Tag Archives: less

Senior Tory tells May any NHS funding increase worth less than 4% could be ‘disastrous’ – Politics live

In an article in this week’s Spectator Fraser Nelson, the magazine’s editor, and James Forsyth, its political editor, claim the government is planning to announce a 3% increase in NHS spending around the time of its 70th anniversary in July. They say:

[Simon Stevens, the NHS England chief executive] is about to get what he demanded. Theresa May plans to give the NHS a present, ahead of its 70th birthday in July — a settlement of 3% extra a year, which would mean that by the next election NHS spending would be £350 million a week more than it is today. This means, much to [Philip] Hammond’s rage, that the famous Brexit bus pledge is to be honoured — though not of course with money saved by leaving the EU.

Stevens, ever wily, now wants the figure to be closer to 4%, and for the next decade. Hammond, a political realist, has accepted the case for giving significantly more money to the NHS. But the Treasury prefers an increase of around 3% and for five years, not ten. Nor has Hammond agreed that this sum ought to be dressed up as an NHS birthday present.

According to the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg, this increase has not yet been agreed, and there is talk of the increase in NHS spending being as low as 2% a year.

But even if the Spectator is right, and 3% is on the cards, May has been told this morning that this would not be enough. In fact, Sarah Wollaston, the Conservative MP and GP who chairs the Commons health committee, suggested on the Today programme that any increase less than 4% could be “disastrous”. She said:

The difficulty would be if [the government] make a funding announcement that is way below expectations, I think that would be disastrous. The figure we are hearing touted today, of 3%, that simply wouldn’t be high enough.

If we look at the long-term average since the start of the NHS, that’s been around 3.7%. And what we are hearing very clearly from today’s report is that we need a longterm average of 4%, and if possible more in the short term, to make up for the eight long years where we’ve had the longest squeeze in the NHS’s history.

By “today’s report”, she was referring to the report (pdf) from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Health Foundation saying the NHS needs a funding increase of around 4% just to secure “modest improvements”. We’ve splashed on the report.

Paul Johnson (@paul__johnson)

Cost of NHS that can cope:
-£2k tax every household.
The choice
-Tomorrow’s Guardian pic.twitter.com/0hXt6iHEE8

May 23, 2018

And here’s our story.

On the Today programme Wollaston said that a 3.3% increase in NHS funding (what the Specatator says is being planned) would just be enough to “stay where we are”. She went on:

If we want to improve services, we’re looking at 5% in the immediate few years, and 4% as a longterm average. And I think the government should look very seriously at these figures.

She also said she thought the public would be willing to pay more in tax to fund an increase in NHS spending.

Wollaston’s demand for a 5% increase in spending in the short term echoes what the IFS/Health Foundation report says. Here is an extract from the news release summarising its findings. (Their bold type, not mine.)

To secure some modest improvements in NHS services, funding increases of nearer 4% a year would be required over the medium term, with 5% annual increases in the short run. This would allow some immediate catch-up, enable waiting time targets to be met, and tackle some of the underfunding in mental health services. This would take spending in 2033–34 to 9.9% of national income, an increase of 2.6% of national income relative to 2018–19.

At the same time, pressures on social care spending are increasing and, if we continue with something like the current funding arrangements, adult social care spending is likely to have to rise by 3.9% a year over the next 15 years taking an extra 0.4% of national income, relative to today.

Put these figures together and health and social care spending is likely to have to rise by 2–3% of national income over the next 15 years.

I expect there will be more on this as the day goes on. But there is a lot else around, including Brexit developments.

Here is the agenda for the day.

After 10.30am: Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the Commons, will make her weekly business statement. She is expected to announce when MPs will debate the Lords amendments to the EU withdrawal bill.

11am: Jeremy Corbyn gives a speech at Queen’s University, Belfast. As Pippa Crerar and Jessica Elgot report, he will call on Theresa May to reconvene the British-Irish intergovernmental conference, set up under the Good Friday Agreement, to help restore the power-sharing government to Northern Ireland.

