonds. Thanks to global demand, particularly from Asia, the nut has taken over Central Valley, nearly doubling its hectarage to 370,000 since 2005. California produces more than 80% of the world’s almond supply today. The boom brought with it an unprecedented demand for pollination. With bees, an almond tree produces 70% more nuts than without. “Bees,” one almond grower told me, “are as important as water.”

Second, the bees started to die. During the 2006 winter, beekeepers reported losing anything from 30% to 90% of their hives to disease, an unprecedented amount compared with previous decades, in which losses hovered around 10 or 15%. The average death toll has since levelled to just under 30% each year. Beekeepers find ‘boxes and boxes of dead colonies every winter, and have to scrape out the crusted nectar and tiny corpses.’

In the UK, hive losses were between 20% and 40% in the last few years. Factors that contribute are: loss of wild flowers, meadows, etc. the varroa mite, climate change, and finally pesticides.

What became known as “colony collapse disorder” – a lethal combination of disease, drought, land loss and pesticide use – brought the industry to its knees, forcing hundreds of keepers, unable to maintain their hives through the cold winter, out of business.

Consequently, the national supply of bees fell, while demand for pollination has since quadrupled alongside almond growth. This year, almond farmers paid $180 to rent a single hive. And every half-hectare requires two hives... Hives are so valuable that there is large-scale theft: in 2015, poachers stole more than 1,700 hives...

Scientific research has demonstrated that insecticides – especially neonicotinoids – are perhaps the main factor in the decline of bees. (Some apiarists blame disease – and the varroa mite - first, but the counter-argument is that neonics must weaken the bees’ immunity). It is believed that neonics disrupt the bees’ nervous system, resulting in disorientation – not knowing how to find pollen/nectar, or to get back to the hive.

In 2010 the European Union placed a moratorium on three types of neonicotinoids on flowering crops such as oilseed rape (Britain abstained in the vote), but three years later these insecticides have not disappeared.

In fact (says Dave Goulson of Sussex University) their use in British farming continues to rise. They are deployed on non-flowering crops such as wheat. We use them in horticulture, and daub them on our pets: flea powders for cats and dogs contain imidacloprid, a neonicotinoid. Dave Goulson says the “plausible deniability” he encounters from neonicotinoid makers is “rather similar to what the tobacco industry did for 50 years claiming that smoking didn’t cause any harm”.’

2015: ‘Scientists this year calculated that these insecticides caused a 10% reduction in the distribution of bee species that forage on oilseed rape. Another study found neonicotinoids cut live sperm in male honeybees by almost 40%. Two studies show a strong correlation between neonicotinoids and declining butterfly populations, while another showed the insecticide accumulating to dangerous levels in nearby wildflowers.

2017 (Report by Damian Carrington): The world’s most widely used insecticides harm the ability of bees to vibrate flowers and shake out the pollen to fertilise crops, according to preliminary results from a new study, led by Penelope Whitehorn of the University of Stirling in Scotland and presented at British Ecological Society conference.

Some flowers, such as those of crops like tomatoes and potatoes, must be shaken to release pollen and bumblebees are particularly good at creating the buzz needed to do this.

We are talking about tiny doses of these chemicals: The researchers took two colonies of bumblebees in a laboratory setting and split the bees in each into three groups. One control group was not exposed to the neonicotinoid thiamethoxam, but the other two groups were fed solutions containing two parts per billion or 10ppb of the pesticide, doses similar to those found in crop fields.

The study adds to a large body of evidence from lab- and field-based studies that neonicotinoids reduce learning and memory in bees, impair their communication, foraging efficiency and immune systems and, crucially, reduce their reproductive success as well as the pollination services that they can provide.


24th March 2017, Damian Carrington, Guardian: possible ban on neonicotinoids, following European Food Safety Authority risk assessments 2016. ‘High acute risks for bees’ identified for ‘most crops’ from imidacloprid and clothianidin, both made by Bayer. Thiamethoxam made by Syngenta: the company’s evidence was not sufficient to address the risks.  In 2015 a study of Europe’s nearly 2,000 bee species showed wild bees declining, with nearly 10% of species facing extinction.

Book: Bee Quest, Dave Goulson, Cape £16.99: reviewed Laline Paul Observer 9th April 2017. Travels to a number of countries, and lets the evidence speak for itself. Shows how macro and micro connect, e.g. drive for food after WWII, industrial farming given an artificial advantage leading to poverty in developing world.  To create a global network of protected areas for most of the endangered species would cost 42bn a year, which is just 20% of the annual global spend on fizzy drinks, and less than half what is paid out every year in bonuses to bankers in Wall Street’s investment banks.

Fri 22nd Sep 2017 Guardian, Damian Carrington: chief scientific advisor to UK government Ian Boyd, and Alice Milner in Science journal, it is not safe to use pesticides on an industrial scale.

There are no regulations to limit their use, and no monitoring. (This follows UN report denouncing ‘myth’ that pesticides are necessary to feed the world, also research showing use could be cut drastically without affecting food production). Contrast pharmaceuticals, where there is global monitoring... In the UK there is no systematic monitoring of pesticide residues, no consideration of safe limits at landscape scales. Buglife says: 35% of countries have no regulation. UN report accused global corporations of ‘systematic denial of harms... aggressive unethical marketing tactics’ and heavy lobbying of governments which ‘obstructed reforms’.

But Sarah Mukherjee of the Crop Protection Association said ‘Pesticides are among the most heavily regulated products in the world’.  

6th Oct 2017 (Guardian, Damian Carrington): Professor Edward Mitchell, University of Neuchatel, finds 75% of 200 samples of honey from around the world (collected 2012 – 2016) had measurable levels of neonics. 48% of the samples had levels above the minimum concentration which would harm bees... Published in Science journal. Highest levels in US: 86% of samples; Asia: 80%; Europe: 79%; South America lowest: 57%. Almost half had several insecticides.

Jean-Marc Bonmatin, Centre national de la Recherche Scientifique, Orleans: ‘The use of pesticides runs contrary to environmentally sustainable practices. It provides no real benefit to farmers, decreases soil quality, hurts biodiversity and contaminates water, air and food. There is no longer any reason to continue down this path of destruction.’

30th Nov. 2017. In 2017 songbirds were fed Imidacloprid (most widely used neonic.) in doses they would get from one treated seed, and they fell ill, lost weight, stopped eating and were unable to identify a northward direction. Journal Scientific Reports. Damian Carrington. Not a correlation but a live experiment...

3.3 Other effects of pesticides:

NB 2017, eggs were found to have toxic (and banned from use on products for the human food chain) pesticide: fipronil (used to destroy poultry mite). They were distributed to 15 EU countries, Switzerland and Hong Kong. 700,000 eggs reached UK alone.

Authorities in Netherlands were alerted by an anonymous source in Nov 2016, but didn’t pass on the findings. July/August 2017 millions of eggs blocked from sale or withdrawn from the market after fipronil was discovered by Dutch food and product safety board. 180 Dutch farms temporarily shut down. A criminal investigation is under way.

Poultry Vision in Belgium is accused of knowingly selling DEGA-16 (a cleaning and sanitizing product approved to clean chicken stables) mixed with fipronil, and to ChickFriend in the Netherlands, also accused of knowingly supplying it. Food Standards Agency needs to name and shame when it finds poor standards.

