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Newspaper headlines: May ‘dares Corbyn’ and retail ‘panic’

Daily Telegraph front page
Image caption “May dares Corbyn to call vote of confidence,” says the lead headline in the Daily Telegraph. The paper says Theresa May is taking a calculated risk in refusing the Labour leader’s “symbolic” vote on her leadership and challenging the opposition to call a formal vote of no confidence in the government.
The Times front page
Image caption The same headline appears on the Times’ main story, which also says that the Prime Minister has secured the backing of Conservative Brexiteers and the Democratic Unionist Party if the opposition takes up her offer.
The i front page
Image caption The i focuses on Jeremy Corbyn’s motion of no confidence in Theresa May, as the Labour leader accuses her of “dither and delay”. Criticised from “all sides”, May insists the choice is “her deal or no deal”, the paper reports.
Metro front page
Image caption Theresa May is pushing the Brexit vote “to the wire”, according to Metro. The paper says that an “angry” Jeremy Corbyn accused the prime minister of “running down the clock” by setting the date for the vote on her deal in mid-January.
Daily Express front page
Image caption Meanwhile, ministers will be told to start spending £1.5bn set aside to prepare for the prospect of leaving the EU without a deal, the Daily Express says. The paper says that only a third of the money has been used so far.
The Guardian front page
Image caption Theresa May “will step up warnings” about the risks of no deal as she tries to win support for her EU withdrawal agreement, according to the main story in The Guardian. The paper also suggests Brexit uncertainty is hitting retailers, as online clothing store Asos issued a “shock” profits warning.
Daily Mail front page
Image caption “Huge Xmas discounts” could be the upside of the “panic” gripping the retail sector, says the Daily Mail. It says online retailers have joined high street stores in cutting prices to “jumble-sale levels”.
City AM front page
Image caption City AM also leads on the high street troubles in the run-up to Christmas, saying that the Asos profit warning “shakes faith” in retailers across Europe.
Financial Times front page
Image caption The slump in retail share prices also makes the Financial Times, but it leads on news that regulators are urging stricter rules on accounting firms. The paper says the aim is to tackle competition problems and conflicts of interest in the sector.
The Daily Mirror front page
Image caption Jamie Oliver’s £5m deal with oil company Shell to revamp petrol station food is a “betrayal”, says the Daily Mirror. According to the paper, the TV chef has previously said climate change “is everyone’s problem”.
The Sun front page
Image caption “Nation in crisis,” blares the Sun as it sounds the alarm on ruined cuppas. New eco-friendly tea bags which no longer use plastic have reportedly been splitting in hot water.
Daily Star front page
Image caption The Daily Star reports the story of a “yob” named Jesus who vandalised a church with a Monty Python line: “He’s not the Messiah. he’s a very naughty boy”. The paper says the vandal later begged forgiveness and vowed to become a monk.

It’s impossible to escape the twists and turns of Brexit. The Times and the Daily Telegraph have the identical headline: “May dares Corbyn to call vote of confidence”.

In what the Times says is an attempt to “wrongfoot” the Labour leader, Theresa May has rejected Jeremy Corbyn’s call for a vote on her own performance. Instead Mrs May has offered parliamentary time for a debate if it is a full vote of confidence in her government.

The Telegraph says that Mrs May has made a “calculated risk” after securing the backing of both Tory Brexiteers and the Democratic Unionist Party to stop MPs approving such a motion – one that could bring down her government.

Image copyright PA

The sketch-writers get stuck into both party leaders after yesterday’s events in the Commons.

In the Times, Patrick Kidd mocks Jeremy Corbyn’s apparent indecision on whether or not to call for a vote of no confidence in Mrs May, saying the Labour leader thinks “tactics” are little mints in a box with a flip-top lid.

He also suggests that by tabling a confidence vote, Mr Corbyn might have made the prime minister’s position more secure.

The Guardian’s John Crace writes that Mrs May has spent every Monday afternoon in the Commons trying to defend her Brexit negotiations “with ever diminishing success” and “is falling apart in front of our eyes”.

In the Daily Mail, Quentin Letts is scathing about those he calls “the pro-EU nutters”. He goes on to say that when they began raging at Mrs May, she did what she always does: “She went into the sort of defensive ball a hedgehog will assume when being shouted at by terriers”.

