Brighton and Hove may have been named as one of the most sustainable places to live in the country but when it comes to being environmentally friendly, the city falls way behind. Ruth Lumley reports

Last week, when city leaders declared a war on waste by launching a bid to turn Brighton and Hove into a plastic bag-free zone, traders welcomed the move.

But despite the continuing efforts to make the city more environmentally friendly and to reduce our carbon emissions, we are still consuming more than most places in Britain.

Research carried out by the World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF-UK) put Brighton and Hove and Chichester in the bottom four of a table of mainland cities' "ecological footprints".

An ecological footprint measures human impact on nature by comparing consumption of natural resources with Earth's ecological capacity to regenerate them.

It is an estimate of the area of biologically productive land and sea needed to regenerate the resources the human population consumes and to absorb the corresponding waste.

Using this assessment, it is possible to estimate how many planet Earths it would take to support the human race if everybody lived a certain lifestyle.

According to the report, we would need 3.47 planets if everyone lived as people do in Brighton and Hove and 3.49 planets if everyone were the same as Chichester residents.

Brighton and Hove City Council has run campaigns encouraging people to cycle to work and use public transport but the city is still very congested.

Last month, the council revealed levels of airborne pollutants exceeded recommended levels in 15 locations across the city, including Sackville Road, Western Road and St James' Street.

In the Sustainable Cities Index study conducted by environmental charity Forum For The Future, Brighton and Hove scored badly in the environmental test, coming in 15th, despite coming top in most of the other categories.

The report said that although the score for waste collected per head was good, air and water quality let the city down.

Green Party councillor Keith Taylor said: "I think claims of us being more sustainable compared with our ecological footprint offer us a challenge to reduce the impact on the environment and the way we live.

"There is a public aspiration to do just that.

"The big thing is the air pollution and traffic, which is getting worse I believe, and congestion appears to be worse.

"We could recycle more products such as kitchen waste and businesses should look at the amount of packaging they use."

One co-operative at the forefront of recycling in the city is Infinity Foods, which has been running since 1971.

All its products are organic or bought locally and the business, in North Laine, Brighton, has been a member of the Soil Association for more than 30 years.

Fifty people make up the cooperative, working in the shop and the warehouse.

Eliz Ridaut, a co-operative member, said: "We are carbon balanced as a business.

"We try and put back in what we get out of the land and one of the things we do is pay to plant trees to offset our carbon emissions.

"We are very good with recycling and the only things that go in the bin are the things that can't be recycled.

"We are also really careful with our energy use. We have energy lightbulbs, our refrigeration units are environmentally friendly and most of the furnishing and shelving is made of wood or metal.

"Our floor is made from linoleum, which is made from plants and wood pulp.

"On a business basis we are exceptionally environmentally rare.

"Luckily, everyone here has the same kind of mindset and wants to make a difference."

Infinity Foods uses degradable plastic bags but its customers often bring their own cotton bags in.

It is looking into using corn starch bags, which would be more environmentally friendly but have the same appearance and weight as a normal plastic bag.

If the city council's proposal to ban plastic bags goes ahead, more people will have to get used to using cotton bags or other environmentally friendly containers.

Plastic bags last for thousands of years and there are 300 of them for every person on the planet. They are used for just 12 minutes each on average.

Brenda Pollack, who lives in Brighton and is the Friends Of The Earth regional officer for the South East, says banning plastic bags would be just a drop in the ocean and we will have to do a lot more to improve our ecological footprint.

She said: "Many cities in the South East have got the same problem with over-consumption of resources.

"Although Brighton is aware of the issue, we need to be pushing for strong legislation at Government level. It cannot just be left up to the individual.

"This is why we are pushing for the climate change law. We use cars too much, we leave lights switched on unnecessarily. People know a bit about changing their behaviour but they need to put it into action.

"Banning plastic bags is a good measure but you cannot monitor it.

"Brighton and Hove City Council has been encouraging more car parking in the city centre and that is going to encourage more people to use their cars. It is things like public transport that we can control and help people to change their choices.

"All this has a direct link to obesity cases. The more we consume, the more unhealthy we become and the worse we are for our environment."

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