It is not just bees that are affected: Dec 6th 2016. Patrick Barkham listens to Dave Goulson talking at the 2015 National Honey Show: ‘Scientists this year calculated that these insecticides caused a 10% reduction in the distribution of bee species that forage on oilseed rape. Another study found neonicotinoids cut live sperm in male honeybees by almost 40%. Two studies show a strong correlation between neonicotinoids and declining butterfly populations, while another showed the insecticide accumulating to dangerous levels in nearby wildflowers.’

Frogs in Australia: 5th July 2016 (AP): Neonicotinoids are widely used in Australia and frogs have declined by 95% in Cairns – which Deborah Pergolotti has happened since neonics were introduced 20 years ago. She has treated frogs with extra limbs, missing eyes, cancer, stunted growth and skeletal problems – none of which occurred before 1996.

3.4 Solutions

(a) more flowers including wild flowers in gardens and parks, less use of pesticides; encouraging meadows and leaving the edges of fields for wild flowers, natural methods of pest control;

(b) European Union has brought in a ban on neonicotinoids which are believed to be the main culprit in causing the decline of bees. However, not every member country has gone along with this (Britain opposed the ban when it was proposed), and there is intense lobbying by multinational companies such as Monsanto, Bayer and Syngenta.

The problem is that these companies make genetically modified seeds to enable crops to be grown which will (in theory!) not be damaged by weedkillers. They also, of course, produce the chemicals that go into the weedkillers!

These companies are known to lobby very effectively. The National Farmers’ Union also puts pressure on government.

See below (#standards) on problems with international standards.

(c) On the other hand, a range of pressure-groups such as Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace... are all campaigning hard to get neonicotinoids banned.

One (American) example: the Bee Defenders’ Alliance – coalition of beekeeping organisations: ‘This year, we’re working around the clock to get Canada to join France in banning neonics, extend the European neonic ban, and stop U.S. grocery store giants like Kroger from selling bee-killing products. We’ll also continue to support threatened bee scientists like Jonathan Lundgren and the beekeeper alliance that’s fighting Bayer and Syngenta in court.

And finally, we’ll do everything we can to stop the Bayer-Monsanto (see update below) merger from hell and continue to fight the biggest bee-killer of them all, Bayer.’

Jonathan Lundgren, from Washington Post March 3 2016: “I don’t think science can be done, at least on this subject, in any of the conventional ways,” he says. “I think we need truly independent scientists — not funded by government or industry.” (* see piece by Carey Gillam, below)

Bee declines, says Lundgren, are not difficult to understand. “Yes, the bees are in crisis, and we need to help them,” he says. “But what we have is not a bee problem. What we have is a biodiversity problem.”

U.S. corporate agriculture tends toward monoculture farming — in the simplest terms, one giant farm specializing in one crop. The two key monoculture crops are corn and soybeans. Corn alone takes up 30 percent of the country’s crop space, an area almost the size of California.

Soybean acreage is nearly as vast. The corn rootworm, the Colorado potato beetle and soybean aphids all thrive best on the crops that give them their names. And so monocultures have allowed, even caused, says Lundgren, pest populations to explode.

“We’re using all of these pesticides because we’ve created a pest problem,” Lundgren says, “and bee health is a symptom of this underlying cause.”

He says the solution is to diversify American farming. “Any other course is unsustainable,” he says. “Pesticides, herbicides, fungicides should be something we resort to, not a first option.”

Update 31st March 2020. (Carey Gillam) Monsanto and BASF – In 2011 they developed a new crop system to address the fact that millions of acres of US farmland had become overrun with weeds resistant to Roundup. A new herbicide, Dicamba, was offered, along with genetically altered soya beans and cotton (tolerant to the herbicide).

Dicamba has been used since the 1960s but is volatile – it spreads beyond the area where it is applied. If it encounters other crops it kills them. So Monsanto and BASF developed a new version of Dicamba that would not volatilise – so long as farmers were trained to use it properly, and had buffer zones, special nozzles etc. In 2009 Monsanto were aware that farmers might use the old version of Dicamba – the company expected ‘off-target movement’, leading to ‘crop loss’, ‘lawsuits’, and ‘negative press’ (according to a report prepared for Monsanto in 2009). In 2015 another document shows they expected more than 10,000 claims from farmers!

Millions of acres of crops have been damaged and more than 100 farmers are engaged in litigation. Last month a jury awarded $265m against Monsanto and BASF. Documents also show Monsanto opposed third-party testing of their product. 

3.5 Note on the problem of international agreement on standards:

There are other dangerous chemicals that are the subject of bans in some countries but not in others:

Sat 23rd May 2015: US lobbying led to EU not banning Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) – this was done as a result of fears of a trade backlash under the TTIP. PAN has details... http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/may/22/eu-dropped-pesticide-laws-due-to-us-pressure-over-ttip-documents-reveal 

March 22nd 2015: the use of atrazine, made by Syngenta, one of America’s most popular herbicides, is subject of a piece in New York Times International Weekly/Observer: 33.4 million kilos were used in US in 2013. But it is banned in Europe and Switzerland because it contaminates water: in US the onus is on regulators to show evidence of danger – while in EU companies have to establish they are safe before they are put on the market. Question is will the Transatlantic Trade talks lower the threshold?

Jan 29th 2017, The Observer (Joanna Blythman): 82 pesticides are banned in the EU on health and environmental grounds – but not in the US.

These include: permethrin, a broad spectrum insecticide that is classed as a likely carcinogen and suspected endocrine disruptor, and atrazine, a herbicide thought to affect the immune system, which has also been linked to birth defects.

Of course, if the UK agrees a trade deal with the US after Brexit, then these protections could be lost.

March 2015 (New York Times/Observer): atrazine, made by Syngenta, is one of Australia and America’s most popular herbicides: 33.4 million kilos were used in US in 2013. But it is banned in Europe (2004) and Switzerland as an endocrine disruptor (can alter the natural hormonal system – frogs change sex) and because it contaminates water. Farm workers show health effects of pesticides, but as they are exposed to several it is not easy to identify specific dangerous products. However, ‘maternal exposure to atrazine in drinking water has been associated with low foetal weight and heart, urinary and limb defects in humans.’ (ATSDR – Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry).

LD50 measurements and ‘threshold doses’ controversy. 750 mg/kg in rabbits, 1,000 mg/kg in hamsters, 3,090 mg/kg in rats...  EPA’s ‘reference dose’: 0.035 mg/kg/day. 

NB in US the onus is on regulators to show evidence of danger – while in EU companies have to establish they are safe before they are put on the market.

May 2015: US lobbying led to EU not banning Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) – this was done as a result of fears of a trade backlash under the TTIP.... Further information from PAN.

Supplementary Notes:

(i) Regulations on pesticides: Extracts from COMMISSION IMPLEMENTING REGULATION (EU) No 485/2013 of 24 May 2013 amending Implementing Regulation (EU) No 540/2011, as regards the conditions of approval of the active substances clothianidin, thiamethoxam and imidacloprid, and prohibiting the use and sale of seeds treated with plant protection products containing those active substances 

In spring 2012, new scientific information on the sub- lethal effects of neonicotinoids on bees was published.

In particular, pending the evaluation of the Authority on foliar uses it considered that the risk for bees from foliar applications is similar to the risk identified by the Authority for seed treatment applications and soil treatment, due to the systemic translocation of the active substances clothianidin, thiamethoxam and imidacloprid through the plant.