1pm: The Commons Brexit committee publishes a report on the Brexit negotiations.

4.15pm: Philip Hammond, the chancellor, gives a speech at the European Business Summit in Brussels.

As usual, I will be covering breaking political news as it happens, as well as bringing you the best reaction, comment and analysis from the web. I plan to post a summary at lunchtime and another in the afternoon.

You can read all today’s Guardian politics stories here.

Here is the Politico Europe round-up of this morning’s political news from Jack Blanchard. And here is the PoliticsHome list of today’ top 10 must reads.

If you want to follow me or contact me on Twitter, I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

I try to monitor the comments BTL but normally I find it impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer direct questions, although sometimes I miss them or don’t have time.

If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter.

This year I bought less and spent more time outdoors, away from the smells of Christmas cheer | Ben O’Mara

I’m no Scrooge, but this December, I kept my fake, plastic smelling Christmas tree and all its baubles boxed up in a drawer under my bed.

I inherited the tree from my grandfather. The tree is fibre optic and when it’s turned on twinkles red, green, purple, white and blue. If you lean in close, you can smell its branches – they have a faint but strange tangy odour and remind me a little of rubber, and glue.

When I smell plastic things like my Christmas tree, I think of my grandfather, and how I struggled to talk with him towards the end of his life. Sometimes, I tell myself that the emphysema made breathing and talking difficult for him and awkward for us both. But most of the time, normally when I’m putting up my fake little tree, I find myself wishing I’d had the guts to say more.

Real Christmas trees like pines release hydrocarbons into the air that help create a sharp and sweet smell. It’s a scent beloved by many, associated with the fun of decorating its feathery green branches with tinsel, or placing gifts around its trunk.

Of course, the smell of a pine tree is only one scent in the rich aromatic experience of Christmas. Many foods eaten at Christmas have distinctive scents. There is the meaty and fruity smell of honey glazed ham. Fresh lobster has a strong, fishy odour. And the smell of gingerbread is powerful and spicy.

The smells of Christmas trees and food reflect some of the best things about Christmas – of celebrating with loved ones as another year draws to a close, and of giving to others without expecting anything in return.

Not everything smells like Christmas cheer when Santa comes to town, however. In fact, many smells of December are downright rank. Like the acrid pungence of vomit from a drunk train passenger who had too much booze at a work Christmas party. Or the fetid stink released from garbage cans filled with large amounts of rotting leftover food. Just waiting in a shopping centre queue on a hot day can have its own oppressive odour as the heavy stink of sweating human bodies mixes together in the air. And few smells are more abrasive than the stinging whiff of urine soaked alleyways and gutters in the city after a night of Christmas partying.

Many smells of Christmas are on the nose, and they are visceral reality checks for when the forces of commercialisation overtake a time of celebration. Comfort and joy are not found with others, but in consumer goods, and sometimes to excess.

The world is filled with scents that might be doing us more harm than good, a phenomenon which Kate Grenville writes about in her book, The Case Against Fragrance. Grenville traces the business interests driving the development of products like air freshners, scented candles and incense, and the health risks associated with these products, noting that,

Aromatherapy has a lot to answer for: there’s a vague assumption that any kind of scent in the air must be good for you.”

Christmas has its own aromatherapy of sorts, one created from food and drink, decorations and presents, a smellscape that, when indulged too much, is all about money, and not the people close to us.

As trite as this sounds, this December I tried to buy less and spend more time outdoors, away from the smells of Christmas cheer.

I avoided the mouth watering aroma of cookies and cakes baking in the oven. I missed out on catch ups at the pub and drinking those citrus smelling craft beers.

Instead, I exercised as the sun rose, on grassy smelling fields near my home. I walked through the salty air on a warm, sandy beach. And I went bushwalking with someone I love.

