Plastic’s Gonna Stick Around
October 6, 2020
The Good News
- Two champions of change: Ervin Staub: A Holocaust survivor’s mission to train ‘heroic bystanders’ & Lual Mayen South Sudan Refugee creates video game to help refugees (BBC, CNN)
“The greatest danger in these times of turbulence is not the turbulence, it is to act with yesterday’s logic” — Peter Drucker
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them” — Albert Einstein
Plastic’s Gonna Stick Around
(Laura Lezza via Getty Images)
Add recycling to the long list of well-intentioned plans that have fallen by the wayside in the face of COVID-19. Prior to the pandemic, great strides were made to alleviate our collective plastic dependency. Straws were the first to go — and major recycling firms aimed to establish repurposed material as the de facto plastic standard.
But now, plastic is ubiquitous. It’s in our masks, face shields, and gloves. It’s in our food containers, water bottles, and Amazon packaging. In COVID-world, non-recyclable plastic is everywhere. But that’s just one side of the issue, because not all plastic is built the same. There’s plastic that’s repurposed from waste and there’s “virgin” plastic made new from fossil fuels. And just as demand for protective plastics began to soar — the punctured demand for oil has caused the price of virgin plastic to drop drastically.
In other words, the pandemic has intensified the plastic price war, tipping the scales in favor of the oil companies and away from the recyclers. For those who have staked their future on a sustainable plastic, their business may not survive the next year. “I really see a lot of people struggling,” said Steve Wong, CEO of Hong-Kong based Fukutomi Recycling and chairman of the China Scrap Plastics Association. “They don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.”
New plastic has always been cheaper to buy than recycled, but unusually weak oil prices have given new life into single-use producers who saw impending extinction in the name of government regulations. China — who once imported more than half of the world’s traded plastic waste — banned most imports in 2018. The EU plans to do the same in 2021, and a similar ban has been proposed in the US Senate. These strict measures came as science revealed that the manufacture of four plastic water bottles releases greenhouse gases equivalent to driving one mile in a car. Research from Jan Dell, the former chair of the U.S. Federal climate committee, shows that the United States burns six times more plastic than it recycles — and COVID-19 is only making it worse.
Oil companies were quick to capitalize on this trend, having recently announced plans to spend around $400 billion over the next five years to bolster the production of virgin plastic to help them recuperate losses from the world’s waning fuel dependency. They see carbon-costly plastics not as a thing of the past, but as a key product of the future.
“Over the next few decades, population and income growth are expected to create more demand for plastics, which help support safety, convenience, and improved living standards,” said ExxonMobil spokeswoman Sarah Nordin.
Plans from Big Oil to ramp up the production of new plastic are often curtailed by a subsequent pledge to help clean up the mess they create. Most point to a group called the Alliance to End Plastic Waste as their main form of environmental advocacy. The group’s 47 members, most of whom are in the business of producing plastics, have committed $1.5 billion to the cause over the next five years. That sounds good and well — until you realize that those same 47 firms reported nearly $2.5 trillion in profits last year. This gross misallocation of resources presents developing countries with an ecological nightmare.
“Countries with often undeveloped waste management and recycling infrastructure will be ill-equipped to handle even larger volumes of plastic waste,” said Lisa Beauvilain, Head of Sustainability at Impax Asset Management. “We are literally drowning in plastics.”
- More than 14m tonnes of plastic believed to be at the bottom of the ocean (Guardian)
- Set, miss, repeat: big brands and plastic recycling targets (Reuters)
- Exxon briefly dethroned as America’s most valuable energy company (CNN)
Well I’ll Be Dammed
(Morgana Wingard via Getty Images)
- Few can forget the news that emanated out of Cape Town, South Africa just two years ago. In January of 2018, the city of more than 400,000 people announced that it was on the precipice of running out of water. Officials announced the metropolitan area had less than three months until they reached “Day Zero,” when all water reservoirs would run totally dry.
