Portland Is First City in Maine to Ban Plastic Straws, Stirrers and Splash Sticks
After a local 2nd grade student successfully petitioned the Portland City Council in 2018 to mitigate plastic straw use in city-owned buildings, the Maine Chapter took it to the next level with Council interest to pass a citywide ordinance becoming the first municipality in Maine to ban single-use plastic straws, stirrers and splash sticks.
The proposed ordinance was strong, seeking to ban the sale and distribution of single-use plastic straws and institute an ask-first policy for straws composed of natural fibers (bamboo, hay, cardboard, etc). Through deliberations, however, the initial exemption for schools was removed and a phase-in approach added to allow for a transition period.
Surfrider attended all Council subcommittee meetings throughout the year to help guide the policy, answering questions regarding why compostable straws are not a good ask-first option, why a ban is so critical versus a non-binding approach, and policy policy mechanisms for accommodating persons identifying as living with disability.
Chapter activists leveraged our Ocean Friendly Restaurants program to visit food service establishments covering each Portland city district. Asking questions about current straw use and distribution policies in the City, as well as impressions of the proposed ordinance, Maine Chapter volunteers gathered important data that they then shared in public hearing to support the ban. Many restaurat and bar owners were stoked to learn about the big natural-made straw discounts provided to participants in our OFR program, and were happy to learn of the Council's movement to green the City.
The first reading of the ban ordinance was held on October 7, 2019, with the 2nd reading, public hearing and vote held on October 21, 2019. Six Chapter volunteers attended the hearing, with four representatives speaking. We addressed an amendment proposed by Councilor Cook, which while well intentioned to make better accommodations for persons identifying as living with disability, would have rendered the ordinance an ask-first policy instead of a ban, which would have been a good step in the right direction but not be nearly as effective at curbing pollution as a ban.
Council debate ensued on the issue of accommodation for people requiring plastic type straws to drink and the desire not to retreat to an ask-first policy. A creative compromise was struck that both maintained the ban while also removing the need presented in the initial ordinance for people requiring plastic type straws to self-identify as someone living with "disability or other impairment." The agreement achieved this solution by amending the exceptions section of the ordinance to clarify that anyone requiring a plastic straw to drink hot or cold liquids could ask for one, and that such a straw would then be provided with no additional questions asked- a true win-win.
The following language was also added to the preamble to help qualify the nature of the exception and the intents of the council:
The City Council recognizes the need to ensure that plastic beverage straws remain available to those who require them for consumption of hot and cold liquids and seeks to protect the privacy and dignity of those requesting a plastic beverage straw.
The council carried the amended ordinance unanimously to passage, banning all types of single-use plastic straws, stirrers and splash sticks.
The ordinance has a phase-in process, which takes effect on April 1, 2020, whereby all types of single-use straws, stirrers and splash sticks will be available on request by the customer only. The ban on plastics kicks in on January 1, 2021, coinciding with the statewide foam food packaging and plastic stirrer ban's effective date. After January 2021, only naturally made single-use straws, stirrers and splash sticks will be available on request of the customer, except for those customers expressing an explicit need for a plastic straw to drink hot or cold beverages, which will then be available as a secondary default upon such request without further question.
Straws are one small piece of the larger plastic pollution crisis, and the Surfrider volunteer network is taking bold action across the nation to address this piece along with myriad others and concurrent with paradigm shifting change to usher forth extended producer responsibility. Together, we will gain strides toward a truly circular economy.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Surfrider.
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By Jacob L. Steenwyk and Antonis Rokas
From the mythical minotaur to the mule, creatures created from merging two or more distinct organisms – hybrids – have played defining roles in human history and culture. However, not all hybrids are as fantastic as the minotaur or as dependable as the mule; in fact, some of them cause human diseases.
