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By Danielle Corcione
I thought I knew what garbage looked like. Then I arrived in Bangalore, the third-largest city in India.
There was trash almost everywhere you looked. Plastic bottles, food packaging and other waste that could've potentially been recycled contaminated the landscape, even in people's front- and backyards. When I'd ride into the city from the ashram where I was staying in the countryside, I'd inhale toxic fumes of garbage piles burning and observe wild animals rummaging through fields of trash.
During my first day on Commercial Street, one of the city's busiest thoroughfares, I could feel the pollution sink into my pores and ignite oils on my face. The ground was no better. While wearing only flimsy flip-flops, I nearly stepped on a rat with a candy wrapper in its mouth.
My experiences weren't just anecdotal. According to a 2016 study by the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore generates 5,000 metric tons of garbage a day, of which only 10 percent on average is recycled. The city's landfills, however, can only handle 2,100 tons of waste per day.
When I returned home, I quickly learned that Bangalore was not alone, and how the U.S. plastic lobby keeps its waste pollution behind closed doors. New York City—which has a population 1.5 million fewer people than Bangalore—throws away twice as much garbage; according to GrowNYC, residents of the Big Apple produce 12,000 tons of solid waste a day.
My experiences inspired a radical belief in me, going beyond plastic-bag bans and littering fines: Plastic should be illegal.
Communities around the world have taken action to ban single-use plastic bags. I began to wonder, could we ever take things a step further by banning plastic altogether? That's not an easy question, I quickly learned, because not all plastics are created—and therefore, disposed of—equally.
When we explore the possibility of banning plastic, we need to be specific about which kinds. The base of all plastic is resins, which are composed of polymers. Different chemicals are required to make the many different types of resin. According to the American Chemistry Council, some common types include:
- Polyethylene terephthalate, found in water bottles;
- High-density polyethylene, included in bags for grocery and retail purchases;
- Low-density polyethylene, used for food packaging and shrink wrap;
- Polypropylene, utilized for medicine bottles and bottle caps; and
- Polystyrene, typically in the form of Styrofoam.
Each of those types of plastic comes with different potential environmental costs. "The plastics of greatest concern from an environmental health perspective are polyvinyl chloride (vinyl), polystyrene, polycarbonate, and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene," said Mike Schade, Mind the Store campaign director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families. "Using vinyl products exposes consumers to hormone-disrupting phthalates, which are dangerous at very low levels of exposure." Even getting rid of vinyl is dangerous, he said, because when incinerated, it's one of the most toxic man-made chemicals.
Additionally, I found that not all plastics are regulated equally. Although there hasn't been any federal U.S. legislation yet banning vinyl, or any other type of plastic, cities and states have successfully passed and adopted measures to ban plastic bags. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Austin, Cambridge, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle and San Francisco are among the cities to implement straight bans as opposed to fees. Meanwhile, statewide bans have passed in California and Hawaii.
"When it comes to high density polyethylene and other [types of] plastic bags, the biggest issues are with them clogging up landfills, polluting parks, and waterways," Schade said. "Plastic bags are a huge solid waste problem and a waste of precious resources."
According to the Earth Policy Institute, the U.S. consumes 100 billion plastic bags each year, which is enough to circle the equator 1,330 times.
What if plastic bags were to be banned in the U.S., as they were in Kenya earlier this year? Unfortunately that legal battle would require likely copious amounts of money to fight the plastic industry, most notably the American Progressive Bag Alliance, a pro-plastic lobbying group run by the American Chemistry Council. In her documentary Plastic Patch: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which I initially watched after returning from India, journalist Angela Sun revealed that the council is an umbrella organization for Dow Chemical Company, DuPont and ExxonMobil.
According to a recent report in The Huffington Post, the group is the moneybag behind legislation to ban the banning of plastic bags. These types of laws have already passed in states like Florida and Arizona. As depicted in Sun's film, the American Progressive Bag Alliance ran negative, untruthful commercials urging Californians to vote against that state's proposed plastic bag ban years ago. This year, the Iowa became the most recent state to ban plastic bag bans following a push from the organization and the American Legislative Exchange Council.
Ironically, experts tell me that plastic-bag bans can actually endanger municipalities by instigating lawsuits from "big plastic."
"Cities potentially expose themselves to lawsuits over environmental claims if they only ban plastic bags, but allow other bags to be given away for free," explained Jennie Romer, a New York City-based attorney and founder of Plastic Bag Laws. Romer works with grassroots organizations in New York City to push for plastic-bag fees; according to The New York Times, Gov. Cuomo quashed a measure to implement a 5-cent fee on plastic bags earlier this year.