In particular the uses as seed treatment and soil treatment of plant protection products containing clothianidin, thiamethoxam or imidacloprid should be prohibited for crops attractive to bees and for cereals except for uses in greenhouses and for winter cereals.

Extracts from guidance on risk assessment for bees EFSA Journal 2012:

‘A decline of some pollinator species was reported in several different regions of the world (Biesmeijer et al., 2006; Committee on the status of Pollinators in North America, 2007). Bee poisoning incidents were reported in Europe (e.g. exposure to dust from seed treatments). Pollination is a very important ecosystem service for food production and maintenance of biodiversity (Gallai et al., 2009).’

[See also: Laura Maxim and Jeroen van der Sluijs – EEA Late Lessons Volume II Chapter 16 pdf ]


Next section not dealt with in May 2021 course.

4. Biodiversity and species decline:  (See Species decline and biodiversity)

The 2016 State of Nature report found: More than one in 10 of the UK’s wildlife species are threatened with extinction. (Damian Carrington 14/9/16). The numbers of the most endangered creatures have fallen by two-thirds since 1970. This covers birds, animals, fish and plants.

Overall 53% - 56% of species declined between 1970 and 2011, but some species increased - this ‘does not look like a healthy, natural situation’ (Mark Eaton, conservation scientist at RSPB) – some species going up very quickly, and others going down equally quickly, so we could end up with ‘50% left’.

Insects and invertebrates have declined most dramatically, by 59% since 1970. Thus pollination, healthy soil etc are damaged. ‘They are about the most important things out there’ says Eaton.


‘The new data was gathered in nature reserves across Germany but has implications for all landscapes dominated by agriculture, the researchers said.

The cause of the huge decline is as yet unclear, although the destruction of wild areas and widespread use of pesticides are the most likely factors and climate change may play a role.

“Insects make up about two-thirds of all life on Earth [but] there has been some kind of horrific decline,” said Prof Dave Goulson of Sussex University, UK, and part of the team behind the new study. “We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life, and are currently on course for ecological Armageddon. If we lose the insects then everything is going to collapse.”

Flies, beetles and wasps are also predators and decomposers, controlling pests and cleaning up the place generally.

The research, published in the journal Plos One, is based on the work of dozens of amateur entomologists across Germany who began using strictly standardised ways of collecting insects in 1989. Special tents called malaise traps were used to capture more than 1,500 samples of all flying insects at 63 different nature reserves.’

If the insects leave the reserves and go on to farmland, then they won’t find anything much to eat, and they may be exposed to pesticides, says Dave Goulson.

Oct 2017 Michael McCarthy Guardian 21st Oct 

Scientists tell of alarm at huge fall in flying insects... the biomass of flying insects in Germany has dropped by 75% since 1989. Insects are vital plant pollinators, and the food base of thousands and thousands of food chains. Britain’s farmland birds have declined by more than half because of loss of insects. The grey partridge and spotted flycatcher have declined by more than 95%, and the red-backed shrike is extinct.

We have not noticed partly because we don’t like insects and partly because we don’t (can’t perhaps) count them. In Britain alone there are about 24,500 insect species.

Two-thirds of all species on Earth are insects. They have been present on earth for about 350 million years (humans for 130,000). There are more kinds of beetle than of all plants.

Letter in Guardian, Oct 2017: Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust: insecticide use is responsible for declining numbers. Agri-environmental measures are available through the Countryside Stewardship Scheme: conservation headlands (low-input cereal headlands), wildbird seed mix. (Measured less decline (35% in Sussex than found in Germany (87%), but high decline (72%) in insects (and 45% of invertebrates) that are chick feed for declining farmland birds. Concern about post-Brexit policies...

Hedgehogs – decline due to our building roads, etc and clearing hedges, though badgers predating them is main cause (they would stand a better chance if we hadn’t changed their environment) Patrick Barkham 2nd March 2017 Guardian G2.

Causes: intensive farming, urbanization, climate change.

Public funding for biodiversity has fallen by 32% from 2008 to 2015.

Nature provides economic and health benefits of about £30bn a year (government 2011 analysis).

March 3rd 2017. Mozambique’s ‘Google Forest’ – Mount Mabu - was ‘discovered’ by Julian Bayliss when looking at Google Earth in 2005 – with a Kew Gardens team he has discovered three new species of snake, eight of butterflies, a bat, a crab, tow chameleons, many plants, and birds that are critically endangered. Expedition by Alliance Earth March 2017 (Observer 26.03.17) to create a 3D map publish studies, seek out potential non-timber forest products and film a VR experience for museums etc. The hill was used by local people when the fight for independence from Portugal took place – 1964 – and there are holes where people hid, especially with children, so their cries would not be heard by the Portuguese looking for them...

Mozambique is still losing timber through illegal operations, and according to the Environmental Investigation Agency some $130m of hardwoods are stolen annually, much of it going to China. 

Aim is to use ecological/sustainable tourism to preserve the biodiversity: honey, mushrooms to generate income locally. It needs to be legally designated as a community conservation area.

Palm oil and loss of forests: Bank of England looking for other sources of fat for its notes, after row over use of animal fat, and may use palm oil. WWF says ‘Palm oil has benefits as it produces more oil per acre of land than any other equivalent crop... Worldwide demand is expected to double by 2050 but this expansion comes at the expense of human rights and tropical forest – unless it is sustainable.’

Doug Maw who started the petition against animal fats says ‘Palm oil production has brought the orangutan to the brink of extinction and coconuts are often harvested in a very exploitative way.’

NB: there is also a world-wide problem with the killing of elephants, rhinos, sharks etc.

Possible solutions

(a) Conservation

15th Feb 2017 (Zoological Society of London): a group of 14 scimitar-horned oryx (type of antelope) have been reintroduced to a nature reserve in Chad (the size of Scotland!), by the Sahara desert where they used to live. (Driven to extinction during civil unrest 1980s and 1990s). They were bred in captivity in zoos including Whipsnade.

17th Feb 2017 (Hannah Devlin, Guardian science correspondent): scientists are trying to ‘resurrect’ the woolly mammoth (by splicing mammoth DNA – preserved in the ice – into an elephant genome). Woolly mammoths could help prevent tundra permafrost from melting as they punch through snow and allow cold air to come in. A simulate ecosystem study showed that mammoths in Siberia could bring about a drop in temperature of up to 20 degrees C. In the summer they knock down trees and help the grass grow.

(b) Reserves and re-wilding:

(George Monbiot on re-wilding the seas, 4th Feb 2017): ocean ecologists want 30% of Britain’s seas protected – we have achieved on 0.01% (off Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel, Lamlash Bay off the Isle of Arran, Flamborough Head in East Yorkshire). ‘When you establish reserves in which fish and shellfish can breed and grow to large sizes, [you get a] ‘spillover effect’ – fish migrating to the surrounding waters’ – so the policy actually helps the fishing industry.

‘Declaring areas of sea off-limits to the fishing industry would also revitalise other coastal industries [attracting] divers, whale watchers and sport fishers – all of whom tend to bring in more income and jobs than commercial fishing.’

Monbiot says that ‘a rich ecosystem includes many different species of fish, tuna, ‘blue, porbeagle, thresher, mako and occasional great white sharks’, and behind, within sight of the shore, fin whales and sperm whales...’ as described by Oliver Goldsmith in the late 18th century. He saw: ‘[fish] in distinct columns of five and six miles in length and three or four broad.’