Image copyright Reuters

The precarious state of the retail fashion industry gets plenty of coverage. City AM and the Financial Times report that fashion stocks have taken a tumble across the board after a profits warning by the online clothing giant Asos.

The pre-Christmas trading struggles are also the lead story in the Daily Mail. It describes companies as resorting to “panic sales” in what it calls a “desperate attempt to drum up business”.

It says online giants such as Asos and BooHoo are offering dresses, tops and skirts for “jumble sale prices” of less than £5.

There are problems too for Victoria Beckham’s fashion label, according to several papers.

The Guardian says the losses for her company VBL have increased by £2 million to £10 million in the year to December 2017, despite rising sales.

The Daily Express says the business, which the former Spice Girl launched ten years ago, was boosted by a collaboration with the US retail giant Target. A company statement said shareholders were committed to help Victoria Beckham break even in the medium term by cutting costs and driving growth.

And the front page of the Sun declares we are a “nation in crisis”. But if you were expecting another Brexit story, you’d be wrong.

The issue is, in fact, new eco-friendly tea bags that apparently split in your cuppa and ruin it.

The paper says Yorkshire Tea has found itself “in hot water”, with customers complaining that the biodegradable sachets fall apart. The story continues on the inside pages with the somewhat predictable headline: “Storm in a Teacup”.

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How to avoid a travel insurance nightmare

Someone kitesurfing Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Kitesurfing is among the activities a standard travel insurance plan might not cover you for

Go to a price comparison site. Type in the country you’re going to. Find the cheapest deal. Buy.

If a lot of us were being honest – we’d admit this is how we go about getting travel insurance.

It might save time – but it also means you could find yourself thousands of miles from home, in hospital, with your insurance company refusing to pay out.

Sophie Wilson, 24, was injured when she dived into a swimming pool in Thailand earlier in December and is still not sure if she will walk again.

Travel insurance company Insure and Go said it would not cover costs as the accident happened as a result of “reckless behaviour”.

Her family disagrees with that assessment and is trying to raise money for her care and to bring her home.

Image copyright Sophie Wilson

In a statement Insure and Go says: “It’s never nice to tell people that we aren’t able to help them, and they’re always welcome to discuss or challenge our decisions.

“We do understand that people go on holiday to have fun and enjoy themselves, but we are not able to cover circumstances where the customer has acted in a way that puts themselves at risk. This is clearly stated in the policy terms and conditions.”

So how do you try to make sure you don’t end up in a nightmare situation? We called up an expert to find out.

Booze

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Everyone loves a disco-nap

Let’s start with a biggie, shall we?

“Every single travel insurance policy will mention alcohol and drugs,” says Graeme Trudgill from the British Insurance Brokers’ Association.

“Some policies won’t cover claims related to alcohol at all, others will talk about having a ‘reasonableness’ – so as long as you’re in control of your actions than you’ll be fine.

“But there does need to be evidence – so was your blood alcohol reading particularly strong, or was there a witness report saying you were completely out of it?

“There have been some terrible incidents where people get drunk and they jump off balconies and have terrible injuries. That’s not necessarily going to be covered.”

High-risk

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption You might need extra insurance for winter sports

Another thing you’re probably not going to be covered for on a standard policy is any type of “high risk” activity.

“Some activities are considered more hazardous than others,” Graeme says.

He lists jet skis, windsurfing, hang gliding, parasailing and horse riding as things that are “easier to insure”.

“The things that are harder to do are scuba diving below 30m, kitesurfing, certain types of white-water rafting – things like that.

“There will be insurance providers that can get that cover for you – but you need to check before you go.

“And if you’re already abroad and you quite fancy doing a bit of kitesurfing tomorrow, just call your insurance provider back, check in and make sure they can get you cover for that.”

Buying early

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Just looking at this photo gives us a sinking feeling

Another bit of Graeme’s advice is to buy your insurance early – preferably on the day you book you holiday.

“If something happens to you six months before you go, maybe you get an injury of you’re called up to jury duty and you can’t go – then you need to be able to claim.”

He also says some policies will give you protection if the airline you’re booked with goes bust.

“It’s a really good thing to have because we’ve seen some airlines go into administration recently.”

Cheaper isn’t, necessarily, better

This last one goes without saying.

“Overall, my advice is always to make sure you think about your holiday – where you’re going and what you’re going to be doing – and don’t just buy the thing that comes up top on a price comparison site.

