Letters: Perspectives on recycling

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Don't scrap the 'bin tax' scheme

The Government is wrong to scrap the "bin tax" in favour of financial inducements to recycle ("Bin tax scheme put on the scrapheap", 8 June). Recycling conserves aluminium, plastic, paper and glass but uses significant amounts of fossil fuels to reprocess, often in faraway China. While there is closed-loop recycling (e.g. bottles to bottles, paper to paper), there is a considerable amount of down-cycling, where high-value plastic goes to low-value park benches and glass bottles end up as road aggregate. And many bottles and cartons say they are recyclable but in practice are not.

In contrast, charging on residual waste destined for landfill still encourages recycling and composting, but more importantly makes people consider what they buy. This in turn stimulates householders to pressurise retailers to reduce their packaging, stop wasteful two-for-one promotions, alter packaging materials and make nappies compostable.

The negative connotation of the "bin tax" can easily be made positive; householders who put out less residual waste than average will get an annual refund.

Bob Pringle, Aberdeen

Prizes for those who cut down on waste

The Government's scheme to reward people for the amount they recycle rather misses the point. Though it's better than sending rubbish to landfill, recycling has costs too, largely the energy used to transport our recyclables and then turn them into usable materials and products.

Much of what is recycled is quite unnecessary (water bottles, cardboard, plastic bags, junk mail, wasted food) and instead of encouraging people to create even more rubbish, we should be focusing on reducing consumption and waste and re-using whatever we can.

Manufacturers and shops that eliminate superfluous packaging and waste, and residents with the emptiest bins and recycling boxes are those who should get prizes.

Marilyn Mason, Kingston upon Thames Surrey

Why Obama is picking on BP

Will we British never learn? Where American business is concerned, our transatlantic cousins have never fought fair, and the coincidence of their own poor standards of safety and regulation in the oil industry having hit their greatest foreign competitor (BP) on their own doorstep is too good an opportunity for them to pass up. They want Atlantic Richfield back and see a way to get it and a whole lot more on the cheap. All the rest of this sorry incident is political manoeuvring and rhetoric.

With new boys in charge over here and President Obama fighting off the Republican oil-men over there, BP is between a rock and very hard place. The big questions are, just how far will our best buddies go, and will our new government have the balls to oppose extradition of BP staff if it comes to a show trial?

If America had the same level of regulation and inspection in their own backyard as Britain has had in the North Sea for years (and which many American oil companies have criticised for going too far) this would not have happened.

Tony Brooke, Southampton

Can anyone explain to me why President Obama is deliberately damaging BP's stock? Until there is a full investigation into what happened on the Deepwater Horizon, BP shouldn't be accused of being entirely responsible – and neither should they accept all the blame. What makes the Deepwater Horizon disaster different from the Exxon Valdez disaster is that, in the latter, there were no foreign scapegoats.

This time around, the contenders for culpability include companies which are ostensibly American. Transocean were the rig's owners and operators (though they have migrated to Switzerland via the Caymans). Halliburton were the oilfield services company.

In this context President Obama seems to be acting in a manner which is bullying, irresponsible and prejudicial to a proper inquiry, and conveniently ignores the likelihood that this is yet another home-grown monumental environmental disaster for which the Americans have nobody to blame but themselves.

The British Government may be reluctant to confront the US so early in its term of office but, even setting aside British commercial interests, it should still be calling for a little measured circumspection in the interests of justice and fairness.

Paul Dunwell, Alton, Hampshire

As BP's shares plunge again, it seems possible that the company could either collapse completely or be taken over by a rival, forcing another major part of the UK economy into foreign ownership. China has been mooted – if so, bye bye family silver.

It may well be that BP made errors, and the results are horrific at all levels. But they have made every practical effort to combat the problem, and one wonders if the US rhetoric would be quite so heated if it were an American organisation involved. Note their repeated use of British Petroleum, a brand name not used since 1998.

The fact is that the market – nowhere more relentlessly than in the US – has brought about this disaster, the demand for oil forcing ever riskier exploration. We all share the responsibility, and Americans more than most.