The world’s largest marine park has been created in the Ross Sea off Antarctica – widely seen as Earth’s last intact marine ecosystem. (29th Oct 2016 Michael Slezak)

Protection of rivers: payments in lieu of fines.

Businesses are paying ‘enforcement undertakings’ as an alternative to prosecutions – Environment Agency says the money will go to charities and projects to clean up rivers etc and for community groups to invest in public parkland. Northumbrian Water has paid £375,000 for pumping sewage into a river, and Anglian water has paid £100,000 twice for 2 pollution incidents which killed fish. 31st Jan 2017Press Association

(c) More controversial re-wilding: Lynx UK hopes to introduce six Eurasian lynxes, imported from Sweden, into Kielder Forest (a nature reserve in Northumberland). Lynx was last seen across Britain in AD700. They would reinvigorate the biggest forested area in Britain and control its herbivore population – their main food is roe deer, which is damaging the growth of wild flowers and plants, and preventing the regeneration of trees. They have been successfully re-introduced in northern Germany. Dr Ian Convery (Univ of Cumbria) says we have lost significantly more nature over the long term than the global average and we are amongst the most nature-depleted countries in the world. Three benefits: restoring ecosystems, controlling deer, attracting tourists (as happened in Germany).

Other re-wilding initiatives: (Observer 13th May 2015, p 31 Tracy McVeigh): attempts are being made to return wild animals (and plants etc) to areas from which they have died out. Examples: reindeer (extinct since the 12th century, reintroduced 1952, especially in Cairngorms) black Grouse (reintroduced in Derbyshire in 2003), wild horses, wild boar have been re-establishing themselves for several decades (but these have escaped from farms?). 

(Observer 26th June2016 Jessica Aldred): dormice being reintroduced to Yorkshire Dales National Park.

They need managed (coppiced) woodland and hedgerows – England lost 50% of its hedgerows between 1946 and 1993 from an estimated 500,000 miles to 236,000. Dormice need to be off the ground, so drystone walls and woods are essential.

This community it is hoped will link up with another released three miles away. A good species to get people involved with conservation, and what’s good for them is also good for birds, bats and butterflies.

Beavers have improved water (flood management etc) and biodiversity in Devon. Wolves could manage deer. Sea eagles were returned to the Inner Hebrides (but endangered sheep...).

5. Waste:

5.1 food:

In the UK we send 10m tonnes of food waste a year to landfill sites, a quarter of which is reckoned to be edible. Some will be from supermarkets (2m tonnes according to Waste and Resources Action Programme - WRAP), some from manufacturers (1.8m tonnes) some from the hospitality sector (1m tonnes), some from households.  (Press Association, quoting Defra).

In 2015 the UK threw away an estimated 15 million tonnes of food, that is around 40% of our food is wasted... World-wide, almost a third of all the food produced – approximately 1.3bn tonnes – is lost one way or another each year (much of it brought home and then thrown away). [From article by Ryan Bradley, Observer magazine 15.03.20].

Waste food in landfill etc contributes a staggering 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions. [ditto]

 Tesco alone threw away 59,400 tonnes in 2015, the equivalent of 119m meals.

UK looks to be top of the EU league table for food waste!!! (Though Americans throw away almost as much food as they eat – a cult of perfection is to blame. Vast quantities left in the fields to rot).

200,000 tonnes of the food waste comes from seven major supermarkets.         

70% of produce is dumped by producers and retailers before it even gets to the stores.

This averages out (!) at each adult throwing away over £400 of food a year (plus a further £400+ in packaging).

Avoidable food waste also generates 19m tonnes of greenhouse gases over its lifetime – equivalent to a quarter of the cars on the road. (Rebecca Smithers, 10th Jan 2017).


31st Dec 2018. Food waste: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/dec/31/food-waste-chief-to-target-scandal-of-250m-binned-uk-meals

250m meals a year = 100,000 tonnes of food is sent to generate electricity from waste, for anaerobic digestion, or for animal feed – even though it is still edible...

43,000 tonnes of surplus food is redistributed from retailers and food manufacturers.


5.2 Packaging:


The amount of waste we create is astounding: UK households and businesses used 11m tonnes of packaging last year, according to government figures – much of this is exported. At least 100 containers of plastic waste a day are shipped out from ports including Felixstowe and Southampton to Europe and the Far East.

Recently there have been difficulties because some countries have refused to take any more of our waste, or because they have been unable to process it properly, or because it was contaminated.

Illegal waste, declared as other imports, has been going from the UK, Australia, the US and Germany.

In 2018 China – recipient of at least half of the world’s waste for recycling – stopped accepting it.  Companies then looked for other outlets, and countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam and Malaysia, where regulations were more lax, started receiving our waste.

In April 2019 Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia have all introduced legislation to prevent contaminated waste coming in. In May 2019 the president of the Philippines threatened to sever ties with Canada if it didn’t take back 69 containers, holding 1,500 tonnes of rubbish exported in 2013 – 14.

Malaysia has sent back containers of plastic waste. (Hannah Ellis-Petersen, 28th May 2019).

There has also been concern because it is regarded as wrong for us to dump our waste on other countries, and toxic waste has caused water contamination, crop death and respiratory illnesses.

The Basel convention was amended (May 2019) to prohibit such waste being exported without the consent of developing countries – but it will not come into effect until 2020.

Update, Feb. 2019: Amazon criticised for using plastic bags instead of card/paper.

It is thought that Amazon ships between 4bn and 5bn parcels a year worldwide. In February, the Washington Post reported on how the new Amazon envelopes were clogging up US recycling centres as consumers were wrongly placing them in recycling bins.

On Monday, Amazon was among 181 companies that signed up to a new official definition of corporate purpose in the US, which threw out the decades-old sole objective of making as much profit for shareholders as possible to embrace the interests of other stakeholders, including employees, customers, suppliers and the community.

The move, seen as a response to increasing criticism of business and traditional capitalism, included a pledge to protect the environment “by embracing sustainable practices”. It was signed by Jeff Bezos, the Amazon founder and boss.



19th Dec. 2018: government has come up with new rules on waste etc.:



Aug 2019. Waste/recycling: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/aug/17/plastic-recycling-myth-what-really-happens-your-rubbish




18th June 2019: Example of city where there is maximum recycling: Eskilstuna, Sweden – article by Ammar Kalia

8th April 2019 (Severin Carrell, Scotland Editor Guardian) – disposable cups and the ‘latte levy’ (a charge on single-use cups)...

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/apr/07/is-the-future-compostable-scotland-greens-argue-as-sales-soar Vegware has been doing very well from compostable food cups and biodegradable food boxes, but questions have been raised by Scottish Greens about the practicality of composting coffee cups etc: they need to be disposed of in specialist composting plants, or in council food composting bins at home... The CEO of Vegware retorts that there are many other sources of single-use plastic such as sandwich packaging, home takeaway deliveries, lids and stirrers on coffee cups: it would be better to increase the cost of landfill. Supermarkets pay £91.35 a tonne (in Scotland?).High costs would make producers avoid waste.

Vegware is proposing closed loop contracts, where it supplies its products to businesses and then disposes of them. But this only covers Scotland and south-west England. Commercial composting covers only 38% of UK postcodes. FoE Scotland chief executive Richard Dixon suggests a lower ‘latte levy’ for disposable cups.


At this late stage, powerful vested interests are fighting to derail the deposit return system and water it down. They want the government to agree to the option of a restricted system, limited to smaller drinks containers of 750ml or less – even though recent research suggests that larger bottles could make up as much as 58% of littered drinks containers.