“If you’re wanting to go on a watersports holiday, for example, then there are plenty of policies out there – but the basic policies that just come up on top of the list won’t necessarily include that cover.”

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M6 motorway shut in Cheshire after multi-vehicle collision

The M6 motorway just north of junction 17 Image copyright Google
Image caption The collision has led to drivers being diverted off the motorway

A collision involving several vehicles has forced the closure of the M6 motorway in Cheshire.

The crash led to a large diesel fuel spillage across the motorway, which is shut northbound between junctions 17 and 18, Highways England said.

North West Motorway Police officers have been at the scene since the crash, at about 22:30 GMT on Monday.

Drivers are being diverted off the motorway after the collision, between Sandbach and Holmes Chapel.

“Recovery contractors and road engineers are on scene and working to get the lanes open as soon as it is safe,” Highways England said.

It warned drivers that the diversion route includes a low bridge on the A50 in Holmes Chapel with a 16ft (5m) height restriction.

It is not clear how many vehicles were involved in crash or whether there have been any casualties.

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Brexit: Cabinet to consider ramping up no-deal plans

Theresa May Image copyright EPA

The cabinet will discuss whether the government should ramp up preparations for a no-deal Brexit when it meets later this morning.

It comes after Theresa May said MPs would not vote on her Brexit deal until the third week in January.

A Labour motion of no confidence in Mrs May was dismissed by No 10 as “silly political games” on Monday evening.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is under pressure to push for a further vote of no confidence – in the government.

With 101 days left until Brexit and many MPs still opposed to the government’s withdrawal agreement, ministers are due to consider a paper on plans for leaving the EU without a deal.

But a no-deal Brexit is also opposed by many MPs.

A cross-party group of 60 of them have written to the prime minister, saying it would do “unnecessary economic damage”.

Mr Corbyn tabled a motion on Monday night, calling on MPs to declare they have no confidence in the prime minister because she failed to have a vote on her Brexit deal straight away.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionJeremy Corbyn wants MPs to get a Brexit deal vote before Christmas

No 10 refused to make time for the motion.

Other parties – the SNP, Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru and Greens have called on Mr Corbyn to push for a no-confidence vote against the government as a whole.

Unlike a vote aimed at the prime minister, the government would have to allow a vote on this motion and, if successful, it could force a general election.

However, Nigel Dodds, deputy leader of Northern Ireland’s DUP, which has propped up the Conservative government since June 2017, dismissed Mr Corbyn’s move as “parliamentary antics”.

Mrs May also appeared to have the support of pro-Brexit backbench critics who last week failed in a bid to oust her as Tory leader.

One of them, Steve Baker, said: “Eurosceptic Conservatives are clear that we accept the democratic decision of our party to have confidence in Theresa May as PM. We will vote against Labour in any confidence motion.”

The prime minister’s Brexit deal sets out the terms of Britain’s exit from the EU – on 29 March 2019 – and includes a declaration on the outline of the future relations between the UK and the EU.

But the deal only comes into force if both parliaments approve it.

The PM had delayed the vote from last week, admitting she looked set to lose.

Mrs May told MPs they would have the chance to vote on the deal she negotiated with Brussels in the third week of January.

She said she had won fresh guarantees at last week’s EU summit over measures to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland and she hoped to secure additional “political and legal assurances” in the coming weeks.

  • Q&A: The Irish border Brexit backstop

Earlier on Monday, an EU spokesman said it had provided the “clarifications” requested on the contentious issue of the Northern Ireland border backstop and “no further meetings were foreseen”.

Mr Corbyn said by January a month would have been wasted since the original 11 December vote was postponed, with “not a single word renegotiated and not a single reassurance given”.

“The deal is unchanged and is not going to change,” he said.

‘Parliamentary shenanigans’

By Laura Kuenssberg, BBC political editor

Keeping up? I don’t blame if you if it all seems like procedural nonsense. And frankly, you might not be completely wrong.

But what it suggests is that despite widespread frustration on all sides, Jeremy Corbyn is so far stopping short of taking a real shot at toppling May’s administration, and is unlikely to do so unless, and until, he thinks he can win.

For her part, Theresa May is unlikely to budge on her plan, unless and until she is forced to do so.

To the immense irritation of both their supporters and their rivals, even though the Brexit clock is running down, neither of the main party leaders are willing to take the kind of radical move that might unblock the gridlock.

