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Could Mardi Gras’ Most Iconic Accessory Get a Sustainable Makeover?
Today is the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, which means it marks the culmination of Mardi Gras festivities in New Orleans. But once the party is over, someone will have to clean up the mess.
Last year, nearly 1,200 tons of trash were collected after the parade, most of which ended up in landfills. But one Louisiana State University (LSU) biologist is working to make sure the holiday's iconic beads won't be part of future collections, The Huffington Post reported.
LSU Biological Sciences Professor Naohiro Kato has developed a process for making biodegradable beads and doubloons from algae. Kato harvests a kind of microscopic algae called diatoms and turns it into a powder used to cast beads that will break down in soil after one to two years, LSU explained.
What happens to the plastic Mardi Gras beads once the parades are over is a problem for the city of New Orleans. In 2017, 93,000 pounds of beads were removed from storm drains in its historic downtown, according to The Huffington Post. The city put around 250 filters along gutters this year, but that won't stop the beads from contributing to the general plastic pollution crisis.
"I believe we can change and do better," Kato said in a 2018 LSU press release about his work. "We have great resources to make our Mardi Gras celebrations more sustainable and to protect our environment and health."
Kato came up with the idea for the beads because of a happy accident, as LSU told it:
"My student was supposed to come into the lab three nights in a row to move our test tube samples of algae from the centrifuge to the freezer, but one night he forgot," Kato said.
The next morning, Kato found a large glob of algae accumulating oils—one of the ingredients used for bioplastic production—on the bottom of the centrifuge.
Kato had recently been at a party where the discussion of making Mardi Gras more sustainable came up, so he immediately thought the alternative plastic could be used for Mardi Gras beads.
The hardest part, Kato told The Huffington Post, is funding the project, since biodegradable beads cost about 10 times more to make than plastic ones.
"Even though it's technologically possible [to produce these beads], it's economically impossible," he said.
Kato told LSU an initial $40,000 would be required to make the first 3,000 necklaces, for a cost of $13 each. After the first batch, the price would fall to $1 per necklace.
To fund the baubles, Kato said he would work with the nutraceutical industry, which markets natural products for supplements and food. Kato said he could isolate the anti-cancer anti-oxidant fucoxanthin from his algae, sell a pound of it for $50,000, and use the byproduct to make the beads.
Kato told The Huffington Post he is working with various parade krewes, the groups that make the floats, to test his beads, which they will hopefully be able to order by 2020. Until then, anyone who really wants to put the green in their Mardi Gras beads can buy paper versions from Atlas Beads and Throw Me Something Green, The Huffington Post recommended.
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Global Banks, Led by JPMorgan Chase, Invested $1.9 Trillion in Fossil Fuels Since Paris Climate Pact
By Sharon Kelly
A report published Wednesday names the banks that have played the biggest recent role in funding fossil fuel projects, finding that since 2016, immediately following the Paris agreement's adoption, 33 global banks have poured $1.9 trillion into financing climate-changing projects worldwide.
By Patti Lynn
2018 was a groundbreaking year in the public conversation about climate change. Last February, The New York Times reported that a record percentage of Americans now believe that climate change is caused by humans, and there was a 20 percentage point rise in "the number of Americans who say they worry 'a great deal' about climate change."
England faces an "existential threat" if it does not change how it manages its water, the head of the country's Environment Agency warned Tuesday.
By Jessica Corbett
A new analysis revealed Tuesday that over the past two decades heat records across the U.S. have been broken twice as often as cold ones—underscoring experts' warnings about the increasingly dangerous consequences of failing to dramatically curb planet-warming emissions.
By Madison Dapcevich
Ask any resident of San Francisco about the waterfront parrots, and they will surely tell you a story of red-faced conures squawking or dive-bombing between building peaks. Ask a team of researchers from the University of Georgia, however, and they will tell you of a mysterious string of neurological poisonings impacting the naturalized flock for decades.
The initial cause of the fire was not yet known, but it has been driven by the strong wind and jumped the North Santiam River, The Salem Statesman Journal reported. As of Tuesday night, it threatened around 35 homes and 30 buildings, and was 20 percent contained.
The unanimous verdict was announced Tuesday in San Francisco in the first federal case to be brought against Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, alleging that repeated use of the company's glyphosate-containing weedkiller caused the plaintiff's cancer. Seventy-year-old Edwin Hardeman of Santa Rosa, California said he used Roundup for almost 30 years on his properties before developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"Today's verdict reinforces what another jury found last year, and what scientists with the state of California and the World Health Organization have concluded: Glyphosate causes cancer in people," Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said in a statement. "As similar lawsuits mount, the evidence will grow that Roundup is not safe, and that the company has tried to cover it up."
Judge Vince Chhabria has split Hardeman's trial into two phases. The first, decided Tuesday, focused exclusively on whether or not Roundup use caused the plaintiff's cancer. The second, to begin Wednesday, will assess if Bayer is liable for damages.
"We are disappointed with the jury's initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer," Bayer spokesman Dan Childs said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman's cancer."
Some legal experts said that Chhabria's decision to split the trial was beneficial to Bayer, Reuters reported. The company had complained that the jury in Johnson's case had been distracted by the lawyers' claims that Monsanto had sought to mislead scientists and the public about Roundup's safety.
However, a remark made by Chhabria during the trial and reported by The Guardian was blatantly critical of the company.
"Although the evidence that Roundup causes cancer is quite equivocal, there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue," he said.
Many regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have ruled that glyphosate is safe for humans, but the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer found it was "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015. A university study earlier this year found that glyphosate use increased cancer risk by as much as 41 percent.
Hardeman's lawyers Jennifer Moore and Aimee Wagstaff said they would now reveal Monsanto's efforts to mislead the public about the safety of its product.
"Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup," they wrote in a statement reported by The Guardian.
Hardeman's case is considered a "bellwether" trial for the more than 760 glyphosate cases Chhabria is hearing. In total, there are around 11,200 such lawsuits pending in the U.S., according to Reuters.
University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told Reuters that Tuesday's decision showed that the verdict in Johnson's case was not "an aberration," and could possibly predict how future juries in the thousands of pending cases would respond.