Ian Bartlett, East Molesey, Surrey

It would be great if the US could really fall out properly with Britain over the BP spill. We are sick of the "special relationship" so beloved of our pathetic politicians. It just drags us into America's unjustified wars and worldwide meddling. Let's hope the US retaliates by removing their dozens of military bases and thousands of personnel in the UK.

Brian Goodale, Holt, Norfolk

It might be worthwhile BP checking out who Union Carbide used to broker the Bophal gas-leak settlement.

David Evans, Chester

Hydrogen, the future of energy

Dominic Lawson is right to be concerned about moves to introduce more intermittent renewable energy without policies in place to better support and utilise green power ("Cameron can't have it both ways", 1 June).

Many policy experts are now examining the potential of better harnessing intermittent but carbon-neutral renewable energy by storing it as hydrogen and using it later.

For example, when the wind blows at 3am the UK's 3,000 wind turbines may be very active but the energy they are producing is lost because it is not required at that time and cannot be stored. The adoption of energy-storage policies could allow us to rescue the ailing renewables sector and provide it with a vital role in the provision of clean and bountiful energy; it would also counter renewables' numerous critics who focus on their unreliability.

A wind turbine or solar panel producing hydrogen through electrolysis can allow us to harness every watt of electricity produced. The same applies to wave systems. Storage can also allow us to better regulate energy supply at peak and trough periods; this is presently impossible given renewables' intermittency. Off-peak nuclear plants can also be used to generate hydrogen in a zero-carbon process.

Hydrogen is a carbon-neutral fuel which can be used to power zero-carbon transport, when used in a modified internal combustion engine. It can also be used by industry and housing and as a blend in gas-fired power plants. It is not geographically constrained and represents the best way to resolve the renewables dilemma, meet carbon targets and guarantee a worthy return.

Only with this strategy can the UK meet its ambitious carbon reduction and renewable energy targets while simultaneously boosting domestic security of supply. Green energy storage is a breakthrough the UK must seize.

Tony Lodge, Research Fellow, Centre for Policy Studies, London SW1

English test will keep us apart

You report that people wishing to come to the UK to join their spouses or partners are to face an English-language test (9 June).

I am a UK citizen and have lived in this country all my life. I met my husband while on holiday in Togo, and we were married there last year. My husband and I are both keen that he should learn English. We assumed that the best place for him to do this would be here in the UK, and were planning to apply for a settlement visa in the autumn, which would allow him to come and join me here. Under the new immigration rules, it may be years before we can be reunited.

English tuition is poor to non-existent in Togo, particularly in rural areas. And I should know – I have worked as a volunteer teacher of English as a foreign language there. The standards in Togolese schools are appalling – but is that my fault or my husband's fault? Should we be denied the right to be together because he does not have the opportunity to learn English in his home country?

We are a young couple, and it is already difficult for us to afford the basic visa application fees. We simply cannot afford to pay for my husband to attend expensive English language classes away from his home. Are we to be condemned to live apart?

The proposed English language test not only prevents migrants from learning English in the UK (which is unquestionably the best place for them to do so), it is also a breach of their human rights. I am ashamed that this government feels it can treat its own citizens, and the partners of those citizens who wish to live and learn and work here, in this way.

Sophie Brown, Bristol

Sad, forgotten back gardens

Mary Dejevsky is mistaken in her criticisms of building development in back gardens ("It's time to grab back our gardens", 10 June). Our practice specialises in housing development and I have spent 25 years surveying and assessing sites, typical "backland" development; the trees, ecology and landscape character.

For every accumulation site (as they are known in the jargon) that can be deemed to provide a rich biodiversity that would be lost, I could show you twice the number that are sad, forgotten places, untouched and unloved, with the fading memories of long-departed children and of a size that the often ageing owners can't even comprehend.

These aren't an "integral part of the suburban landscape", they are forgotten wastelands of non-indigenous conifers, decaying sheds and rotting fruit, visible perhaps but not accessible and of no real benefit to man or even beast.

As a frequent attender at public meetings to present development schemes on behalf of clients, I am all too aware that residents' concerns are generally nothing to do with the loss of garden spaces, biodiverisity, habitats or any of that good stuff. It is much more to do with the invasion of deemed privacy, the fear of "social housing" and the loss of value in their properties, which of course is not even a planning issue.