We walked through the giant trees of the dense bush, up rocky paths, and to the top of a tall hill. The air was crisp and carried a warm hint of eucalyptus. We sat down and in silence stared at the tiny streets and buildings of the city far below us. I forgot about work, whether my family would like the presents I’d bought them, and my worries about money. The best and the worst things of a manic year seemed to fade away.

I felt grateful for my time in the rough beauty of the Australian bush with its refreshing, earthy aromas, and to simply be alive and present with someone who cared for me. It was one of the best Christmas presents I’d ever given myself.

I broke a tradition this year by not putting up my grandfather’s fibre optic plastic smelling Christmas tree. But I know he would understand that I needed more than a scent inspired, nostalgic connection to the past.

Christmas is over now, but I wish I could have just one more day with my grandfather spent walking in the bush. We wouldn’t need presents, or a Christmas tree, real or fake. Just each other.

Ben O’Mara is a Melbourne based writer and health worker

Budget’s £1.6bn cash boost for NHS less than half of experts’ advice

Philip Hammond has bowed to intense pressure to give the NHS more money in Wednesday’s budget, but produced less than half the £4bn the health service’s own boss said it needed to look after patients properly next year.

An extra £1.6bn for the NHS in England in 2018-19 will see its budget rise to £126bn, rather than the £124.4bn originally planned. Similarly, it will receive £2.6bn more than planned in 2019-20 to help it withstand the pressures of coping with the increasing demand for care.

The chancellor also promised £337m in emergency funding to boost NHS efforts to avoid its usual winter crisis in the next few months, in a move that underlines how nervous ministers are about a repeat of hospitals visibly struggling to cope during last winter’s “humanitarian crisis”.

He will also provide £3.5bn between now and 2020, as part of a separate injection of £10bn the NHS is due to receive to undertake repairs, build new facilities and modernise patient care. The other £6.5bn will come from selling off surplus NHS land and buildings.

But NHS England, which had warned that any increase short of £4bn next year would cause problems, reacted by claiming that it could no longer deliver all the care, services, waiting times and innovations that are expected of it.

Prof Sir Bruce Keogh, the organisation’s national medical director, tweeted: “Budget plugs some, but def not all, of NHS funding gap. Will force a debate about what the public can and can’t expect from the NHS. Worrying that longer waits seem likely/unavoidable.”

Prof Sir Malcolm Grant, NHS England’s chair, said the extra money “will go some way towards filling the widely accepted funding gap”, which experts expect to hit £21bn by 2022-23. But, he added: “We can no longer avoid the difficult debate about what it is possible to deliver for patients with the money available.”

The NHS chief executive, Simon Stevens


The NHS chief executive, Simon Stevens, warned government the number of people waiting for surgery would soar without the full £4bn. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

In a pointed pre-budget intervention on 8 November that irritated Theresa May, the chief executive of NHS England, Simon Stevens, warned that the number of people waiting for surgery would soar and plans to improve cancer and mental healthcare have to be scaled back if it did not get the full £4bn, which three health thinktanks jointly said it needed.

“The level and speed of extra funding announced by the chancellor has exceeded expectations,” said Prof Anita Charlesworth, director of research and economics at the Health Foundation. “The NHS was staring over a precipice – this is an important step away from the edge.”

Nigel Edwards, chief executive of the Nuffield Trust, said the money will “bring respite for patients and NHS staff alike. For now, at least, we have dodged the bullet.”

Prof John Appleby, the trust’s chief economist, disputed the government’s claim – which Hammond repeated in his speech – that it is increasing the NHS’s budget by £10bn during this parliament. “It is still our view that looking at all the relevant budgets, the increase over the Five-Year Forward View period will be around £5bn – not £10bn at all.”

NHS Providers, which represents hospital trusts, said the failure to stump up the whole £4bn meant that “tough choices are now needed” about what the public and politicians can expect of the NHS.