We must make sure the government does not bow to industry pressure for a restricted system. It would mean that billions of bottles will continue polluting our rivers, beaches, fields, parks and hedgerows for years to come.  And industry would once again be able to avoid taking responsibility for the mess they create.  

Nothing less than an ALL-IN system, that includes drinks containers of ALL sizes and materials, will truly combat the growing problem of litter in our countryside.


Some extra problems:

5.3 Electronics:

Excellent long read by John Harris: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/apr/15/the-right-to-repair-planned-obsolescence-electronic-waste-mountain:

Last year an estimated 50m tonnes of e-waste were generated globally, with only around 20% of it recycled. Half of this is large items but half is TVs, computers, smartphones and tablets.

‘Planned obsolescence’ is not a new term – but was first written about by George Frederick in 1928! (See the film The Man in the White Suit 1951). He pointed out the purpose was to get people to buy more...

The Public Interest Research Group (founded in 1971 by the celebrated activist Ralph Nader) has led to the Right to Repair campaign (director Nathan Proctor).

Apple has recently agreed to pay up to $500m in settlements related to allegations that software updates caused older iPhones – such as the iPhone 6, 6s Plus, 7 and 7 Plus – to slow down...

All this is being closely watched by a Brussels-based organisation called the European Environmental Bureau. One of the groups’s key staff members, 28-year-old Jean-Pierre Schweitzer, tells me the EU’s plans for digital devices promise to extend the rules that apply to such household objects as fridges and washing machines to laptops, tablets and smartphones. “We’re talking about really serious requirements, which include things about spare parts and product information,” he says. Yet this prospect is still five or six years away, while Brexit means that even such belated moves may not apply in the UK, and our own mound of discarded electronic stuff could just carry on growing.’

Other points: people get a new mobile phone on average every 18 months, 1.5 million computers are thrown away each year, of which 99% work perfectly.

John Harris: ‘Martine Postma is a former journalist, and founder of the international network of Repair Cafés that began in 2009 in her native Amsterdam. Volunteers meet people who arrive with items that needs fixing, and in the process learn about bringing products back to life. The network now extends to 36 countries.

‘Restart Parties’ may help? 

5.4 Water: 

15th June 2017: Damian Carrington. Thames Water fined £8.5m for failure to cut leaks. It missed its targets by 47m litres a day. Amount of leakage has not decreased for at least four years. In March it was hit by a record fine of £20.3m for pumping 1.4bn litres of untreated sewage into the Thames, its tributaries and on to land. A ‘shocking and disgraceful’ situation according to the judge. TW also revealed it caused 315 pollution incidents last year – higher than the year before. Steve Robertson, chief executive, earns £700,000 a year , and has an annual bonus of £54,000.

England is the only nation to have a fully privatized water industry. TW paid out more than £1bn in dividends to its shareholders in the decade up to 2015.    It is owned by a consortium of investment funds including sovereign wealth funds of Abu Dhabi and China, as well as investors from Canada and Kuwait.


5.5 Plastics: (See also: Plastics lecture notes)

Update from The Conversation – microplastics from tires and brakes: https://theconversation.com/how-your-car-sheds-microplastics-into-the-ocean-thousands-of-miles-away-142614 

Update from Ecowatch June 2020: https://www.ecowatch.com/antarctica-microplastics-sea-ice-2645809545.html?rebelltitem=4#rebelltitem4

Update: from ‘City to Sea’ several pieces on plastic:

Coronavirus waste in the sea:          https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-52807526 

Plant-based bottles: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/may/16/the-end-of-plastic-new-plant-based-bottles-will-degrade-in-a-year?  


Forty per cent of plastic packaging waste is disposed of at landfills, 14% goes to incineration facilities and 14% is collected for recycling. Incineration creates the most CO2 emissions among the plastic waste management methods. (CIEL – the Center for International Environmental Law, 2019 report plastics and health).


It is not often realised that plastic comes from oil... In fact the dominant companies in plastic production are major petro-chemical companies such as Mobil, Exxon, DuPont, BASF, Monsanto, and Dow.

Seven of the 10 largest plastic producers are oil and natural gas companies. When the public started rejecting single-use plastic bags in the US, BP predicted that by 2040 the industry would be producing 2m fewer barrels of oil per day.


Monsanto and Dow are also heavily involved in pesticide manufacture, as mentioned above #Monsanto – another cause for concern, given the current decline in wildlife and especially insects.


Another not-so-well-known petro-chemical company, INEOS is one of the largest producers of plastic in the world, and it wants to carry out fracking – to extract gas from shale rocks - in Yorkshire...



Strands of fishing twine were first found off the coast of Iceland in 1957, then a plastic bag in 1965. During the three decades from the ‘50s less than 1% of tows were disrupted, by the 1990s it was 2% and now it is between 3% and 4%.

What was disturbing was the rate at which the disruption was increasing. Also, the device was towed at a depth of about 7 metres, which is where many fish and marine mammals are found, and it covered a very wide range of oceans (the worst was the southern North Sea).

Then, in the early 1990s, researchers noticed that some 60-80% of the waste in the ocean was non-biodegradable plastic. In some places the waste accumulates into ‘great garbage patches’ (as they were called by another oceanographer) – the largest of these is three times the size of France and contains 79,000 tonnes of waste!

The next shift in thinking came when it was realised that shampoos, cosmetics and cleaning products all had ‘microbeads’ in them: even Body Shop products had them, and in 2010 scientists became concerned that they were being washed out into the sea, and would be eaten by fish. In 2015 the US Congress passed a limited ban on microbeads with broad partisan support. The UK soon followed suit with a comprehensive ban on their manufacture and sale.

Ever since, and with David Attenborough’s television programmes, Blue Planet, we have become aware of how serious a problem plastic is.


Since the 1950s, around 8.3 billion tons of plastic have been produced worldwide.

We have been dramatically increasing the amount of plastic we produce: over the past 50 years, world plastic production has doubled. By 2050 we will be producing 1.1 billion tonnes per year, i.e. 36 tonnes per second.

In 1950 production was 5m tonnes, by 2014: 311m tonnes, of which 40% was for single-use packing]. 15th Feb 2017, Guardian Susan Smillie: 8 million tonnes of waste plastic ends up in the sea each year (Science magazine 2015). Now, more than 350m tonnes of plastic are produced every year.


Most is not recycled, it is buoyant, durable and never degrades. A million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute.


The Italian Institute for Environmental Protection and Research (Ispra) says that more than 500,000 tonnes of plastic waste end up in the Mediterranean each year. There are between 500 and 1,000 items of plastic rubbish every 100 metres on beaches, and Lake Como is the most polluted in Europe with microplastic.

Prince of Wales’ International Sustainability Unit took a working group with representatives of Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Adidas, Marks, and Dell to Rainham Marshes and 80% of waste was plastic bottles.

Worldwide, about 2 million plastic bags are used every minute.


Plastic bottles are the most prevalent form of plastic pollution, followed by food wrappers and then cigarette butts. Plastic bags only comprise 1%, showing the bans etc have had an impact, according to the Plastic Rivers Report (check for reference).


Bottles and plastic bags are examples of ‘single-use’ plastic – once used they are discarded. The average time that a plastic bag is used for is … 12 minutes. Then it takes up to a thousand years to decompose!