Read more from Laura

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El Salvador court frees woman jailed under anti-abortion laws

Imelda Cortez reacts as she leaves a court of law after being acquitted of attempted aggravated murder under the country's abortion law, in Usulutan, El Salvador Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Imelda Cortez spent more than 18 months in custody as she awaited trial

A woman who was jailed for attempted murder under El Salvador’s strict anti-abortion laws has been freed.

Imelda Cortez, 20, says she became pregnant by her stepfather who sexually abused her for many years.

Doctors suspected she had tried to perform an abortion after she gave birth to a baby girl in a latrine in April of last year.

The child survived, but Ms Cortez was arrested and spent more than 18 months in custody as she awaited trial.

Prosecutors argued that her failure to tell anyone about the pregnancy and seek medical help after giving birth amounted to attempted murder, which carries a possible 20-year sentence.

But on Monday a court ruled that Ms Cortez, who was unaware that she was pregnant, had not tried to kill her child.

  • El Salvador’s total abortion ban ‘lethal’
  • El Salvador country profile

Her lawyers said that to avoid a harsher sentence she had admitted to neglecting her newborn baby, an offence that carries a one-year jail term.

But the court ultimately decided that she was not guilty of any crime and was free to go home.

“This sentence… represents hope for women who are still in prison and are also being tried for aggravated homicide,” defence lawyer Ana Martinez told reporters following the verdict.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Supporters of Ms Cortez celebrate following her release

Ms Cortez was greeted outside the court in Usulután by cheering relatives and human rights activists bearing signs with messages of support.

Prosecutors say her stepfather has been arrested and is awaiting trial.

El Salvador is one of a handful of countries in the world where abortions are completely banned and carry heavy sentences.

While the country is not alone in Latin America in having a total ban on abortions, it is particularly strict in the way it enforces it.

  • Woman free after 15-year term for abortion

Doctors have to inform the authorities if they think a woman has tried to end her pregnancy. If they fail to report such cases, they too could face long sentences in jail.

The result is what human rights groups are calling a criminalisation of miscarriages and medical emergencies, with more than 100 people convicted of abortion-related crimes in El Salvador since 2000.

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Male breast cancer: ‘I tried to cut off my breast’

Peter Bagnall Image copyright Peter Bagnall

Breast cancer is a disease that overwhelmingly affects women, but men get it too. Peter Bagnall is one of them.

Peter, 56, who is from Birmingham, got in touch with BBC Radio 5 Live during a discussion about women choosing to “go flat” instead of having reconstruction after breast cancer.

Here, in this own words, is Peter’s story of how he struggled following his breast cancer diagnosis, and how he and his partner Lorraine, who also had the condition, coped.

“When I got breast cancer I was sucked into a world of which I wasn’t a part.

My partner Lorraine got breast cancer in 2006 so I know a bit about what women go through. She had a lumpectomy, but then they had to take off the whole breast.

When I found a lump under my nipple in 2013, I didn’t think it was breast cancer.

If it was not for Lorraine, I wouldn’t have even gone to the doctors. I felt a bit of a fraud.

The doctor immediately sent me to the hospital and after a biopsy it got confirmed as breast cancer.

It was a total shock. I didn’t know men could get it.

Around 390 men are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the UK, while 55,000 women are diagnosed with the disease.

As a man I felt like a lone voice. Even going for an MRI scan, all the waiting areas say “female only”, the model they showed me was a female model, there was nothing for me to feel a part of it.

I felt like a footnote to cancer.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The pink ribbon is a symbol of breast cancer awareness

When you tell people you have got breast cancer they are always amazed, shocked. That makes it even harder, you feel a bit of a freak.

People said to me: ‘It’s not as bad as a woman getting it’. I thought ‘Well, it is. It’s still cancer.’

I still had to have the operations, I still had to have treatment. When they say ‘a woman feels less of a woman’ when she has a mastectomy, well I felt less of a man.

Feeling lopsided

After I had a mastectomy, I felt terrible looking in the mirror. I always thought I didn’t have a body image problem as a man, but I felt lopsided.

I knew people did not see I had a “moob” on one side and nothing on the other, but I still felt everybody was looking at me.

I was not offered the chance to go flat or reconstruction. I spoke to them about it, but it came across that they thought I was weird for wanting another mastectomy. I just wanted both sides to be the same.