There's a reason why conversations about the plastics industry revolve around plastic bags: it's a gateway to other environmental issues. Romer explained that once people get accustomed to having certain plastics banned, the plastic industry becomes concerned about the potential of all plastic products being banned rather than just bags. In other words, I realized that plastic bag legislation isn't really about plastic bags; it's about what other types of plastic can be potentially banned in the future.
While governments can regulate the plastics industry, ultimately, the effort to reduce plastic consumption comes down to shifting consumer behavior, Romer said. She adds that implementing fees encourage consumers to be more mindful compared to straight bans.
"People just don't get a bag when they get an item or two or they bring a bag when they don't want to pay a fee," Romer explained.
While plastic bags are her focus, Romer also consults on expanded polystyrene, found in Styrofoam. She believes this type of plastic requires a straight ban because it breaks up more easily and cannot be recycled, unlike high-density polyethylene in plastic bags.
Sun told me the government should have a role in regulating the labeling of plastic products. "Just because Bisphenol A [or BPA] is a buzz word and in social consciousness, the chemical industry can easily make a slight change and call it something else and still have a BPA-free label on it because it's technically free of BPA," she said. "Putting a BPA label on a baby bottle doesn't mean it's necessarily OK to be used."
Sun also stresses that while governments should implement policies to reduce plastic consumption systematically, it's up to individual people to raise awareness about the issue. No matter how much policy can influence our everyday lives, reducing plastic ultimately falls us—as individual consumers—to take action. This both inspires me and disappoints me, because it's difficult to fight against a culture specifically designed to consume plastic. After all, bringing your own reusable bag doesn't go very far when most of the products you purchase are packaged in plastic.
"Social change is hard to do, but it can be done little by little," explained Sun. "Empowered citizens in different realms have pushed and lobbied for this change. It's power to the people."
While bans, whether they are for plastic bags or certain types of resin, seem to be the best idealistic policy for the environment, I learned that they can make governments vulnerable to lawsuits by the plastic lobby. While fees can inspire a change in consumer behavior without the potential of legal action, even those are difficult to just get passed. If we seriously consider banning plastic, not only do we have to specify which kinds, but we also need to work around a system heavily influenced by plastic manufacturers. Otherwise the U.S.' garbage problem could start to look a lot more like Bangalore's.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Revelator.
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By Tom Duszynski
The coronavirus is certainly scary, but despite the constant reporting on total cases and a climbing death toll, the reality is that the vast majority of people who come down with COVID-19 survive it. Just as the number of cases grows, so does another number: those who have recovered.
In mid-March, the number of patients in the U.S. who had officially recovered from the virus was close to zero. That number is now in the tens of thousands and is climbing every day. But recovering from COVID-19 is more complicated than simply feeling better. Recovery involves biology, epidemiology and a little bit of bureaucracy too.
How does your body fight off COVID-19?<p>Once a person is exposed the coronavirus, the body starts producing <a href="https://www.mblintl.com/products/what-are-antibodies-mbli/" target="_blank">proteins called antibodies to fight the infection</a>. As these <a href="https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/27/serological-tests-reveal-immune-coronavirus/" target="_blank">antibodies start to successfully contain the virus</a> and keep it from replicating in the body, symptoms usually begin to lessen and you start to feel better. Eventually, if all goes well, your immune system will completely destroy all of the virus in your system. A person who was infected with and survived a virus with no long-term health effects or disabilities has "recovered."</p><p>On average, a person who is infected with SARS-CoV-2 will feel ill for about seven days from the onset of symptoms. Even after symptoms disappear, there still may be small amounts of the virus in a patient's system, and they should stay <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/steps-when-sick.html" target="_blank">isolated for an additional three days</a> to ensure they have truly <a href="https://health.usnews.com/conditions/articles/coronavirus-recovery-what-to-know" target="_blank">recovered and are no longer infectious</a>.</p>
What about immunity?<p>In general, once you have recovered from a viral infection, your body will keep cells called lymphocytes in your system. These cells "remember" viruses they've previously seen and can react quickly to fight them off again. If you are exposed to a virus you have already had, your antibodies will likely stop the virus before it starts causing symptoms. <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.5114%2Fceji.2018.77390" target="_blank">You become immune</a>. This is the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK27158/" target="_blank">principle behind many vaccines</a>.</p><p>Unfortunately, immunity isn't perfect. For many viruses, like mumps, immunity can wane over time, leaving you <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160421145747.htm" target="_blank">susceptible to the virus in the future</a>. This is why you need to get revaccinated – those "booster shots" – occasionally: to prompt your immune system to make more antibodies and memory cells.</p><p>Since this coronavirus is so new, scientists still don't know whether people who recover from COVID-19 are <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/faq.html" target="_blank">immune to future infections of the virus</a>. Doctors are finding antibodies in ill and recovered patients, and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/clinical-guidance-management-patients.html" target="_blank">that indicates the development of immunity</a>. But the question remains how long that immunity will last. Other coronaviruses like <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/jmv.25685" target="_blank">SARS and MERS produce an immune response</a> that will protect a person at least for a short time. I would suspect the same is true of SARS-CoV-2, but the research simply hasn't been done yet to say so definitively.</p>