Hammond left NHS staff in the dark about how much they will see their pay go up by next year, despite having lifted the 1% pay cap. And it remains unclear if doctors will get a pay rise, too, or if that will be limited to nurses, midwives and other health personnel.

But NHS bodies and health unions welcomed the fact that, in a significant U-turn, he committed the government to meeting the full cost of whatever the increase turns out to be, once the NHS pay review body makes its recommendations. Previously, he had insisted that the NHS should part-fund the rise through improved productivity.

Labour said that Hammond’s extra spending “won’t fix the deep and severe problems facing the NHS”. Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, said: “There was no mention of social care, no news on mental health, and astonishingly, after months of hints from the health secretary, there is still no detail of a pay rise for NHS staff.”

Postnatal depression less likely after winter or spring births

Women who give birth in winter or spring are less likely to suffer postnatal depression than at other times of year, a study has shown.

Other factors affecting the risk of postnatal depression, also known as postpartum depression (PPD), included the length of pregnancy, whether or not an epidural was given during delivery, and body mass index.

At least 10% of women experience some degree of anxiety or depression after giving birth. Symptoms include sadness, restlessness, and lack of concentration. PPD typically arises from a combination of hormonal changes, psychological adjustments to motherhood and fatigue, said US researchers.

Dr Jie Zhou, from Brigham & Women’s hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, said: “We wanted to find out whether there are certain factors influencing the risk of developing postpartum depression that may be avoided to improve women’s health, both physically and mentally.”

The team reviewed the medical records of 20,169 women who delivered babies between June 2015 and August 2017. Of the total, 817 (4.1%) suffered from PPD.

Why giving birth in winter or spring should have a positive effect is not known but it could be linked to the “seasonal enjoyment of indoor activities mothers experience with newborns”, said the researchers.

The study also found that a longer pregnancy reduced the risk of PPD, while not having an epidural anaesthetic during delivery increased it. White women were less likely to experience PPD than women of other ethnic backgrounds, the research showed. The mode of delivery had no effect.

The findings were presented at the Anesthesiology 2017 meeting in Boston.

Postnatal depression less likely after winter or spring births

Women who give birth in winter or spring are less likely to suffer postnatal depression than at other times of year, a study has shown.

Other factors affecting the risk of postnatal depression, also known as postpartum depression (PPD), included the length of pregnancy, whether or not an epidural was given during delivery, and body mass index.

At least 10% of women experience some degree of anxiety or depression after giving birth. Symptoms include sadness, restlessness, and lack of concentration. PPD typically arises from a combination of hormonal changes, psychological adjustments to motherhood and fatigue, said US researchers.

Dr Jie Zhou, from Brigham & Women’s hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, said: “We wanted to find out whether there are certain factors influencing the risk of developing postpartum depression that may be avoided to improve women’s health, both physically and mentally.”

The team reviewed the medical records of 20,169 women who delivered babies between June 2015 and August 2017. Of the total, 817 (4.1%) suffered from PPD.

Why giving birth in winter or spring should have a positive effect is not known but it could be linked to the “seasonal enjoyment of indoor activities mothers experience with newborns”, said the researchers.

The study also found that a longer pregnancy reduced the risk of PPD, while not having an epidural anaesthetic during delivery increased it. White women were less likely to experience PPD than women of other ethnic backgrounds, the research showed. The mode of delivery had no effect.

The findings were presented at the Anesthesiology 2017 meeting in Boston.

Postnatal depression less likely after winter or spring births

Women who give birth in winter or spring are less likely to suffer postnatal depression than at other times of year, a study has shown.

Other factors affecting the risk of postnatal depression, also known as postpartum depression (PPD), included the length of pregnancy, whether or not an epidural was given during delivery, and body mass index.

At least 10% of women experience some degree of anxiety or depression after giving birth. Symptoms include sadness, restlessness, and lack of concentration. PPD typically arises from a combination of hormonal changes, psychological adjustments to motherhood and fatigue, said US researchers.