We have been seduced by the ‘disposability’ of plastic, and seem to be prepared to pay more for a basic requirement like water if it comes in a convenient plastic bottle. After all, a litre of tap water, the stuff we have ingeniously piped into our homes, costs less than half a penny. A litre of bottled water can cost well over a pound.


Plastics in the oceans


May 2020: More microplastic in the oceans than so far identified, it is claimed: https://www.ecowatch.com/ocean-microplastics-estimate-research-2646051708.html


June 2019: the Canal and River Trust charity says that abandoned plastic accounts for 59% of litter found in canals in England, and this means that  570,000 plastic items reach the oceans each year. This is due to public negligence.

July 2017: 17th Feb 2017: plastic pellets known as nurdles (used as raw material to make plastic products) have been found on 73% of UK beaches.

At Widemouth Bay, Cornwall, volunteers collected 127,500 pellets on a 100-metre stretch of beach. The pellets can get into drains or rivers during manufacture, transport or use – they are a main source of microplastics, which can soak up toxic chemicals and then are eaten by birds and fish. The search was organised by a Scottish charity Fidra, and involved the Environmental Investigation Agency, Fauna and Flora International, Greenpeace, the Marine Conservation Society and Surfers Against Sewage. ‘Fidra has been working with the UK plastics industry since 2012 to promote best practice to end further pellet pollution.’

14th Feb 2017: (Damian Carrington, information from Nature, Ecology and Evolution): extraordinary levels of pollutants in the six-mile deep Mariana trench in the Pacific Ocean.  Many miles from any industry... The levels were ‘sky-high’ in the creatures that scavenge on the ocean floor


Plastic: 20th May 2017 Guardian, Elle Hunt – Henderson Island, in the UK’s Pitcairn territory, eastern South Pacific ocean, and a world heritage site.

Scientists found the highest density recorded of debris: 37.7m pieces of plastic (up to 671 items per sq metre).

More than 3,570 pieces of litter thought to be washing up daily on one beach.

68% of the debris was buried to a depth of up to 10cm. may be a lot more, deeper down.

More than 27% of identifiable items were from South America, and 7.7% from fishing.

It is near the South pacific Gyre ocean current:

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch was found in 1997 (one of 5 main subtropical gyres – draw floating debris into a vortex): size is difficult to ascertain because of movements of the water, but likely has a 1m sq km ‘heart’ with the periphery spanning a further 3.5m sq km – from west coast of North America to Japan. In 2013 scientists concluded there were more than 5 trillion pieces of plastic in the oceans, mostly microplastics (from 5mm to 10 nanometres). Some of this comes from transportation of raw pellets. Some from microbeads.

Cans and plastic bags have also been found in the Mariana trench!


Dangers for biodiversity:

A lot of waste plastic is dumped in rivers and then flows into the sea. In fact 90% of plastic polluting our oceans is carried by just 10 rivers. Each year 8m tonnes of plastic ends up in the ocean, so that there are now 100 million tonnes (approximately 110 million U.S. tons) of plastic in the oceans, and 80 to 90 percent of it comes from land, UN Environment said.

More than 200 species are at risk from eating it, including more than half the world’s seabirds.

Fish eat it and shellfish lovers [all? Per person?] are estimated to eat up to 11,000 fragments each year (Ghent University). Last year Plymouth University found plastic in a third of UK-caught fish. Likewise plastic has been found in fish from Europe, Canada, Brazil to the coast of mainland China.

Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates by 2050 plastic will take up more volume than fish in the oceans.

Plastic is killing more than 1.1 million seabirds and animals every year. One of the main problems is fishing gear – nets especially, which can trap mammals such as dolphins as well as birds.


One of the most frightening examples I have come across was of a dead whale which had 1,000 plastic items in its stomach (Nov. 2018). It was a 9.5 metre sperm whale. The plastic weighed 5.9 kg.


The whale was washed up in eastern Indonesia. Indonesia is the world’s second-largest plastic polluter after China. The plastic in its stomach included flip-flops, and over a hundred drinking cups according to staff from Wakatobi national park.

Plastics do eventually photodegrade – UV exposure breaks them down, and they can leach toxic chemicals (PCBs, pesticides, flame retardants – added during manufacture).

Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs - including polychlorinated biphenyl: PCB) which were banned in the late 1970s, do not break down in the environment, and adhere to plastics. Some 1.3 million tonnes were produced, and about a third of this has leaked into coastal sediments and open waters (and still coming from poorly protected landfill sites). They affect reproduction in living things, and have been found in Inuit peoples, killer whales and dolphins in western Europe. POPs accumulate in fat and are concentrated in creatures higher up the food chain. They stick to plastic and are water-repellent. Plastic waste and dead animals sink to the floor of the ocean.


Plastic pieces also attract a thin layer of algae and so smell like food for sea creatures.

Zooplankton have been observed (Plymouth Marine Laboratory) eating plastic, as do shellfish. Plastic in the stomach of fish is not a threat to us, but if it passes into the flesh, or leaches toxins into the flesh – and we eat whole shellfish – this is serious.

In 2011 in the Clyde in Scotland, 83% of Dublin Bay prawns (the tails go to scampi) had eaten plastic, and 63% of brown shrimp.

Gesamp – experts on marine environmental protection – found contamination in tens of thousands of organisms and more than 100 species.

Some (Prof Richard Thompson at Plymouth University) argue it’s not serious because you would have to eat a large quantity to suffer harm. But it is going to increase if we carry on the same way. Especially as many people across the world rely on fish for protein.

Other animals affected at sea:

As Arctic ice melts, polar bears are having to seek food elsewhere, and they are moving into areas inhabited by humans. They have been known to eat plastic when they scavenge on rubbish dumps. Of course, plastic is indigestible, so the bears think they are taking in food, but it is doing them no food whatsoever.


Plastic has been found to cause disease in coral reefs. (26th January 2018. Damian Carrington). Scientists examined 125,000 corals across the Asia-Pacific region, and 89% of the corals examined that were fouled by plastic were found to be diseased. 

Update, May 2020. Birds have consumed plastic in the insects and worms they are eating – first evidence of plastic travelling up the food chain.




Organic alternatives to plastic: https://www.ecowatch.com/5-sustainable-alternatives-to-plastics-2645932261.html?rebelltitem=2#rebelltitem2 – made from olive pits, sunflower husks, mushrooms etc..

Packaging: June 2019: Waitrose tries out dispensers for dried foods in their Oxford store, for an 11-week trial.  75% of its fresh produce is unwrapped. Reusable containers are on sale, and compostable or reusable bags. Customers save 15% compared to the packaged alternative.

In Italy food, detergents, shampoos etc will be cheaper if sold from dispensers or in reusable containers. (Oct 2019)

Food waste: Tesco, Sainsbury, Waitrose and Nestle agreed (May 2019) to halve food waste by 2030. Government wants them to adopt the Food Waste Reduction Roadmap (PA).

Recycling: only a third of UK’s annual 1.5m tonnes of recyclable plastic waste is recycled. Recyled plastic has limited life and is not as pure quality (can’t be used for food).

The Recycling Association believes supermarkets could do a lot more. One problem is laminated plastic (pick it up, and press it and it crackles) – two different sorts of plastic, meaning it can’t be recycled. Likewise black plastic – as the scanning machinery can’t identify it. Companies pay 10% of the cost of recycling their products under the Packaging Recovery Notes system – maybe they should pay 100%?