Six months later I tried to cut it off myself, I know that sounds extreme, but that is where I was.

The rational side of me knew it was not a big deal, but the emotional side drove me to try and cut it off.

One night, at about 02:00, I went down to the kitchen and started cutting it. It was Lorraine who came down and stopped me.

I was not sectioned but I was house-sectioned, which meant I had to stay at home for two weeks.

If it had not been for the psychiatrists, I do not think I would have been able to have another mastectomy.

In the end I got the double mastectomy.

There were two different departments, and it was a fight for the mental health side to get through to the breast side to make them aware “he really needs this”.

Our cancer journeys

Image copyright Peter Bagnall
Image caption Peter and Lorraine supported each other through their “cancer journeys”

Lorraine and I did everything together, through both our cancer journeys. She was very supportive. We were always at each other’s appointments.

In 2016 Lorraine went into hospital with severe back pain, and two days later they told us “it’s bone cancer from breast”. They put her straight back on the antihistamine drug and then she had chemotherapy.

We had the best 18 months we could have possibly had. We talked about everything that you could possibly talk about, things that people don’t talk about, but need to talk about.

We have nine children between us and we had never got round to getting married, but in the hospice we had a blessing of the rings. That was our wedding – 15 days later she died.

The thing that gives me the greatest comfort is I managed to say to Lorraine “you’ve lived your life for everyone else, this is your death please go when you want to go”. Then on the Sunday she said: “Pete, can I go now?”

Tidal wave of grief

In some ways I think my breast cancer was pushed to the back of my mind.

I can deal with grief when I am expecting grief, it is the unexpected ones, the tidal wave that will suddenly come over me.

The last time I had my annual check-up at the hospital it really hit me. It had been a big part of our lives so when I was in the hospital waiting, I started seeing Lorraine walking around. When I got to the breast nurses I was just a blubbering mess.

One of the nurses came over and said “have you ever thought of having nipples?”. It was the first time I had been offered nipple tattoos.

Image copyright Peter Bagnall
Image caption Peter, before and after having nipple tattoos

I went to the hospital and a breast nurse did it for me. It is done like a tattoo but it’s different type of ink.

It was something I had not really thought about, but it has made a huge difference.

Men show nipples more than women do. I was not able to swim for years and years without keeping my top on and I lost the enjoyment of swimming I used to have.

Now when I swim, I feel a lot more confident.

A lonely world

Before, I do not think I had accepted I had breast cancer. I just did not want to tell anyone.

I had been really isolated, I had never seen a group for men with breast cancer, I had never met anyone like me.

It was a very lonely world, I did not know where to reach out.

Five-and-a-half years after getting breast cancer, I finally met another man who had gone through what I had.

I was listening to 5 Live and it was about women choosing to go flat or have reconstruction. I felt neither was offered to me and that made me want to ring up.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionPeter and Giles who have both had breast cancer talk about how it affected them.

Later, 5 Live put me in touch with Giles, who had also had a mastectomy following breast cancer. To speak to another male sufferer, to speak to someone that understood, it helped so much.

It made me feel more normal.

Getting the message out there

I have accepted that I had breast cancer. I suffered from breast cancer, it is something men can get; it feels liberating to be able to say that.

I want to raise awareness that it isn’t a women-only disease, it does happen to men.

I think Lorraine would be proud of me for trying to get the message out there.

There might be someone who reads this, and that one person might feel like they can talk to someone. I know that would make Lorraine happy.

Hear Peter speak to Nihal Arthanayake on Afternoon Edition on Thursday 20 December at 14:30 GMT or you can catch up on BBC Sounds.

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Thread Shred: I exposed racism at my university and got suspended

Student union officer Chloe Long shared images taken at a Lancaster University white t-shirt social event.

Members of a university sports club were pictured wearing t-shirts with slogans which referenced rape and homophobia.

Chloe explains her reasons for sharing the images.

Video Journalist: Tom Beal and Joshua Akinyemi

Producer: Ashni Lakhani

Executive Producer: Karlene Pinnock

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Why plastic recycling is so confusing

Index image

Most people are trying their best to recycle plastic – but the many different ways in which recycling is collected by councils across the UK has left them confused over what can be recycled and what can’t.

New plans on how plastic is recycled in England are being put forward by the government. In the rest of the UK, the strategy for recycling is a devolved issue.

