Sir: Your front-page article of 5 February makes much angst about the large amount of plastic that has concentrated in certain areas of the Pacific Ocean. Let me give a different viewpoint. Nature has kindly concentrated and separated through flotation a very large amount of a valuable material. In our ignorance, we have discarded a high-energy, useful material but nature has collected our dilute waste, washed it and moved it near to several of the world's largest markets.
Waste plastic is a good feedstock for such things as plastic wood, which is an excellent building material. It does not need painting, does not rot and therefore attracts a premium price. The increasing price of wood is only likely to increase the demand for this material. The waste plastic can be put to many other purposes.
The problem that has generally held back widespread recycling of plastic is the cost of collecting and washing it, as it tends to be mixed with other rubbish and not be concentrated. The sea has done this for us. This is a truly huge business opportunity, a large, fairly concentrated raw material near developed high-value markets that can be collected for free as it is in international waters. Smart, innovative businesses will clean up this mess and will make huge profits doing so. Your article is like complaining that gold has just been found.
Aqueous Logic Ltd, Sutton, Surrey
Sir: Your feature on the Pacific soup swamped me with anger, fear, guilt and frustration. Like all of us, I am mindful of my lifetime's complicity in this wanton destruction of our fabulous home.
Everyday household items of my childhood were made of glass, wood, metal, china, paper, papier mache, cellophane, straw, string, wool, cotton, and bakelite, with a hint of rayon and nylon, perspex and formica. I vividly remember my first encounter with "proper" plastic, when the cleaner, a bit of a Mrs Malaprop, caused great excitement when she whisked out "one of them new polermertherian bags". Within months, its mystique was eclipsed by the plastic Jif lemon squeezer that became every kid's must-have, the best mini refreshment flask and water pistol ever. We didn't yet see plastic as a disposable – more as a keepsake, being seductively innovative, useful, light, unbreakable, and durable. All polermertherian bags were carefully folded and re-used until they crumbled. Maybe it was the arrival of the Bic disposable ballpoint pen that entrenched the notion of throwaway.
I live by the sea, where keen volunteers fight the plastic tide through regular beach cleaning. But who could scoop up such enormous quantities of plastic at sea? A nobler purpose perhaps for whalers, trawlers, oil tankers and naval vessels in a concerted international salvage effort?
Brown's clash with the GPs
Sir: Professor Walter Holland's letter of 5 February has been placed in my file of Jolly Japes to be read out at dinner parties after the second bottle of wine has been drunk.
Pace the professor, I have never in my life attended a GP surgery with an acute respiratory infection, nor have I been signed off work to prevent the spread of infection. I do however make regular visits to have my diabetes monitored. I happen to be retired, but many others of the same age with conditions such as mine are not, and have real problems attending for regular monitoring.
More and more chronic conditions are now being treated by GPs, rather than in hospitals.
The NHS has changed. GPs have had to become more specialised, referring patients to colleagues in the same practice for particular treatment. I therefore disagree with Steve Richards, who in the same edition of the paper argued that the Government made a mistake in agreeing the present level of GP remuneration. By and large, the level of medical competence has risen dramatically in the past 20 years.
However, an aspect which has been missed is the need for much greater accessibility to GP services. An extra three hours a week is a start, but evening and weekend opening should be the norm.
Sir: As a GP, I was both saddened and encouraged by the contrast between the letter of Professor Walter Holland and the opinion of Steve Richards.
I am encouraged that Professor Holland was able to summarise the values that I hope my practice and most like it embrace, to care for those who need us most, the elderly, the chronically sick, those with complex diseases, those with mental health problems and the young. I believe this was the essence of the NHS.
Steve Richards seems to express the view of the Government. The new middle class want to keep us available for more time, in case they want us, even if there is little evidence that they will use us appropriately, or need us. This section of society seems to have little regard for the effects of their wants on others' needs.
Dr Michael Tayler
Sir: Why does Professor Holland assume that only "ill" people need to see their GP? There are any number of reasons why one might want to make an appointment such as smear tests and blood pressure checks.
Until recently I worked as a manager/lecturer in a further education college 28 miles from home and my GP. I would be at work before the surgery administrative staff were available to try and make an appointment. A number of times I have tried to make advance appointments only to be told that they do "not have the diary yet" for that date and so they "do not know if the practice nurse will be available"'. In order to have a smear test I would virtually have to take a half day off work, as they were only done between 10am and 3pm. Instead, I went to a sexual health clinic which was open in the evening.
I put off making an appointment to have a mole checked until I could take a day off in the summer, as it was difficult to make an appointment at a time convenient to me and my employers during working hours. It turned out to be a melanoma.
The UK is one of the worst countries in Europe for cancer survival rates – one of the reasons being that people present late with symptoms. Could this be connected with the fact that it is often easier to let things be than make the repeated phone calls (in work time) to a number that is often engaged to try and make an appointment that does not clash with work commitments?
Sir: The recent correspondence regarding the GP hours dispute fails to address the cause of the dispute. Many GPs believe that providing surgery times convenient to those who work is reasonable; indeed a number already open outside "normal" surgery hours to accommodate working patients.
Negotiations with the BMA commenced but these were cut short by Gordon Brown, who issued a decree that surgery hours would be extended, giving precise times and length of consultations. Receptionist and nursing staff who agree to work these extended hours would have to be paid overtime; the cleaning and security staff would have to work later; there would be extra costs for heating and lighting. No new money is being provided. The funding Brown pretends to give is that currently being used to provide other services to patients.