Update April 2018: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/apr/16/scientists-accidentally-create-mutant-enzyme-that-eats-plastic-bottles

This article was reprinted in April 2020. The process breaks down plastic (the soft kind used in bottles) into its components so that more clear flexible plastic can be made... I note the conclusion of the article, however:

Oliver Jones, a chemist at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, and not part of the research team [said:]

“Enzymes are non-toxic, biodegradable and can be produced in large amounts by microorganisms… There is still a way to go before you could recycle large amounts of plastic with enzymes, and reducing the amount of plastic produced in the first place might, perhaps, be preferable. [But] this is certainly a step in a positive direction.”

Prof Adisa Azapagic, at the University of Manchester in the UK, agreed the enzyme could be useful but added: “A full life-cycle assessment would be needed to ensure the technology does not solve one environmental problem – waste – at the expense of others, including additional greenhouse gas emissions.”

Update 2019: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/aug/20/amazon-under-fire-for-new-packaging-that-cant-be-recycled

March 2020. Trainers - or as US has it, sneakers – cannot be recycled. An article by Tansy E Hoskins describes ‘the battle to reduce the fashion industry’s footprint’ in regard to shoes. This is a global industry worth more than $200bn in 2020. While branded sneakers may cost hundreds of pounds, workers in countries such as Pakistan earn around £8 per day and work in dangerous and polluted environments. ‘Unwanted trainers are now a certified global product’ – World Footwear estimates that 24.2bn pairs were manufactured in 2018. Recycling charities such as Traid in north-west London collects clothes and shoes – shoes make up 6% of what they collect. The quality of shoes has dropped, so more are thrown away and less recycled. Recycled shoes are shipped out to Europe, Africa and Asia. They end up on stalls in places like Kampala, Uganda.

So many clothes were sent to Africa that the native industry declined, but when the authorities tried to ban imports the US government argued the bans would violate trade agreements...  When Rwanda refused to co-operate and raised tariffs on used US clothing they were suspended from the African Growth and Opportunity Act trade agreement.

Recycling clothes has become a target for gangs, as a Tonne of good quality clothes can be worth several hundred pounds. These gangs work internationally too.

About 90% of shoes end up in landfill... At Loughborough Uni they tried to find ways of re-using the materials in new shoes, but no-one bought them. There is a possibility of passing on infections and veruccas. Also, ‘sometimes we see 10 to 15 different types of material in one shoe, including four different types of plastic.’ (Shahin Rahimifard from Loughborough).  Including metal studs adds to the difficulty. If there is ethylene vinyl acetate in the shoe to absorb shock, it will last 1,000 years in landfill.

Sometimes the rubber in shoes can be broken up and used for track surfaces. Others argue that the whole philosophy of padding our feet is unnatural – we would be better to go around barefoot!

Update 21st March 2020 (Justin McCurry): https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/20/no-waste-japanese-village-is-a-peek-into-carbon-neutral-future - Kamikatsu, Japanese village that vowed to have zero waste. Has inspired other communities in Japan. In 2016 they recycled 81% of the waste it produced, compared to 20% national average.

Note: household waste must be separated into 45 categories before being taken to a collection centre to be checked.  The village had to close down two incinerators in 2000 because the rules on pollution were strengthened.

They are tackling plastic: Japan is the world’s second biggest producer of plastic waste per capita, after the US. At one time it shipped 1.5m tonnes to China every year (Beijing banned such imports in 2017).

Consumer awareness: 4th July 2016 (Rebecca Smithers, consumer affairs, from Food Standards Agency and Defra): people need more guidance on how to store frozen food safely – including on date markings. Ignorance contributes to the food and drink waste mountain. Britons throw away 7m tonnes of food and drink from their homes every year, most of which could have been eaten, and the grocery supply chain wastes 1.9m tonnes a year (Waste and Resources Action Programme – Wrap - a government body). Better use of the freezer would lead to less food being thrown away.

Labelling changes and price rises meant that between 2007 and 2012 total household food waste fell 15%.

16th June 2016 (Zoe Wood): Tesco is the only UK retail company to publish how much is wasted – the information helps reduce waste. It showed a 4% increase over the previous year however... Other solutions: reduce time food stays in supply chain (so it can be on sale for longer), selling more ‘wonky’ fruit and veg (changing consumers’ perceptions – much food is wasted because it is not ‘perfect’). There is an agreement – the Courtauld Commitment 2025 – to reduce waste by a fifth within the next decade, but there is little evidence that much is being done.

Limitations of the market:

Oct 2019: the increasing demand for recycled plastic flakes has led to a rise in the price – so it is no longer cheaper to make goods from recycled plastic than from virgin plastic. Alongside this, the shale gas boom in the US has brought down the cost of new/virgin plastic. Possible remedies: to tax companies that do not use at least 30%recycled plastic in their products; to increase the supply of recycled plastic. (Jillian Ambrose 14th Oct 2019).

Laws, regulations etc.:

The United Nations has said single-use plastic should be banned.

The UN’s Global Goals include calls to protect life on land and life below water (Goal No. 14 and 15), and to create cities and communities that are sustainable (Goal No.11)..... 52 UNESCO island and coastal biosphere areas exist.

The EU has a ‘circular economy’ package, which requires companies and retailers to cover the net costs of household recycling collections by local authorities. This is already done in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.

There is now (since 2017) a BS standard (8001:2017) but there is little practical guidance and no consensus on a set of performance indicators (Wikipedia). 

Maybe a Stewardship Council for Plastics (as marine Stewardship Council).

This month [??] the new environment secretary, Theresa Villiers, claimed society “was calling time on being “throwaway” after the publication of figures showing how single-use plastic bags had fallen out of favour.

The figures from the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs showed the number of single-use plastic bags sold in the main supermarket chains had fallen by more than 90% since the introduction of the 5p charge in October 2015.

Our own government aims to phase out non-recyclable packaging in the next 25 years.

In Swansea there are inspectors who check residents’ recycling and black bags to see if things are put in the wrong container. Fines of up to £1000 can be imposed if people refuse to recycle their waste. Swansea currently recycles 62-63% of its waste – higher than the UK average of 44.6%.

France has banned supermarkets from throwing away food (14th July 2016, Arthur Nelson, Brussels) – outlets can be fined up to 75,000 euro if they refuse to donate to food banks or charities. MEPs have voted to end unfair trading practices which lead to overproduction and waste, and there is a demand for legally binding food waste targets.

17th Jan 2020. Green Alliance research report argues there is a danger that companies in the grocery sector ‘run the risk of simply replacing plastic with other single-use materials’. They call for solutions that ‘address the systemic problems of our throwaway society’ There should be more reuse. Letter from Libby Peake in response to article by John Vidal (15th jan).

(c) Rejection of consumer society.... (See some ideas to be explored week 10 especially)



Havering Friends of the Earth is our borough’s only active, campaigning environmental group. We come under the umbrella of the national organisation of Friends of the Earth and they guide most of our activities. As part of our work we have been learning about the decline of bees and other insects and have found this information extremely alarming.

We would like to share this information with you because we think by the end of our talk, you will echo our concerns.

As amatter of interest, how many of you are aware that our bees and all insects are in a dramatic decline?


Our talk will take about 20 minutes and we will be happy to take questions and comments at the end. We are not a group of scientists but just a group of local residents like you. However all our information can be referenced and if you would like to check anything we say, we are happy to tell you where it came from.

So why are bees important to us?

