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About A Week: Could We Have Two More Earths Please?

British green guru Jonathon Porritt has warned that two more Earths will be needed to make everyone rich, Peter Hinchliffe reports.

If the six billion people on our planet are to consume at the same level as the Western world, he says that two extra planets would be required to supply the necessary energy, soil, water and raw materials.

Mr Porritt branded his fellow citizens shopaholics and delivered the following appeal:

Stop shopping or our planet will go pop.

Mr Porritt is the government's senior adviser on sustainable living. He is co-founder and program director of Forum for the Future.

Napoleon called Britain a nation of shopkeepers. Today he would have to amend that to a nation of shoppers.

Shopping has become the national hobby. Instead of relaxing in their gardens or heading into the rolling green countryside, millions of British folk chose to spend their time in shopping malls and city centers.

The buying frenzy has inevitable consequences. Clothes, food, electronic goods that are all still usable are thrown away. Millions of tons of rubbish have to be disposed of -- and the country's 12,000 landfill sites are rapidly filling up.

British people probably throw away more food than any other nation on earth, according to government statistics. Between 30 and 40 percent of produce bought and grown each year end in landfill sites, research by the government, supermarkets, food processors and farmers revealed.

Official statistics highlighting the scale of compulsive buying are shocking.

-U.K. citizens throw away their own bodyweight in rubbish every seven weeks.

-On average Brits buy a new mobile phone every 18 months.

-1,500,000 computers are thrown away every year -- and 99 percent of these are in working order.

-Food wasted in the U.K. could be worth more than $23,000,000 every year.

-The food sector now accounts for a third of the U.K.'s waste and amounts to 17,000,000 tons a year.

- Edible food thrown away by Brits could feed more than 250,000 people a year.

Local authorities -- councils -- are responsible for collecting and disposing of waste. They provide large plastic bins to every household and all business premises, usual a black bin for waste that has to be got rid of and a green bin for materials that can be recycled, such as glass, plastic and paper.

Councils nationwide are under pressure to meet tough recycling targets set by the government -- yet just 18 percent of U.K. waste is recycled, missing the goal to stop a third of our rubbish going to landfill by 2015.

A government tax is imposed on any council waste that is not recycled, but sent to a landfill site. This year the tax is ?24-per-ton, and it will increase by ?3 year on year.

From April last year the government gave councils a landfill allowance -- an allotted amount of rubbish -- that they were allowed to tip into landfills. If the allowance is exceeded it will cost a council ?150-per-ton in fines from the government.

Councils faced with the possibility of these fines are getting tough in demanding that their citizens pay more attention to placing recyclable material in the appropriate bin.

Some think that charging for waste collection would compel people to pay attention to recycling. At present the cost comes out of the annual council tax paid by all households and businesses. The government's Environment Minister Ben Bradshaw suggested last August a "polluter pays" policy. A U.K. agency, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), recommended the trialling of "microchips" in bins to monitor the weight of rubbish.

The TaxPayers' Alliance are resisting the plans. They have posted a petition on the 10 Downing Street (Prime Minister Tony Blair's official residence) Web site.

"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to prohibit the introduction of any charge, over and above that included in the council tax, on the collection and disposal of domestic rubbish."

A supporting statement with the petition says, "Without consultation, some councils have started weighing household rubbish using microchips implanted in wheelie-bins. Government now advocates the nationwide application of this scheme whereby households will be charged for the amount of rubbish disposed. Schemes like this are already in place in Europe and if similar charges were introduced here, the average family could end up paying up to ?120 per year, on top of council tax.

"The high cost will lead to more fly-tipping [illegal tipping] and backyard burning. Families will be hit hard by this new tax which cannot be justified given the 80 percent increase in council tax over the last decade. This bin tax, while purported to be for encouraging recycling, is in fact part of a green agenda that politicians are using merely as a new way to raise money. There are no plans to offset the charge with lower taxes elsewhere, nor are there any plans that homes that exceed recycling targets will be given a council tax discount. This is simply a tax on top of a tax."

Meanwhile many older Brits, conditioned to recycle and re-use by the privations of World War Two, and the austere decade from 1945 to 1955, are bemused by the spend-spend-spend shop-till-you-drop lifestyle of their fellow countrymen.

During the war all food was rationed except bread and potatoes. So were clothing, furniture and coal. Permits had to be obtained to get such things as alarm clocks and Wellington boots. Petrol was not only rationed; it was only available for those with a genuine need to use a car, such as doctors.

Mike Coatesworth, who as a boy lived in a terrace street in the city of Bradford, recalls the uses his family made of newspapers after they had been read.

"My brothers and I collected old newspapers. We took a pile of them to the local chippy (fish and chip shop), there to be given either tuppence or a bag of chips. We usually opted for the bag of chips.

"We never handed over all the newspapers we had collected. Some were needed for our backyard toilet. My aunt carefully sliced their pages with a long knife, ending up with a large pile of small squares. These were threaded onto string and then hung from a nail in the toilet wall.

"Besides having bits of newspaper handy for the obvious reason, they could also be read. And if you were very lucky you might get a complete story.

"Some of the old newspapers were screwed up and placed, along with a few sticks and bits of coal, in our fire grate. When the newspaper twists had been lit a large sheet of newspaper was held over the fire opening so that it would draw and burn merrily. Sometimes this sheet of newspaper would itself catch fire and would have to be hurriedly guided into the grate before it damaged the rest of the house.

"We didn't have to be told in those days to recycle newspapers."

Jonathon Porritt declares, "I think capitalism is patently unable to go on growing the size of the consumer economy for any more people in the world today because levels of consumption are already undermining life support systems on which we depend -- so if we do it for any more people, the planet will go pop."

Porritt calls for a rethink on the basic premises of capitalism and for "more elegant, satisfying lives" in which we all consume less.

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