Dr Jie Zhou, from Brigham & Women’s hospital in Boston, USA, said: “We wanted to find out whether there are certain factors influencing the risk of developing postpartum depression that may be avoided to improve women’s health, both physically and mentally.”

The team reviewed the medical records of 20,169 women who delivered babies between June 2015 and August 2017. Of the total, 817 (4.1%) suffered from PPD.

Why giving birth in winter or spring should have a positive effect is not known but could be linked to the “seasonal enjoyment of indoor activities mothers experience with newborns”, said the researchers.

The study also found that a longer pregnancy reduced the risk of PPD, while not having an epidural anaesthetic during delivery increased it. White women were less likely to experience PPD than women of other ethnic backgrounds, the research showed. The mode of delivery had no effect.

The findings were presented at the Anesthesiology 2017 annual meeting in Boston.

Postnatal depression less likely after winter or spring births

Women who give birth in winter or spring are less likely to suffer postnatal depression than at other times of year, a study has shown.

Other factors affecting the risk of postnatal depression, also known as postpartum depression (PPD), included the length of pregnancy, whether or not an epidural was given during delivery, and body mass index.

At least 10% of women experience some degree of anxiety or depression after giving birth. Symptoms include sadness, restlessness, and lack of concentration. PPD typically arises from a combination of hormonal changes, psychological adjustments to motherhood and fatigue, said US researchers.

Dr Jie Zhou, from Brigham & Women’s hospital in Boston, USA, said: “We wanted to find out whether there are certain factors influencing the risk of developing postpartum depression that may be avoided to improve women’s health, both physically and mentally.”

The team reviewed the medical records of 20,169 women who delivered babies between June 2015 and August 2017. Of the total, 817 (4.1%) suffered from PPD.

Why giving birth in winter or spring should have a positive effect is not known but could be linked to the “seasonal enjoyment of indoor activities mothers experience with newborns”, said the researchers.

The study also found that a longer pregnancy reduced the risk of PPD, while not having an epidural anaesthetic during delivery increased it. White women were less likely to experience PPD than women of other ethnic backgrounds, the research showed. The mode of delivery had no effect.

The findings were presented at the Anesthesiology 2017 annual meeting in Boston.

Q&A: our plastic addiction is out of control. How can we consume less?

Tap water around the world is contaminated with tiny plastic fibres, the Guardian revealed this week, and other pilot studies have revealed microplastics in beer, sugar, salt and honey, as well as in seafood, in the air in cities and in homes. The impact on health of this apparently pervasive pollution is unknown, though microplastics do harm some marine life and scientists are calling for urgent research.

Where do the microplastics come from?

The biggest sources are synthetic clothing and dust from tyres and road markings. But all the millions of tonnes of plastic released each year eventually break down in the environment into tiny pieces.

Can I avoid consuming microplastics, say by filtering water?

“We can’t filter ourselves out of this mess,” says Sherri Mason, at the State University of New York in Fredonia, who conducted the tap water analyses. “Our study indicated that even water which undergoes filtration still has plastic. It is a ubiquitous contaminant, so if we really want to solve this problem, we need to start with our daily habits and [reducing] consumption of this material. I know this isn’t the answer people want, but it’s the inconvenient truth.”

How can I reduce my use of plastic?

As huge numbers of plastic fibres are released during every wash of synthetic clothes, choosing sustainable, natural fibre clothing is a good start, says Mason. Using reusable water bottles and avoiding plastic straws are also good steps, says Laura Grant, from the UK’s Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management: “Prevention is the best answer – to not use plastic in the first place.” Plastic bag taxes across the UK have already led to billions of single-use bags not being used and a forthcoming ban on microbeads in personal hygiene products will also help a little.

Can I avoid washing millions of plastic fibres down the drain every week?