- What followed was a total societal overhaul when it came to water usage. Capetonians were limited to just over 13 gallons of water a day for all cooking, drinking, washing, and bathing. To put things into perspective, Americans use 80-100 gallons on average every day according to the US Geological Survey.
- And more than two years later, this collective sacrifice has paid off. For this first time in six years, Cape Town’s reservoirs have topped 100%. Dams are now literally overflowing: “From nearly empty (total storage capacity of 19%) to overflowing (total storage capacity 100.8%), the change is amazing, with lush greenery covering the surrounding countryside instead of dry, parched, semiarid conditions,” says marine conservation photographer Jean Tresfon.
- This remarkable comeback can be mostly attributed to Cape Town’s communal spirit — but two consecutive winter seasons with above-average rains have helped out as well. Regardless, city officials have used the milestone to take a moment to thank their fellow citizens. “The city thanks everyone who helped navigate our way through the record-breaking drought, and raises a glass to the collective effort that brought us to this point of plenty. It is cause for well-deserved celebration,” proclaimed Alderman Xanthea Limberg, Cape Town’s mayoral committee member for water and waste. (CNN)
- Venice holds back the water for first time in 1,200 years (CNN)
In Belarus, Presidential Protests Persist
- The ruse is officially up in Belarus. Months following the dubious reelection of President Alexander Lukashenko, protestors are still crowding the streets of the capital demanding his resignation. Reports from Minsk show that more than 100,000 angry Belarussians came together on Sunday to protest what they view as a rigged August 9th election between Lukashenko and Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who was defeated after only receiving 10% of the national vote.
- In the first couple weeks of demonstration, Belarussian authorities were quick to violently suppress dissent. Thousands of protesters were arrested, beaten, and shot with rubber bullets in response to their outcry. But as the government’s willingness to fight back wanes, the mass protests have only grown in size. Sunday’s demonstration is said to have drawn more than 200,000 citizens nationwide.
- Tsikhanouskaya — who is currently exiled in Lithuania — has expressed support for the movement and has called on the immediate release of “those who suffered for their convictions, and are still suffering.”
- “Our goal is to free them,” she continued. “So I support everyone who takes to the streets in their city today.Let the whole world see: Belarusians want to live in freedom, not in prison.” (Time)
Additional World News
- US, Australia, India, Japan to discuss China’s growing power (AP)
- Taiwan raises tensions: China Ramps Up a War of Words, Warning the U.S. of Its Red Lines (NYT, $)
- North Korea’s Kim lays out 80-day campaign to attain goals this year (Reuters)
- How Alliances Help Terrorist Networks Survive (Foreign Affairs)
- Tens of Thousands of Palestinian Newborns Blocked from Travelling (Vice)
- Bright Lights of Dubai Beckon Israel’s Arabs but Pose a Quandary (NYT, $). Crossing the gulf.
- Harambee: The law of generosity that rules Kenya (BBC)
- The Moscow mediator: Russia is the only country able to stop the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict. Will it step up and do so? (CNN)
- Trump or Biden: What the US election means for Russia (WaPo, $)
- Hundreds of thousands of people shackled for mental health issues globally, Human Rights Watch says (Reuters)
- WHO: 10% of world’s people may have been infected with virus (AP)
- Is the coronavirus airborne? The latest CDC guidance, explained. (Vox)
- ‘Don’t Be Afraid of Covid,’ Trump Says, Undermining Public Health Messages (NYT, $)
- Europe struggles to contain surge of coronavirus cases (Guardian)
One Hell Of A Headcount
- As it turns out, the election isn’t the only important national tally taking place this year. As we drown in election coverage, the US census is quietly taking place without much recognition. And there’s a chance this tally could have a greater effect on your life than your vote in November. But don’t get it twisted, you should fill out both.
- This decennial count is like no other in American history. For starters, it’s the first of its kind to be administered online. It’s also the first to take place during an international pandemic. Census officials rolled out the digital survey in March, expecting it to streamline the count and make sure everyone’s name was accounted for. They were wrong.