Why have so few people officially recovered in the US?<p>This is a dangerous virus, so the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is being extremely careful when deciding what it means to recover from COVID-19. Both medical and testing criteria must be met before a person is <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/disposition-in-home-patients.html" target="_blank">officially declared recovered</a>.</p><p>Medically, a person must be fever-free without fever-reducing medications for three consecutive days. They must show an improvement in their other symptoms, including reduced coughing and shortness of breath. And it must be at least seven full days <a href="https://health.usnews.com/conditions/articles/coronavirus-recovery-what-to-know" target="_blank">since the symptoms began</a>.</p><p>In addition to those requirements, the CDC guidelines say that a person must test negative for the coronavirus twice, with the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/care-for-someone.html" target="_blank">tests taken at least 24 hours apart</a>.</p><p>Only then, if both the symptom and testing conditions are met, is a person officially considered recovered by the CDC.</p><p>This second testing requirement is likely why there were so few official recovered cases in the U.S. until late March. Initially, there was a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/18/health/coronavirus-test-shortages-face-masks-swabs.html" target="_blank">massive shortage of testing in the U.S.</a> So while many people were certainly recovering over the last few weeks, this could not be officially confirmed. As the country enters the height of the pandemic in the coming weeks, focus is still on <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/hcp/clinical-criteria.html" target="_blank">testing those who are infected</a>, not those who have likely recovered.</p><p>Many more people are being tested now that states and private companies have begun <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/testing-in-us.html" target="_blank">producing and distributing tests</a>. As <a href="https://www.dispatch.com/news/20200406/coronavirus-in-ohio-from-its-rocky-start-testing-for-covid-19-slowly-ramping-up" target="_blank">the number of available tests increases</a> and the pandemic eventually slows in the country, more testing will be available for those who have appeared to recover. As people who have already recovered are tested, the appearance of any new infections will help researchers learn <a href="https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/24/we-need-smart-coronavirus-testing-not-just-more-testing/" target="_blank">how long immunity can be expected to last</a>.</p>
Once a person has recovered, what can they do?<p>Knowing whether or not people are immune to COVID-19 after they recover is going to determine what individuals, communities and society at large can do going forward. If scientists can show that recovered patients are immune to the coronavirus, then a person who has recovered could in theory <a href="https://www.vox.com/2020/3/30/21186822/immunity-to-covid-19-test-coronavirus-rt-pcr-antibody" target="_blank">help support the health care system</a> by caring for those who are infected.</p><p>Once communities pass the peak of the epidemic, the number of new infections will decline, while the number of <a href="https://www.newsweek.com/china-says-passed-peak-coronavirus-epidemic-covid-19-1491863" target="_blank">recovered people will increase</a>. As these trends continue, the risk of transmission will fall. Once the risk of transmission has fallen enough, community-level isolation and social distancing orders will begin to relax and businesses will start to reopen. Based on what other countries have gone through, it will be <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00154-w" target="_blank">months until the risk of transmission is low</a> in the U.S.</p><p>But before any of this can happen, the U.S. and the world need to make it through the peak of this pandemic. Social distancing works to slow the spread of infectious diseases and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/what-you-can-do.html" target="_blank">is working for COVID-19</a>. Many people will <a href="https://www.yalemedicine.org/stories/2019-novel-coronavirus/" target="_blank">need medical help to recover</a>, and social distancing will slow this virus down and give people the best chance to do so.</p>
By Elizabeth Claire Alberts
The future for the world's oceans often looks grim. Fisheries are set to collapse by 2048, according to one study, and 8 million tons of plastic pollute the ocean every year, causing considerable damage to delicate marine ecosystems. Yet a new study in Nature offers an alternative, and more optimistic view on the ocean's future: it asserts that the entire marine environment could be substantially rebuilt by 2050, if humanity is able to step up to the challenge.
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By Zulfikar Abbany
Bread has been a source of basic nutrition for centuries, the holy trinity being wheat, maize and rice. It has also been the reason for a lot of innovation in science and technology, from millstones to microbiological investigations into a family of single-cell fungi called Saccharomyces.
