By Mark Richards.

As we did in the middle of last month, we take a day off from the doom, gloom and interminable Brexit stalemate to look for some good news in the world. We celebrate the people who made a positive difference, who put a smile on plenty of faces and who gave us hope that the future might not be quite as grim as the headlines would suggest…

The plastic-free grocery shop

Let me make a bet with you: five years from now the idea of having your fruit and veg wrapped up in plastic will seem ridiculous. ‘You did what, Dad?’ your children will say. ‘You went out in the cold and the dark and rented something called a video? And you bought apples in a plastic bag?’

Plastic-free shops are springing up all over the UK, and one them is the Refillery in Edinburgh. How does it work? Simple: you take along your own tub or container, fill it up and pay by weight. Owner of the shop Kelly Wright says, “The UK generates around 800,000 tonnes of packing waste per year, and it’s believed that only a third actually gets recycled.”

So with the Chancellor of the Exchequer due to deliver his Spring Statement in mid-March and seemingly determined that business rates are the only tool available to tackle the declining high street here’s a simple idea, Mr Hammond. Why not abolish business rates on shops like the Refillery, and double them on shops (like the big supermarkets) that still think apples and bananas grow in plastic bags?

Converting plastic waste into fuelReasons to be Cheerful – Part 2

So what are we going to do with all that plastic waste? The answer – according to researchers at Purdue University in the US – may well be to convert it into fuel. I will not trouble you with the complicated maths and the chemical process, but the end result is that 90% of polypropylene waste – a type of plastic commonly used for packaging and toys – can be converted into high-quality gasoline and diesel fuel in a matter of hours.

It is estimated that the process – if developed successfully – could satisfy up to 4% of the total demand for gasoline or diesel fuels. The University is now looking for investors to develop the process with Linda Wang, leader of the research team saying that the conversion technology, “has the potential to boost the profits of the recycling industry and shrink the world’s plastic waste stock.”

Hungry January pays off student debt

Record numbers of us have just tried ‘dry January’ or ‘Veganuary.’ 14,000 people signed up to go meat-free in January and I suspect that far more decided – or attempted – to have a month without alcohol.

I was in the second camp and I failed: one stressful day too many at work and I opened a bottle of red wine. Would I have done any better if I had made a commitment to a good cause, instead of just wanting to feel smug? The answer is almost certainly ‘yes’ and in Virginia, a month-long fast has meant that 34 students will finish college with no student debt.

Members of the Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia variously gave up alcohol, junk food or social media in January, and did their best not to spend money on non-essential items. In total, the church raised $100,000 (around £77,000) which it used to pay off the student debt of 34 students graduating from Howard University in Washington. The church pastor said, “We decided to find some students who are about to change the world but who have financial concerns – and let them know we’re going to take care of it for them.”

Re-claiming social media for good

There were plenty of stories over the weekend about the Government ‘threatening social media companies’ and it is not hard to see a predictable over-reaction coming from Westminster.

So we had better get this story in while we can. The first week of February saw a viral campaign from charities in the US and UK to ‘reclaim social media for good.’ Using the hashtag #ReclaimSocial, the movement trended on twitter and reached 14m people according to the organisers. They say the campaign illustrates the demand for inspiring and ‘good news’ stories. Well, here we are…

Roses are RedReasons to be Cheerful – Part 2

At last, we come to our Hero of the Month, and this month it goes to Seth Stewart of Spokane, Washington.

Valentine’s Day was last week – and it is lovely, as long as someone sends you a Valentine. But supposing you are on your own, or you have lost your partner?

So for the last seven years, Seth and his brothers have been delivering single red roses to local widows, single women and military spouses in Spokane. Seth – who is 28 – keeps a list of all the single women in his area that he delivers to each year, and adds more each year thanks to friends on Facebook.

Seth and his brothers typically deliver 400 to 500 roses each year – with help from a local delivery company – but they are looking to increase the number in the coming years, especially after seeing the emotional impact it has. “Every year there is always someone who breaks down because it means so much to them,” says Seth.

One more customer, Seth…

It is a long way from Spokane to Kuwait, but Seth may need to add one more customer, after a bride in Kuwait divorced her husband after being married for just three minutes. As the couple turned to walk out of the courthouse the bride tripped, for which her new, loving spouse called her ‘stupid.’

The woman demanded that the judge ended their marriage there and then and the judge – having witnessed the husband’s behaviour – sportingly agreed to the annulment.

We will be back next month with more good news. Given that we will just have had the Chancellor’s Spring Statement and Brexit still will not be settled, we will probably need it…