Plastic packaging waste has become a key consumer concern. In the UK, over 2.2 million tonnes of plastic packaging enter the consumer market each year. Much of this is used in the food sector because plastic packaging is cheap, light to transport, hygienic, and can be used to extend the product’s shelf-life. In the UK around 46% of plastic packaging is collected for recycling, mostly through local authority collections. However several issues with the current systems of plastics recycling persist. This POSTbrief reviews proposals to Defra and HM Treasury to improve plastics recycling in the UK .

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    Marine renewables are technologies that generate electricity from tide and wave motion. They produce electricity without greenhouse gases, and could provide economic benefits for the UK. However, the technologies have been slow to develop, despite previous projections of growth. This POSTnote examines the causes of this delay and how the sector might develop.

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    Extremism is possible in any ideology, including (but not limited to) politics and religion. Extremism can affect mental well-being, amplify hostility and threaten democratic debate. The global reach of the internet poses social and technological challenges for safeguarding citizens from extremism online. When the Commission for Countering Extremism surveyed over 2500 members of the public in 2019, 56% agreed that a lot more should be done to counter extremism online. This POSTnote outlines how the online environment can be used for extremist purposes, how exposure to online extremism can influence people and potential strategies to counter extremist content online.

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    Key infrastructure areas such as transport, energy, water and telecoms are vital to society and the economy. Evidence suggests that climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, posing a risk to infrastructure systems. This POSTnote looks at the main climate-related risks to the UK’s economic infrastructure, measures to reduce these risks and the main challenges to implementing resilience measures.

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    Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCIs) measure brain activity and can be used to control digital devices. The focus of BCI development has been on using the technology to allow patients to control assistive equipment such as wheelchairs or prostheses. Beyond medicine they are under development for applications in entertainment, marketing and defence. This POSTnote looks at the underpinning technology, its applications and the associated ethical and regulatory challenges.

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    Drones (also known as unmanned aircraft) are flying systems that do not carry a pilot. As the technology has become cheaper and more sophisticated, the use of drones for recreational and commercial purposes has grown, with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) reporting a significant increase in the number of permissions obtained for operating commercial drones in the UK. Despite their potential to reduce costs, improve efficiency and provide new services, drones may be misused accidentally or for malicious purposes. For example, reports of drone sightings at Gatwick Airport in December 2018 grounded around 1,000 flights for almost 36 hours, affecting more than 140,000 passengers. In 2018, the Government introduced new limits on where drones can be flown and new registration and education requirements for drone operators and pilots. In January 2020, the new Government introduced an Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Bill to Parliament that included new police powers for enforcing aviation laws (such as the power to issue a fixed penalty notice for certain drone offences). This POSTnote looks at civilian drones and their applications, focusing on potential misuse and possible responses.

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    Under the July 2018 revision of the National Planning Policy Framework, the government requires local authorities in England to embed relevant strategies into local plans to deliver a net environmental gain over possible reductions caused by developments and infrastructure. The initial objective of this requirement will be to deliver gains in levels of biodiversity – short for biological diversity, the abundance and variety of species and their physical habitats – at the landscape level. In December 2018, Defra launched a consultation on implementing a mandatory biodiversity net gain requirement for development in England.

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    Critical materials (CMs) are key to UK manufacturing, including for the aerospace, automotive, energy and chemical sectors, which rely on materials typically extracted and processed abroad. CMs are vital components of several emerging technologies, including electric vehicles, renewable energy infrastructure such as wind turbines, and digital technologies such as computers and smartphones. The UK imports most of its CMs and faces international competition for key resources. This POSTnote looks at the demand and supply of CMs in the UK and ways of improving supply security.

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    5G is the next generation of mobile communications technology. It follows on from the previous generations of mobile technology, such as 3G and 4G. 5G is expected to improve on previous mobile technologies by providing faster, lower latency (response time) mobile broadband connections and being able to connect a greater number of devices to a mobile network in a particular area while maintaining good quality connections. 5G mobile broadband will be the first widespread application of the technology. However, in the longer term it may have applications in other sectors.