Stephen Dale, ACD landscape architects, Haslemere, Surrey

Once just shy, now autistic

As a mother of two autistic children, it is no "mystery" to me why there has been such a large increase in cases (Comment, 10 June).

I know an autistic woman in her 20s who was not diagnosed as a child, even though she did not speak until she was eight. This was common then. Ten years ago, only severe cases were labelled "autistic". Last year, an old friend was told that his six-year-old son is "on the autistic spectrum" because he gets bored easily and doesn't like loud noises. Those are his only symptoms.

When my eldest was diagnosed eight years ago, no one I knew, including me, knew anything about autism. Now one cannot open the paper or turn on the TV without seeing wall-to-wall autism. While I welcome this increase in awareness, I find that when I watch Autistic Me, Autistic Superstars etc I do not relate to the people I see as autistic at all. Compared with my kids, they seem pretty normal.

These days when I tell people about my children I always describe them as "severely autistic" often adding that they cannot talk, lest people should think that I mean they are just a bit shy and geeky.

Anne-Louise Crocker, Shoreham, Kent

Do we really need the Lords?

You report (8 June) that the Deputy Prime Minister will start work next week in creating an elected second chamber, and that he wishes "to bring democracy to the House of Lords". Rather he should be committed to bringing democracy to the legislature and the nation generally by abolishing the second chamber.

The general case for the continuation of the Lords in whatever substantive form has merely been assumed. It has not been proved. There are no reasons of fundamental constitutional principle why the UK should not have a unicameral legislature.

With over 650 members, the House of Commons is a massive workforce. Given the right steerage by the government and properly organised, it can carry out all the nation's necessary legislative functions.

A permanent Standing Committee of the Commons staffed by senior and experienced members should be fit to scrutinise proposed legislation and ensure it meets the most stringently defined quality-control requirements. It is absurd for so many commentators to suppose that only the House of Lords is fitted to carry out this kind of scrutiny.

Michael Batchelor, Swansea

The rewards of penalties

I am relieved that at last someone has studied the science of taking penalties (report, 8 June). Sometimes the English football team seems to have been surprised to find a penalty shoot-out is required when the scores are still level after extra time. Yet a few obvious strategies will produce better results.

First, and most important, practice always improves performance. This will also enable the coach to discover how accurately and fast each player strikes the ball.

Second, as Greg Wood observes, taking penalties is stressful, and stress reduces performance: but the coach can reduce stress by taking the responsibility of deciding which players take the penalties and in which order. The coach can further reduce stress by taking the decision of exactly where each player aims.

Thirdly, the coach's assistants should analyse the performance of our opponents: how do their goalies react when saving a penalty? How do they try to distract a penalty taker? Are they better saving on their left or right?

Finally, don't forget the England goalies. They too will benefit from practice and analysis of their opponents' past penalty attempts. It will also be possible to decide whether to try and read the mind of each penalty taker, or to dive immediately to a side chosen by the coach.

The results will be that the players don't have to worry, "What do I do? What happens if I miss?" They just do as they are told, and what they have practised successfully.

Roger Scowen, Hampton, Middlesex

Ancient path through a field

How long has it taken Alex James (Notebook, 9 June) to recognise oilseed rape, how long has he been living the Cotswold dream? And I would be willing to bet that the mysterious pathway cut through the field of yellow peril is an ancient footpath or bridleway that was in place long before the field was enclosed with hedges.

I am sure that the responsible and law-abiding farmer who has carefully kept it open through the crop would dearly like it to be sent round the perimeter of the field, were it not for the probability of having to fight an irate rambler through the law court.

P A Reid, Wantage, Oxfordshire

Out of Palestine

If veteran American reporter Helen Thomas said that Israelis should "get the hell out of Palestine" and go "home" to Germany, Poland or the United Sates (report, 8 June) she was wrong. If, however, she said that they should leave Palestine and return to Israel she would be right.

Brian W Beeley, Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Drunken birds

As a former long-term resident of Darwin, Australia, I often observed the drunken and loutish behaviour exhibited by lorrikeets as described by your correspondent (3 June). Up until now I wasn't sure if it was my own immoderate consumption of alcohol that was causing me to imagine these goings-on or whether they actually did occur. Thanks for clearing that up for me.

Mark Ambrose, Frodsham, Cheshire

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