A four-day week trial in Iceland was deemed a success, the EU’s ban on single-use plastic came into effect, and a rare antelope bounced back from the brink, plus the week’s other top stories
While working hours have increased in many nations, Iceland has been quietly trialling a shorter working week to see how it impacted the population. This week, the results were in.
Two trials, which involved 2,500 public sector workers (roughly one per cent of Iceland’s working population) took place between 2015 and 2019. Participants were paid the same salary, with most working 35 hours, rather than 40.
Analysis of the trials found that productivity levels remained the same, or increased. Employees reported feeling healthier, less stressed and had more time with loved ones.
“The world’s largest ever trial of a shorter working week in the public sector was by all measures an overwhelming success,” said Will Stronge, director of research at Autonomy, the UK think tank behind the analysis. “It shows that the public sector is ripe for being a pioneer of shorter working weeks – lessons can be learned for other governments.”
The trials were so successful, said Autonomy, that 86 per cent of Iceland’s workforce are now working shorter hours, or will soon gain the right to do so. Spain recently announced plans to trial a four-day working week.
Image: Tom Podmore
In a week that saw millions tune in to watch the semi-finals of the Euros, those behind England’s latest rewilding project used a timely yardstick to measure the scale of their ambitions.
The plan? To rewild 21,000 football pitches’ worth of land in South Downs National Park, creating new woodlands and meadows where wildlife can thrive. And the cost? £100m over the next decade, the park said, as it launched a campaign to raise the funds.
Andrew Lee, an ecologist at the park, said: “The biodiversity crisis is real and it’s happening before our eyes, but the good news is it’s not too late to turn the tide of wildlife loss. The South Downs National Park has a crucial role to play to lead the nature recovery.”
A report published last month found that the UK is the least effective nation in the G7 at protecting nature.
Image: A hare amid wildflowers. Credit: Adam Huttly
On Monday, ten single-use plastic items that have long blighted Europe’s beaches were officially outlawed.
Plastic food containers, straws and cotton buds are among the items covered by the new law, introduced to address pollution in the EU. Polystyrene takeaway containers were also banned.
Some environmentalists had hoped the EU would go further by including plastic bottles, bags and wet wipes in the list of sanctioned items.
In a move hailed as a “historic step”, Canada this week appointed Mary Simon to the role of governor general. It is the fist time an indigenous leader has held the position.
Simon is a longtime champion of Inuit rights. Her appointment comes as Canada reckons with its historic treatment of indigenous people, following the discovery of unmarked graves belonging to First Nations people.
“My appointment is a historic and inspirational moment for Canada and an important step forward on the long path towards reconciliation,” said Simon.
Image: Canadian Government/Creative Commons
Planting trees is necessary to help stabilise the climate and boost biodiversity. But sometimes reforestation has an unwelcome side effect in the form of plastic tree guards, millions of which are used annually in the UK.
Not for much longer, perhaps. The Woodland Trust this week pledged to phase out the plastic protectors by the end of the year. That could have a significant impact given that the charity plans to plant 10m trees annually until 2025.
Ian Stanton, head of sustainability at the charity, said: “We have been trialling a wide range of alternative plastic free products across a number of sites. This, combined with innovative processes that avoid the need for tree tubes at all, will enable us to go plastic free from the end of this year.”
Image: Phil Formby / WTML
Kazakstan had some good news this week: its population of critically endangered saiga antelope has more than doubled since 2019.
Aerial surveys of the animals revealed that numbers had bounced back from 334,000 to 842,000. It follows a nationwide conservation initiative, which included a crackdown on poaching.
Image: Andrey Giljov/Creative Commons
Women working in the Biden White House now earn ¢99 (£0.71) for every $1 (£0.73) earned by men, data revealed this week. It is the narrowest gender pay gap of any US administration since records began in 1995.
The White House is legally obliged to release gender pay data annually. In 2020, under Trump, women earned ¢69 (£0.50) on men’s $1 (£0.73).
There is still work to be done across the rest of the US, where women on average earn a reported ¢82 (£0.59) for every $1 (£0.73) earned by men.
Image: David Everett Strickler
Researchers in Austria have made a discovery that could help deal with some of the millions of tonnes of single-use plastic that the world throws away annually.
They found that bacteria living inside a cow’s gut can digest some plastics in hours, including those used to make single-use packaging.
The next step, said scientists, is to identify the microbes responsible, so they can be engineered in labs. Read the full story here.
Image: Jakob Cotton
The internet got its tail in a flap this week following the news that beavers were to be introduced to London.
It was reported that the animals were coming to, of all places, Tottenham, as part of an urban rewilding project. It all sounded too good to be true –and it was.
Nevertheless, conservationists told Positive News that beavers were likely to reach the capital under their own steam soon, owing to how successfully the once-locally extinct animals is recolonising the UK. Read the full story here.
Image: Moritz Becker
Main image: Promote Iceland