Each council collects its plastic recycling differently. BBC analysis shows there are 39 different sets of rules for what can be put in plastic recycling collections:

  • Most collect bottles
  • Others collect pots, tubs and trays
  • Some collect a much wider range

Around the UK, all four nations are hoping to improve their recycling rates. The review sticks to the aim that 50% of waste will be recycled by 2020 and aims to recycle three quarters of plastic packaging by 2035.

Scotland has a target to recycle 70% of waste by 2025, as does Wales. Northern Ireland has a proposal that 60% of municipal waste is recycled by 2020.

Waste plastic is collected in different ways too:

  • Some local authorities collect all their recycling in one bin
  • Others ask households to separate their plastics from the rest of their recycling

Councils also employ many different companies to collect and sort their plastics.

And having different recycling schemes in different areas – for example, in some areas you can recycle margarine tubs and in other areas you cannot – makes labelling difficult.

Most people in Britain regularly recycle plastic but almost half have had disagreements at home about what type they can put in which bin, a ComRes poll for the BBC suggests.

And more than a quarter have these disagreements at least once a month.

How is the government proposing to tackle plastic recycling?

  • Tackle the current postcode recycling lottery under which different materials are recyclable in different areas
  • Introduce consistent labelling on packaging so consumers know what they can recycle
  • Make the firms that produce materials responsible for the cost of disposing of those items
  • Encourage manufacturers to design products that last longer and increase the levels of repair and re-use
  • Crack down on waste crime by introducing electronic tracking of waste shipments
  • Introduce a tax on plastic packaging made of less than 30% recycled plastic
  • Ban plastic packaging where an alternative material could be used
  • Improve the quality of plastic being exported

Plastic can often become too contaminated for recycling and have to be sent to landfill or incinerated instead. This happens for several reasons:

  • People are confused about what goes in which bin
  • People are not always very careful about what they put in
  • The plastic is contaminated with food waste
  • In areas where all recycling is collected in one bin, one type of waste can contaminate another
  • Bottles are mainly made of PET and HDPE and these are easy to collect and recycle
  • Most trays are made from polypropylene and this is pretty easy to recycle too but not all councils have access to the right facilities
  • LDPE, used to make some carrier bags and cling film, is easy to process but more difficult to sort and can often be contaminated with food
  • Polystyrene, used to make some yoghurt pots and plastic cutlery, is not widely recycled
  • PVC makes up small amount of packaging but can contaminate other plastic recycling
  • Biscuit wrappers and meat trays can be made from a mixture of many different types of plastic, making them the most difficult type of packaging to recycle

All plastic can be recycled – but it is not always economical to do so.

  • Bottles attract the best prices, especially clear ones, which is why almost all councils recycle them
  • Coloured plastic is less desirable because the colour cannot be removed, restricting its reuse
  • Polystyrene is almost never recycled because there is no market for it

Most bottles will be sent for reprocessing in this country.

But plastic that is less valuable – about two-thirds collected for recycling – goes overseas and this figure has been rising.

Earlier this year, the National Audit Office reported the plastic sent abroad could be highly contaminated, meaning it may not be reprocessed and could end up in landfill or contributing to pollution.

Some countries are refusing to take any more of our waste.

  • China, Malaysia, and Vietnam have banned waste imports
  • Thailand will introduce a ban in 2021

These bans are having an effect on the prices paid for waste plastic.

And this year the prices of the more contaminated plastics have fallen below zero, meaning companies are now expecting to be paid to take them away.

Design: Debie Loizou. Development: Eleanor Keane.

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Gently stroking babies ‘provides pain relief’

Baby being stroked Image copyright Getty Images

Gently stroking a baby reduces activity in their brain associated with painful experiences, a study has found.

The study, by University of Oxford and Liverpool John Moores University, monitored the brain activity of 32 babies while they had blood tests.

Half were stroked with a soft brush beforehand and they showed 40% less pain activity in their brain.

Author Rebeccah Slater said: “Touch seems to have analgesic potential without the risk of side-effects.”

The study found that the optimal pain-reducing stroking speed was about 3cm (1in) per second.

“Parents intuitively stroke their babies at this optimal velocity,” said Prof Slater.

“If we can better understand the neurobiological underpinnings of techniques like infant massage, we can improve the advice we give to parents on how to comfort their babies.”

That speed of stroking activates a class of sensory neurons in the skin called C-tactile afferents, which have been previously been shown to reduce pain in adults.