GPs negotiated a contract which brought them into line with comparable professionals, both at home and abroad. Gordon Brown is determined to recoup as much as possible of the money they have earned. If GPs continue to offer the services and screening and open the extra hours there will be a considerable increase in practice expenses. If they do not deliver on the extra hours, a large financial penalty will be imposed. Heads he wins, tails they lose.
Do we want a leader who will not or cannot negotiate, but imposes his will on a sector of the workforce who are very unlikely to down tools and protest? These are the tactics of a bully. What he does to GPs today, he may well do to someone else tomorrow.
Our compassionate immigration system
Sir: There is no truth to your claim (leading article, 1 February) that people within our detention centres are held in cruel and unsafe conditions. Everyone within the immigration system is treated with care and compassion, with people only ever being detained in centres which offer a wide range of facilities and activities. All our centres are regularly inspected by the independent Chief Inspector of Prisons and we are constantly making changes to improve the environment for detainees.
We would prefer people who have no right to reside in the UK to leave voluntarily, and we offer support and a financial returns package to help them resettle. When people refuse to leave, it becomes necessary to detain them pending removal, and I will not apologise for this.
We operate one of the fairest asylum systems in the world. While asylum seekers' claims are being heard they have access to benefits, NHS healthcare, housing and legal representation. We are committed to speeding up the process of making decisions, and most new claims are now decided within 30 days.
Last week we announced further improvements to our systems, putting our commitment to safeguarding children on a statutory footing. Whenever a member of the Border and Immigration Agency's staff comes into contact with a child they will have to ensure that they keep children safe from harm.
Chief Executive, Border and Immigration Agency, London SW1
Torture and the Gunpowder Plot
Sir: Guy Fawkes is a fascinating example to choose to justify torture (letter, 5 February). Captured only after the bomb had been discovered, he was tortured as one of the few "filthy foreigners" involved in a plot that was an English creation.
That bomb, like so many others, was discovered because some of those involved suffered moral qualms about those who would be killed, and wrote to warn them. I can't think of any historical examples of torture actually foiling a bomb attack.
The problem with arguing for the morality of torture is that it relies on the idea that any act can be justified if it would help prevent a greater evil. Which is more or less exactly the reasoning behind most terrorist attacks. If torture is moral, then so is terrorism.
Don't abolish Eton, imitate it
Sir: Howard Jacobson (2 February) rightly declares that the demise of Eton would do nothing to enhance the performance of schools of lower rank. Eton, along with the likes of St Paul's and Manchester Grammar, is blazing a trail which the state sector would be foolish not to follow.
Last week I attended the parents' evening at my daughter's Northamptonshire comprehensive school. I was greatly impressed by the dedication and enthusiasm of the teachers and the prowess of the pupils. The school scored highly in the recent A-level league tables, beating a neighbouring public school by a respectable margin.
Abolition of independent schools is not the answer to the deficiencies in state education. Comprehensive schools must believe in themselves as my daughter's school does.
Halifax, West Yorkshire
Moral theories of the £1.99 chicken
Sir: Not content with controlling our shopping and eating habits, Tesco are now apparently trying to control our consciences too . "No-one should feel guilty", apparently, for buying a £1.99 chicken (report, 6 February).
It must be obvious to anyone with a larger than chicken-sized brain that £1.99 is never going to cover the cost of hatching, rearing and feeding a chicken, providing it with adequate space and vetinerary care, transporting and killing it humanely, and plucking, packaging and marketing it.
Where are the corners going to be cut? Not in Tesco's profits, I suspect. And never mind the farmers driven to bankruptcy and despair by our obsession with impossibly cheap food.
Sir: Thanks to your new series on the Great Philosophers, I now realise that I am an Atheistic Cosmogenist-Empiricist who believes in Epistemology, Existentialism, Free Will, Instrumentalism, Libertarianism, Logical Positivism, Materialism, the Open Society, Pragmatism, Rationalism and Structuralism. Well, blow me down!
Obama looks back
Sir: Mark Steel is right to point out the triviality that attends American political campaigns (6 February). However, Obama's "Yes We Can", to most Americans of the older generation, is a reference to Sammy Davis Jr's autobiography, Yes I Can, the publication of which was a landmark in the civil rights movement.
Sir: Philip Hensher (5 February) considers it absurd not to refer to the September 11 terrorists as Muslims. But no one referred to the IRA as Christian terrorists; they were Irish Catholic terrorists with a particular political agenda. Perhaps if we stop referring to all the followers of Islam generically as Muslims and start referring to Shias, Sunnis, Sufis and so on, we may find that al-Qa'ida are not the leaders of a violent uprising by a global Muslim brotherhood but actually a small cult (comparable to Waco or Jonestown) with their own political agenda.
MPs not listening
Sir: On Tuesday night 525 MPs voted on an amendment to the Bill to ratify the Lisbon Treaty, a measure which would significantly change our constitution. Yet a great majority of those voting had not so much as set foot in the Chamber to hear any of the thoughtful arguments, on both sides, which were put forward during the preceding five and a half hours. Should there be a rule that before an MP can vote on an issue, he must have been present for at least some of the debate?
Dr D R Cooper
Mice with a cold
Sir: Further to your report (4 February) on the experiments using the cold virus on mice, presumably only the female mice caught a cold, whereas the male mice caught a very heavy bout of flu.