Chemical leavening<p>If you like a little heft in your loaf, you will need a leavening agent.</p><p>For those short on time, you can use baking soda. That's a chemical compound of sodium bicarbonate mixed with potassium bitartrate, or cream of tartar.</p><p>Soda breads have their traditions in parts of eastern and central Europe, and in Ireland and Scotland, with Melrose loaves and "farls."</p><p>They can taste a bit bland, though, and are often considered only as an emergency solution on Sundays. No disrespect intended: They taste just fine fresh from the oven.</p><p>Whether it's chemical or more "natural," leavening relies largely on the production of carbon dioxide.</p><p>When you mix an acid, such as vinegar, buttermilk, yogurt or apple cider, with an alkaline compound like baking soda, you get CO2. That CO2 creates bubbles, which in turn capture steam in the oven and allow a bread to rise.</p><p><span></span>But it's better with yeast. Tastes better, too. It just takes more time. </p>
What is yeast?<p>There are yeasts all around us — on grains, in the air, in biofuels. It even lives inside us, but that's not always a good thing.</p><p><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1090575/pdf/1471-2334-5-22.pdf" target="_blank">Candida yeast</a> can cause infections of the skin, feet, mouth, penis or vagina if it builds up too much in the body.</p><p>One of the most common yeasts, however, is <em>Saccharomyces cerevisiae</em>. That's <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/an-early-beer-archaeologists-tap-ground-at-worlds-oldest-brewery/a-45480731" target="_blank">"brewer's"</a> or "baker's" yeast.</p><p>You can get fresh baker's yeast, often in 42-gram (1.48-ounce) cubes, or as dried yeast (quick action or active, which requires rehydration) in a sachet of 7 grams.</p><p>There's little difference: One is compressed and the other is dehydrated and granulated. But they do the same thing, essentially. </p><p>Some commercial yeast producers add molasses and other nutrients. But natural yeast has plenty of useful nutrients in it anyway, including B group vitamins, so who knows whether it's good or necessary to add them. </p>
How does yeast work?<p>When you mix flour, yeast and water, you set off a veritable chain reaction. Enzymes in the wheat convert starch into sugar. And the yeast creates enzymes of its own to convert those sugars into a form it can absorb.</p><p>The yeast "feeds" on the sugars to create carbon dioxide and alcohol. The yeast burps and farts, releasing gases into the mix, and that creates bubbles to trap CO2. </p><p>It's a vital fermentation process that breaks down the gluten in the flour and helps make your bread more digestible.</p><p>The yeast cells split and reproduce, generating lactic and carbonic acid, raising the temperature and ultimately adding flavor to the mix.</p><p>The longer you leave the yeast to do its thing, the better for your bread. Time is more important than the amount of yeast. </p><p>In fact, that's an enduring question — how much yeast? I'll use 20 grams fresh yeast for 500 grams of flour. Others say that's enough yeast for 1 kilo. If you are converting a dry-yeast recipe to fresh yeast, some bakers advise tripling the weight. So, if a sachet of dried yeast is 7 grams, your fresh yeast is 21 grams.</p><p><span></span>But that also depends on the flours you are using, temperatures in the bowl and the room, and a host of other things. You'll just have to experiment and see. No number of books (and I've read a stack on bread) will help as much as trial and error.</p>
Wild yeast: Sourdough<p>So, good bread needs time. If you have a lot of time, why not move it up a notch and grow wild yeast — a sourdough starter — in your own home?</p><p>A sourdough starter is not to be mistaken (as it often is) for the leaven, or "mother," "sponge," or <em>levain</em>. That's more a second stage, a descendant of the starter. You take a scoop from your starter and add it to another flour and water mixture when you prepare the dough for a new loaf. </p><p>The sourdough process utilizes yeasts naturally present in flour and … yet more time. A longer fermentation process allows a richer lactic acid bacteria <em>lactobacilli</em> or LAB to evolve, and that can be healthy for your gut microbiome.</p><p>It's simple enough to start a sourdough starter. All you need is flour, warm water and time.</p><p>Some suggest equal measures of whole-grain flour and water at 28 degrees Celsius (82 degrees Fahrenheit), some say room temperature — just don't let the water exceed 40 C or the yeasts will die. Some suggest two parts flour to three parts water. But it's up to you whether you want a drier or wetter starter. You will know only through experimentation. </p><p>Some say you should filter tap water to remove chemicals like fluoride and avoid using water that's boiled and then cooled. Others say that really doesn't matter.</p><p>The main thing is, keep it clean and give it time. Days, weeks, months and years.</p>
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