But it had been unclear whether babies had the same response or whether it developed over time.

“There was evidence to suggest that C-tactile afferents can be activated in babies and that slow, gentle touch can evoke changes in brain activity in infants,” said Prof Slater.

Image copyright Getty Images

Prof Slater said the study, published in Current Biology, could explain anecdotal evidence of the soothing power of touch-based practices such as infant massage and kangaroo care, where premature babies are held against the skin to encourage parent-infant bonding and possibly reduce pain.

“Previous work has shown that touch may increase parental bonding, decrease stress for both the parents and the baby, and reduce the length of hospital stay,” said Prof Slater.

The study authors now plan to repeat their experiment in premature babies, whose sensory pathways are still developing.

Caroline Lee-Davey, chief executive at the premature and sick baby charity Bliss welcomed the research.

“We already know that positive touch – such as skin-to-skin care – makes a real difference directly to babies in neonatal care and also helps parents to bond with their baby.

“This new research suggests that parental touch could also help to alleviate pain in infants and Bliss is delighted to be funding Oxford University to do more research specifically on reducing pain in premature babies through the use of parental touch, from the new year.

“Many people do not realise just how many medical procedures a baby in neonatal care goes through during their hospital stay.

“Anything that can reduce a baby’s discomfort is a huge step forward in this underfunded area of research.”

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Waste plan floats bottle deposit scheme

Plastic bottles Image copyright Getty Images

Consumers will have to pay a returnable deposit on bottles, cans and disposable cups under a new government strategy.

The strategy also compels councils to provide separate collections for food waste.

Recycling will be made less confusing for households, and manufacturers will need to foot the cost of disposing of the goods they produce.

The plan has been cautiously welcomed by green groups, but some business groups are wary.

The strategy is designed to help combat climate change, safeguard resources and reduce the flow of plastic to the ocean.

Why plastic recycling is so confusing

Why are the changes needed?

The last waste strategy was set out 18 years ago and since then concern has boomed over climate change, the oceans and the way we use resources.

Rotting waste is a major source of greenhouse gases that are over-heating the planet. And plastic litter is killing marine life.

The government’s Resources and Waste Strategy sets out how ministers aim to change the way we deal with waste from the home to the workplace.

Image copyright PA

What are the proposals exactly?

  • Tackle the current postcode recycling lottery under which different materials are recyclable in different areas.
  • Introduce consistent labelling on packaging so consumers know what they can recycle – this should drive up recycling rates.
  • Make the firms that produce materials responsible for the cost of disposing of those items. This could extend from drinks cartons to electrical goods and cars, though this is not yet certain. Industry will pay higher fees if their products are harder to reuse, repair or recycle.
  • Compel local councils to offer separate collections for food waste – details will go for consultation.
  • Tell councils to scrap the charge for disposing of garden waste because if it ends up in landfill it produces methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.
  • Encourage manufacturers to design products that last longer and increase the levels of repair and re-use.
  • Crack down on waste crime by introducing electronic tracking of waste shipments.

The Environment Minister Michael Gove said: “Our strategy sets out how we will go further and faster, to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Together we can move away from being a ‘throw-away’ society, to one that looks at waste as a valuable resource.”

How are people reacting to the plans?

Libby Peake from the Green Alliance responded: “There’s a lot of good in the policy – it’s on the right lines. But we need to see the detail of exactly how things will work.”

She, and others, worry that major retailers will persuade the government during its consultation phase to exclude large drinks bottles from the deposit return scheme.

The British Retail Consortium says most of the problem with beach litter is “on-the-go” containers, not one litre bottles from supermarkets.

They also fear the cost of installing the “reverse vending” machines that pay people for returning their containers.

Lucrative item

Councils fear that if aluminium cans are part of the deposit scheme they will no longer appear in household bins, where they are the most lucrative item for recycling.

Samantha Harding, from the green group CPRE, told BBC News she welcomed some proposals in the report. She said: “Separating food waste is essential – because decomposing food in general household bins reduces the value of other material sent for re-cycling.”

There is some frustration among campaigners that key issues are still not tied down after many months of debate.

But sources suggest the Treasury is resisting measures that might increase costs, and industry is warning that rushed policies could backfire.

Today’s plans build on the Autumn Budget, which announced a world-leading tax on plastic packaging with less than 30% recycled content – subject to consultation.

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