- As of August, only 63% of the expected US population has responded to the Census, leaving more than 56 million households unreported. COVID-19 has forced the Census Bureau to push the count deadline to October 31st, with final data still expected to be released by the end of the year. But why does this data matter?
- Census data helps inform some of the government’s most important decisions. Health care, school budgets, funding of public parks, and affordable housing decisions are all based on the demographic data collected within the next month. So take the five minutes required to make sure you and your family are tallied up here. (PopSci)
Additional USA News
- Released from Walter Reed: Trump tells Americans following his hospital release: Don’t let coronavirus ‘dominate you’ (The Hill)
- Trump Is Giving Dangerous Advice. Being Afraid Of COVID-19 Has Helped Us Control COVID-19. (FiveThirtyEight)
- President’s doctor says he ‘may not entirely be out of the woods yet’ (WaPo, $)
- The People Trump Came Home To (Atlantic, $). Working in the West Wing just got a lot more dangerous.
- Joe Biden: I wasn’t surprised Trump got the coronavirus (Axios)
- SCOTUS Sides With S.C. To Reinstate Witness Signature Mandate For Absentee Ballots (NPR)
- An eviction experiment: With Evictions Looming, Cities Revisit a Housing Experiment From the ’70s (NYT, $)
- Debt Collectors Have Made a Fortune This Year. Now They’re Coming for More. (ProPublica)
The Real Call of Duty
- US soldiers — like most males under the age of 30 — play video games. In fact, the Navy, Army, Air Force, and National Guard all have their own Twitch channels. Twitch, for those unaware, is a website that allows gamers to live-stream their personal gaming experience to millions of viewers across the world. It has become a forum that rivals YouTube when it comes to captivating young, male audiences.
- But the military’s foray into the e-sports world hasn’t been met with enthusiasm. When young gamers recognized the Pentagon’s efforts to co-opt the gaming space, they began flooding the official channels with spam and accusing the divisions of numerous war crimes. When progressive activist Jordan Uhl made a snarky comment about recruiting, he was promptly banned from the channel. After threatening a First Amendment lawsuit, both the Army and Navy agreed to stop banning people from their streams.
- However, Uhl sees this clumsy online introduction as indicative of a greater issue: “For younger gamers, it speaks to how disillusioned they’ve become with the American experiment.” Despite this, the US military has continued to grow its presence on the site. In a very real sense, Twitch has become a recruiting ground for the world’s largest military.
- In recent years, the US Army has had trouble meeting recruitment goals as their needs change from brute force to technically savvy millennials. The Journal of Strategic Studies asserts that “the US military no longer primarily recruits individuals from the most disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds. Technological, tactical, operational and doctrinal changes have led to a change in the demand for personnel.”
- So they have turned to joystick wizards in hopes of tapping to a new talent pool. “Gamers utilize skills every day while they compete, sometimes without even realizing it,” reads a Navy recruiting “Guide for Streamers.” “Detail-oriented and working toward long-term goals, problem solvers under time pressures, perseverance in the face of frustration and roadblocks. These are the same skill sets used in the fields in nuclear engineering, aviation, special warfare, cryptology, and counter-intelligence.” (Wired)
- How Video-Game Voice Chat Builds Friendship (Atlantic, $)
- How Many Lives Can a Fashion Brand Have? (NYT, $)
- A Scientist’s Reckoning with the Cruelty of Chance (New Yorker)
- The Turmoil Over ‘Black Lives Matter’ and Political Speech at Coinbase (Wired). Racial discourse in crypto-culture.
- Black writers and filmmakers are bringing new scares to the horror genre (CNN)
- Changing the tune: Politicians Have Always Misunderstood Springsteen’s ‘Born In The USA’ (Vice)
- The Nobels Overwhelmingly Go to Men — This Year’s Prize For Medicine Was No Exception (NPR)
- What Impact Can ‘Saturday Night Live’ Have in Times of Chaos? (Ringer)