Some fabrics are much worse than others, with acrylic the biggest shedder, says Plymouth University’s Imogen Napper, who did the first research on the topic. A standard load of acrylic clothes shed 729,000 fibres, with polyester shedding 496,000 and cotton-polyester mixes shedding 138,000. “There is room for improvement in the filters on washing machines,” she says, though finer filters risk getting clogged more often. But start-up innovators are beginning to tackle the issue, with the Cora Ball claiming to snag the fibres in the drum, while the GuppyFriend washing bag aims to contain them. Handwashing won’t really help, Napper says: “The fibres are still going to be there.”

One study found that a fleece jacket can shed up to 250,000 fibres per wash.


One study found that a fleece jacket can shed up to 250,000 fibres per wash. Natural fibre clothing would decrease the amount of plastic fibres entering our water. Photograph: Courtesy of Rozalia Project

Could all plastic be done away with?

Not at the moment. Some packaging is needed, especially for food, which would spoil more quickly without it and add to the food waste problem. So there’s a balance, says Linda Crichton at Wrap, but people should complain to retailers about over-packaging and much more plastic needs to be recycled – currently it’s just 15%.

Can all plastics be recycled?

In theory, yes. Most important, says Crichton, is the message about bottles: “If it is plastic and bottle shaped it can be recycled.” That means shampoo and bleach bottles, as well as drinks and milk bottles, she says, with 97% of local authorities accepting them. Tubs, pots and trays are more complicated and Crichton says people in the UK should use the postcode locator on the RecycleNow website to find out about their area. She also says some supermarkets now collect thin plastics, such as bags and wraps, that are otherwise hard to recycle.

Little girl returning a plastic bottle


In Germany, consumers get a small refund when returning a plastic bottle. More than 98% of plastic bottles are returned. Photograph: Jeff Barnard/AP

What about a deposit return scheme for bottles?

About 400 plastic bottles are sold every second in the UK but only half are recycled. But in Germany, where people get a small refund on returning a bottle, more than 98% are returned. Scotland is now introducing a scheme and there is growing pressure for the whole UK to follow suit. But the widescale return of glass milk bottles could be tricky, says Crichton: “I am one of the few people who still gets their milk in glass bottles but a lot of that infrastructure has disappeared.”

How else can I stop plastic polluting the environment?

Making sure rubbish doesn’t get blown away by the wind is a simple but important step, says Grant, as this causes a surprisingly large amount of plastic litter. That means closing bin lids and tying bags properly. There’s also the big issue of plastic fibres from clothing.

What should I demand of politicians for the future?

Plenty. Household recycling rates in England have flatlined at 44% in recent years, so local authorities need to increase funding and ambition. A lot of research is needed on the impacts of microplastics and governments must then regulate or incentivise so the worst are better managed or replaced with new materials. Some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, have already mandated that short-life plastics must be made from biodegradable materials, meaning even if they end up in the environment, they will eventually disappear.

Q&A: our plastic addiction is out of control. How can we consume less?

Tap water around the world is contaminated with tiny plastic fibres, the Guardian revealed this week, and other pilot studies have revealed microplastics in beer, sugar, salt and honey, as well as in seafood, in the air in cities and in homes. The impact on health of this apparently pervasive pollution is unknown, though microplastics do harm some marine life and scientists are calling for urgent research.

Where do the microplastics come from?

The biggest sources are synthetic clothing and dust from tyres and road markings. But all the millions of tonnes of plastic released each year eventually break down in the environment into tiny pieces.

Can I avoid consuming microplastics, say by filtering water?

“We can’t filter ourselves out of this mess,” says Sherri Mason, at the State University of New York in Fredonia, who conducted the tap water analyses. “Our study indicated that even water which undergoes filtration still has plastic. It is a ubiquitous contaminant, so if we really want to solve this problem, we need to start with our daily habits and [reducing] consumption of this material. I know this isn’t the answer people want, but it’s the inconvenient truth.”

How can I reduce my use of plastic?

