Some weeks we need positive news more than others. This is one of them. Highlights include Africa’s solutions to plastic pollution, the UK’s rebounding urban hedgehogs, and the dogs trained to save seabirds
Entrepreneurs in Africa are finding novel solutions to plastic pollution, turning the stuff into house bricks (pictured), designer textiles, cooking fuel and more.
Such innovations are being celebrated by the Afri-Plastic Challenge, which announced its shortlist this week. The prize was launched to help entrepreneurs in sub-Saharan Africa scale up their response to plastic pollution.
In the running for the £1m prize is a Nigerian project that turns plastic waste into designer textiles; a buy-back scheme in Kenya that helps women earn money through plastic recycling; and a Rwandan project that turns plastic waste into school benches. The prize will also offer dozens of grants up to £100,000 to startups with scalable ideas.
“The solutions to Africa’s ever-increasing struggle with managing the rising tide of plastic pollution are already out there,” said Constance Agyeman, director of international development at Nesta Challenges, which launched the prize.
“The Afri-Plastics Challenge is supporting the most promising sub-Saharan African innovators to refine and scale local ideas to have impact on the continent.”
Image: Afri-Plastics Challenge
Since the Vagrancy Act was passed in 1824, rough sleeping has been illegal in the UK, inflicting further hardship on homeless people. This week, the UK government finally committed to repealing the legislation.
Matt Downie, chief executive of the homeless charity Crisis, said: “For almost 200 hundred years, the criminalisation of homelessness has shamed our society. But now, at long last, the Vagrancy Act’s days are numbered.
“This offensive law does nothing to tackle rough sleeping, only entrenching it further in our society by driving people further from support. We know there are better, more effective ways to help people overcome their homelessness.”
Image: Tom Parsons
The US has been late to the renewables party, with domestic investment in green energy lagging way behind other nations – but perhaps not for much longer.
This week, the US held the largest auction of offshore wind development rights in the country’s history. The sale (for areas off the coast of New York and New Jersey) attracted a record $1.5bn (£1.1bn) in bids, representing a major vote of confidence in the US’s burgeoning green energy sector.
The expansion of offshore wind is the cornerstone of President Biden’s plan to decarbonise the country’s electricity grid by 2035. It can’t happen too soon: the US is the word’s second largest carbon emitter after China.
Their prickly figures used to be a common sight in the UK’s towns and cities, but hedgehogs have suffered huge declines in recent years. A report out this week suggests the tide could be turning.
It found that hedgehog numbers were stabilising and even rising in some urban areas. The uplift follows various campaigns to get people to make their gardens more hedgehog friendly.
The positive news was tempered by the picture from rural areas, where numbers are still believed to be plummeting. The study adds to a growing body of research highlighting the importance of urban areas in boosting biodiversity.
Image: Piotr Laskawski
Vegetarians, pescatarians and occasional meat eaters have a lower chance of developing cancer than full-on carnivores, according to a study by the University of Oxford.
It analysed data from 472,000 British people to investigate the link between diet and cancer. The findings? Vegetarians have a 14 per cent lower risk of getting cancer than meat eaters; that falls to 10 per cent for pescatarians and two per cent for occasional carnivores.
Those behind the study admitted that other factors, such as access to healthcare, could be at play, and said further research was needed.
Oxford’s findings coincided with the World Cancer Research Fund launching an online tool to help people embrace healthier diets. The ‘cupboard heroes recipe generator’ suggests recipes based on items people have to hand.
Image: Anna Pelzer
Ditching plastic packaging for fruit and veg provides a triple win for the environment, according to research funded by the UK government.
It found that selling items loose and without best before dates could save 100,000 tonnes of food waste, 10,000 tonnes of plastic waste and 130,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent annually in the UK alone.
WRAP, the waste charity behind the study, said ditching plastic packaging means people are able to buy only the quantity of items they need. Many UK supermarkets sell fruit and vegetables in cellophane multipacks.
“We need retailers to step up and follow our recommendations so we can achieve real progress in tackling food waste and plastic pollution,” said Marcus Gover, CEO of WRAP.
In France, retailers don’t have a choice. The French government banned plastic packaging for fruit and vegetables at the start of the year. Spain is set to introduce similar legislation.
The potential for solar power is huge in east Africa, where the days are long and often sunny. The problem is, solar farms take up valuable space that could be used for growing crops. Has a solution been found?
In Kenya, farmers have been experimenting with growing crops under raised photovoltaic panels, which are high enough off the ground to let sunlight get to the plants. As an added bonus, the panels also harvest rainwater.
The verdict? The system has proven so effective in trials that this week it was showcased to other farmers in the region, with the aim of rolling it out across east Africa and beyond. The pilots were led by the University of Sheffield.
Dr Richard Randle-Boggis, a member of the Institute for Sustainable Food at the university, said: “The fantastic appeal of this initiative is that it delivers a triple-win for food, energy and water security, all on the same area of land.”
Image: Chloride Exide
Could man’s best friend also be an ally for seabirds? Conservationists in the UK think so. This week, they revealed that sniffer dogs have been trained to detect two threatened seabirds: European storm petrels and Manx shearwaters.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) said the findings showed that dogs could help determine the presence of ground-nesting seabirds at sites where they have not been spotted. This information could then be used to inform strategies to protect the birds.
“This work highlights the remarkable scent detection capabilities of dogs and their largely untapped potential to assist seabird monitoring in UK,” said Mark Bolton, the RSPB’s principle conservation scientist.
Image: Mark Bolton/RSPB
Main image: The Chanja Datti plastic recycling project in Nigeria. Credit: Afri-Plastics Challenge