Well, there are many different types of bees such as honey bees and bumble bees. Honey bees are managed by beekeepers and bumble bees are wild. The main point is that they are all important pollinators along with other insects such as beetles, flies, wasps and butterflies.

Bees pollinate roughly 70% of our food crops. Examples are apples, tomatoes, strawberries and cucumbers. Really, you could say that most of our fruit, veg and nuts are pollinated by bees. Pollination is a vitalservice which is provided free by nature and this is now only being recognised. Pollination contributes £430 million to our UK economy.

You can have artificial pollination but it is a very slow and expensive process. They do it in parts of China. It is not nearly as efficient or cost effective as natural pollination. Replacing bee pollination with artificial pollination would cost around £1.8 billion a year. This means that the price of our food would go up even more. So bees are not only crucial for efficient pollination, they are also critical to our economy.

So now we have established why bees are important, we would now like to turn to what is happening to them to cause us to be talking to you today.

Quite simply, bees are declining at an alarming rate. This is not only happening in our country but in Europe and across the whole world. And it’s not only bees which are in decline but other wild pollinators which are also crucial to our food pollination. These are hoverflies, carrion flies, moths and butterflies. Not only is our food at risk but some of our favourite wild flowers, like poppies and bluebells, are pollinated by bees.

So why is there such a decline?

There are several reasons for this but the single biggest cause is modern farming methods. Intensive farming which aims at high outputs is having ahuge effect on our wildlife. Hedgerows and ponds have been vastly reduced.  97% of wild flower meadows have been lost since the 1930s. The EU was trying to support bee friendly farming but it was not making much progress in our country.

Another reason for bee decline is a problem with the healthof bees. Bees are more prone to disease than they ever were in the past.

Climate change is also having an effect. Our seasons are nothappening in a clear-cut way like they used to and this can cause problems with bees not getting the food they need at crucial times of the year. An example of this would be the very warm period of weather we had in February last year.

A serious cause of bee decline is the increase in the use of pesticides. Strong chemical pesticides have been used on British farms for the last 20 years. They are called neonicotinoids, but we will call them neonics for short. They are very strong and are often used as an insurance policy whether or not the pests to be controlled are actually present. It’s a bit like a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Also, lots of seeds are sown which are already coated with neonics.

So why are neonics so dangerous for bees? Well, they can affecttheir genetic make up and also their nervous system. This means their memories are damaged. They fly out of their hives and can’t find their way back. If they do get back, the pesticide poison goes in with them and contaminates the whole hive. This means the collapse of the whole colony. Even low doses of neonics in pollen and nectar are dangerous for bees. Neonics are also dangerous for other wildlife including birds.They have also permeated our water supply and their residue can stay in the soil for up to 4 years.

Herbicides in parks, streets and roadside verges reduce the availability of forage plants for bees and other insects. We are trying to get Havering to stop using glyphosate weedkiller as not only is it proved to be harmful to insect life it can also be cancer causing for humans.

 The EU banned the use of neonics since April, 2018. What concerns us it that now we have left the EU whether or not our government will continue the neonic ban. The UK government has always supported weak pesticide regulation in the past.



So what do the chemical companies who make the neonics say?

One of them, Syngenta, says that the ban hasn’t saved a single hive. Well, they would wouldn’t they? But the evidence is growing against the chemical companies. You’ll be surprised to know that when they are asked to publish their own research and scientific studies, they refuse and claim commercial sensitivity. We think that if the pesticide companies won’t make their own work public then they really can’t be trusted. What have they got to hide?

 We are now going to mention the ‘B’ word!


We would like to see the EU ban on neonics continue now Brexit is in place. We would also like to see all the current EU environmental protection transfer to UK legislation. Legally binding targets need to be agreed. 80% of our environmental laws have come from the EU. In fact, 83% of the British public think we should keep these protections.

The government’s proposed 25 year Environment Plan is weaker than EU standards in some areas.  The Natural Capital Committee has warned that progress on its aims is too slow. Plus without an independent watchdog it can’t hold the government to account.

So we are campaigning to make sure that our environmental laws and standards don’t fall through any gaps. We don’t want bees and other wildlife to have to pay a price for Brexit. Friends of the Earth commissioned an academic report to identify environmental risk for the UK after Brexit. This risk analysis confirmed that environmental law could be weakened, leaving birds and wildlife habitats at risk.

And then what is going to happen when environmental laws are flouted? What surveillance and compliance initiatives have the government set up to replace the EU scrutiny? It’s no good just having laws which protect wildlife. They have to be enforced.

Funding is also an unknown at present. There was a commitment in October’s Environment Bill to focus on nature recovery networks but again we don’t know how this will be funded or organised.

We don’t want to see a weaker system that is rigged in favour of the pesticide manufacturers. We don’t want farmers getting a special dispensation to use neonics.

So our national organisation will be monitoring the Brexit changes which could affect bees as a result of coming out of the EU.



So what action is Havering Friends of the Earth taking here locally?

So, we have expressed our concerns to our MP Julia Lopez and have had a meeting with her. She seems interested in our bee campaign as her father is a beekeeper! She even mentioned us by name during a debate about the future of bees in parliament. However, both us and our national organisationwill be scrutinising legislation, or the lack of it, after Brexit.

We were also campaigning over several years for a National Pollinator Strategy to defend and protect all bees and other pollinators. The government has now set one up and we are pleased about this. But it does not go far enough. It does not give nearly enough emphasis to the devastating effects of pesticides. Our group has been writing to Havering MPs to voice our concerns. We also have regular meetings with the council and have been trying to get them to implement new methods of killing off weeds without the use of pesticides. Some London boroughs are now pesticide free and we would like Havering to follow suit.

A Pollinator Strategy for Havering is something else we have been pressing for with Havering council.


So after all this bombardment with facts, figures and opinions you might say well what can we do about any of this?

The answer to this question is that there is plenty you can do.

Firstly, look at our own Havering Friends of the Earth leaflet. (Go through this briefly.) Planting bee friendly flowers can really make a great deal of difference. In fact, it is now the case that bees are doing better in urban areas rather than the countryside. You can buy your own Bee Saver Kit from Friends of the Earth.

Secondly, stop using pesticides!  Removing all unnecessary pesticides from our own gardens is probably the single most important thing we can do to save the bees. Pesticides are poisons – don’t use them! It is interesting to note that B&Q, Homebase and Wickes have stopped selling products with neonic pesticides in them. Read the labels on garden compost. Some of them contain a neonic called Imidacloprid which is highly toxic to insects. If this goes into your hanging baskets, bees seeking water from the moist compost may be killed.

Thirdly, let your garden go wild! Or at least part of it. Don’t mow the lawn in a part of your garden and get into organic gardening. It will be less work for you and a haven for insects. You will notice that Havering Council have set up some wild flower meadows all around our borough. If you’re into DIY, build a box for wild bees. We can give you details about how to do this.

Our final message.

We hope we have given you some food for thought not only about bees but what is happening to the whole of our natural world.

You may not want to get involved in campaigning like us but even very small actions can make adifference.

And we need to think about the kind of world we are leaving behind for future generations – do we want to turn our countryside into a desert?There has been a catastrophic decline in insects which risks a total collapse in global ecosystems.Insect losses are now hurtling down the path to extinction. If we are not careful the world we do leave behind will be a desecrated planet for our young people. So we end by asking you to give serious thought to the issues wehave raised with you today.