As huge numbers of plastic fibres are released during every wash of synthetic clothes, choosing sustainable, natural fibre clothing is a good start, says Mason. Using reusable water bottles and avoiding plastic straws are also good steps, says Laura Grant, from the UK’s Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management: “Prevention is the best answer – to not use plastic in the first place.” Plastic bag taxes across the UK have already led to billions of single-use bags not being used and a forthcoming ban on microbeads in personal hygiene products will also help a little.

Can I avoid washing millions of plastic fibres down the drain every week?

Some fabrics are much worse than others, with acrylic the biggest shedder, says Plymouth University’s Imogen Napper, who did the first research on the topic. A standard load of acrylic clothes shed 729,000 fibres, with polyester shedding 496,000 and cotton-polyester mixes shedding 138,000. “There is room for improvement in the filters on washing machines,” she says, though finer filters risk getting clogged more often. But start-up innovators are beginning to tackle the issue, with the Cora Ball claiming to snag the fibres in the drum, while the GuppyFriend washing bag aims to contain them. Handwashing won’t really help, Napper says: “The fibres are still going to be there.”

One study found that a fleece jacket can shed up to 250,000 fibres per wash.


One study found that a fleece jacket can shed up to 250,000 fibres per wash. Natural fibre clothing would decrease the amount of plastic fibres entering our water. Photograph: Courtesy of Rozalia Project

Could all plastic be done away with?

Not at the moment. Some packaging is needed, especially for food, which would spoil more quickly without it and add to the food waste problem. So there’s a balance, says Linda Crichton at Wrap, but people should complain to retailers about over-packaging and much more plastic needs to be recycled – currently it’s just 15%.

Can all plastics be recycled?

In theory, yes. Most important, says Crichton, is the message about bottles: “If it is plastic and bottle shaped it can be recycled.” That means shampoo and bleach bottles, as well as drinks and milk bottles, she says, with 97% of local authorities accepting them. Tubs, pots and trays are more complicated and Crichton says people in the UK should use the postcode locator on the RecycleNow website to find out about their area. She also says some supermarkets now collect thin plastics, such as bags and wraps, that are otherwise hard to recycle.

Little girl returning a plastic bottle


In Germany, consumers get a small refund when returning a plastic bottle. More than 98% of plastic bottles are returned. Photograph: Jeff Barnard/AP

What about a deposit return scheme for bottles?

About 400 plastic bottles are sold every second in the UK but only half are recycled. But in Germany, where people get a small refund on returning a bottle, more than 98% are returned. Scotland is now introducing a scheme and there is growing pressure for the whole UK to follow suit. But the widescale return of glass milk bottles could be tricky, says Crichton: “I am one of the few people who still gets their milk in glass bottles but a lot of that infrastructure has disappeared.”

How else can I stop plastic polluting the environment?

Making sure rubbish doesn’t get blown away by the wind is a simple but important step, says Grant, as this causes a surprisingly large amount of plastic litter. That means closing bin lids and tying bags properly. There’s also the big issue of plastic fibres from clothing.

What should I demand of politicians for the future?

Plenty. Household recycling rates in England have flatlined at 44% in recent years, so local authorities need to increase funding and ambition. A lot of research is needed on the impacts of microplastics and governments must then regulate or incentivise so the worst are better managed or replaced with new materials. Some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, have already mandated that short-life plastics must be made from biodegradable materials, meaning even if they end up in the environment, they will eventually disappear.

Q&A: our plastic addiction is out of control. How can we consume less?

Tap water around the world is contaminated with tiny plastic fibres, the Guardian revealed this week, and other pilot studies have revealed microplastics in beer, sugar, salt and honey, as well as in seafood, in the air in cities and in homes. The impact on health of this apparently pervasive pollution is unknown, though microplastics do harm some marine life and scientists are calling for urgent research.

Where do the microplastics come from?

The biggest sources are synthetic clothing and dust from tyres and road markings. But all the millions of tonnes of plastic released each year eventually break down in the environment into tiny pieces.

Can I avoid consuming microplastics, say by filtering water?

“We can’t filter ourselves out of this mess,” says Sherri Mason, at the State University of New York in Fredonia, who conducted the tap water analyses. “Our study indicated that even water which undergoes filtration still has plastic. It is a ubiquitous contaminant, so if we really want to solve this problem, we need to start with our daily habits and [reducing] consumption of this material. I know this isn’t the answer people want, but it’s the inconvenient truth.”

How can I reduce my use of plastic?

As huge numbers of plastic fibres are released during every wash of synthetic clothes, choosing sustainable, natural fibre clothing is a good start, says Mason. Using reusable water bottles and avoiding plastic straws are also good steps, says Laura Grant, from the UK’s Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management: “Prevention is the best answer – to not use plastic in the first place.” Plastic bag taxes across the UK have already led to billions of single-use bags not being used and a forthcoming ban on microbeads in personal hygiene products will also help a little.

Can I avoid washing millions of plastic fibres down the drain every week?

Some fabrics are much worse than others, with acrylic the biggest shedder, says Plymouth University’s Imogen Napper, who did the first research on the topic. A standard load of acrylic clothes shed 729,000 fibres, with polyester shedding 496,000 and cotton-polyester mixes shedding 138,000. “There is room for improvement in the filters on washing machines,” she says, though finer filters risk getting clogged more often. But start-up innovators are beginning to tackle the issue, with the Cora Ball claiming to snag the fibres in the drum, while the GuppyFriend washing bag aims to contain them. Handwashing won’t really help, Napper says: “The fibres are still going to be there.”

One study found that a fleece jacket can shed up to 250,000 fibres per wash.


One study found that a fleece jacket can shed up to 250,000 fibres per wash. Natural fibre clothing would decrease the amount of plastic fibres entering our water. Photograph: Courtesy of Rozalia Project

Could all plastic be done away with?

Not at the moment. Some packaging is needed, especially for food, which would spoil more quickly without it and add to the food waste problem. So there’s a balance, says Linda Crichton at Wrap, but people should complain to retailers about over-packaging and much more plastic needs to be recycled – currently it’s just 15%.

Can all plastics be recycled?

In theory, yes. Most important, says Crichton, is the message about bottles: “If it is plastic and bottle shaped it can be recycled.” That means shampoo and bleach bottles, as well as drinks and milk bottles, she says, with 97% of local authorities accepting them. Tubs, pots and trays are more complicated and Crichton says people in the UK should use the postcode locator on the RecycleNow website to find out about their area. She also says some supermarkets now collect thin plastics, such as bags and wraps, that are otherwise hard to recycle.

Little girl returning a plastic bottle


In Germany, consumers get a small refund when returning a plastic bottle. More than 98% of plastic bottles are returned. Photograph: Jeff Barnard/AP

What about a deposit return scheme for bottles?

About 400 plastic bottles are sold every second in the UK but only half are recycled. But in Germany, where people get a small refund on returning a bottle, more than 98% are returned. Scotland is now introducing a scheme and there is growing pressure for the whole UK to follow suit. But the widescale return of glass milk bottles could be tricky, says Crichton: “I am one of the few people who still gets their milk in glass bottles but a lot of that infrastructure has disappeared.”

How else can I stop plastic polluting the environment?

Making sure rubbish doesn’t get blown away by the wind is a simple but important step, says Grant, as this causes a surprisingly large amount of plastic litter. That means closing bin lids and tying bags properly. There’s also the big issue of plastic fibres from clothing.

What should I demand of politicians for the future?

Plenty. Household recycling rates in England have flatlined at 44% in recent years, so local authorities need to increase funding and ambition. A lot of research is needed on the impacts of microplastics and governments must then regulate or incentivise so the worst are better managed or replaced with new materials. Some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, have already mandated that short-life plastics must be made from biodegradable materials, meaning even if they end up in the environment, they will eventually disappear.