When Looking Through a Microscope Isn’t Close Enough.<p>For the last few years, <a href="http://www.rokaslab.org/" target="_blank">our team at Vanderbilt University</a>, <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/lab/Gustavo-Goldman-Lab" target="_blank">Gustavo Goldman's team at São Paulo University in Brazil</a> and many other collaborators around the world have been collecting samples of fungi from patients infected with different species of <em>Aspergillus</em> molds. One of the species we are particularly interested in is <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/rwgn.2001.0082" target="_blank"><em>Aspergillus nidulans</em>, a relatively common and generally harmless fungus</a>. Clinical laboratories typically identify the species of <em>Aspergillus</em> causing the infection by examining cultures of the fungi under the microscope. The problem with this approach is that very closely related species of <em>Aspergillus</em> tend to look very similar in their broad morphology or physical appearance when viewing them through a microscope.</p><p>Interested in examining the varying abilities of different <em>A. nidulans</em> strains to cause disease, we decided to analyze their total genetic content, or genomes. What we saw came as a total surprise. We had not collected <em>A. nidulans</em> but <em>Aspergillus latus</em>, a close relative of <em>A. nidulans</em> and, as we were to soon find out, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.04.071" target="_blank">a hybrid species that evolved through the fusion of the genomes</a> of two other <em>Aspergillus</em> species: <em>Aspergillus spinulosporus</em> and an unknown close relative of <em>Aspergillus quadrilineatus</em>. Thus, we realized not only that these patients harbored infections from an entirely different species than we thought they were, but also that this species was the first ever <em>Aspergillus</em> hybrid known to cause human infections.</p>
Several Different Fungal Hybrids Cause Human Disease.<p>Hybrid fungi that can cause infections in humans are well known to occur in several different lineages of single-celled fungi known as yeasts. Notable examples include multiple different species of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/yea.3242" target="_blank">yeast hybrids</a> that cause the human diseases <a href="https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/6218/cryptococcosis" target="_blank">cryptococcosis</a> and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/index.html" target="_blank">candidiasis</a>. Although pathogenic yeast hybrids are well known, our discovery that the <em>A. latus</em> pathogen is a hybrid is a first for molds that cause disease in humans.</p>
(Left) Candida yeasts live on parts of the human body. Imbalance of microbes on the body can allow these yeasts, some of which are hybrids, to grow and cause infection. (Right) Cryptococcus yeasts, including ones that are hybrids, can cause life-threatening infections in primarily immunocompromised people. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008315" target="_blank">Why certain <em>Aspergillus</em> species are so deadly</a> while others are harmless remains unknown. This may in part be because <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fbr.2007.02.007" target="_blank">combinations of traits, rather than individual traits</a>, underlie organisms' ability to cause disease. So why then are hybrids frequently associated with human disease? Hybrids inherit genetic material from both parents, which may result in new combinations of traits. This may make them more similar to one parent in some of their characteristics, reflect both parents in others or may differ from both in the rest. It is precisely this mix and match of traits that hybrids have inherited from their parental species that <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/science/14creatures.html" target="_blank">facilitates their evolutionary success</a>, including their ability to cause disease.</p>
The Evolutionary Origin of an Aspergillus Hybrid.<p>Multiple evolutionary paths can lead to the emergence of hybrids. One path is through mating, just as the horse and donkey mate to create a mule. Another path is through the merging or fusion of genetic material from cells of different species.</p><p>It is this second path that appears to have been taken by our fungus. <em>A. latus</em> appears to have two of almost everything compared to its parental species: twice the genome size, twice the total number of genes and so on. But unlike other hybrids, which are often sterile like the mule, we found that <em>A. latus</em> is capable of reproducing both asexually and sexually.</p><p>But how distinct were the parents of <em>A. latus</em>? By comparing the parts contributed by each parent in the <em>A. latus</em> genome, we estimate that its parents are approximately 93% genetically similar, which is about as related as we humans are with lemurs. In other words, <em>A. latus</em>, an agent of infectious disease, is the fungal equivalent of a human-lemur hybrid.</p>
How A. Latus Differs From its Parents.<p>Elucidating the identity of closely related fungal pathogens and how they differ from each other in infection-relevant characteristics is a key step toward reducing the burden of fungal disease. For example, we found that <em>A. latus</em> was three times more resistant than <em>A. nidulans</em>, the species it was originally identified as using microscopy-based methods, to one of the most common antifungal drugs, <a href="https://www.drugbank.ca/drugs/DB00520" target="_blank">caspofungin</a>. This result provides a clear example of the potential importance of accurate identification of the <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogen causing an infection.</p><p>We also examined how <em>A. latus</em> and <em>A. nidulans</em> interact with cells from our immune system. We found that immune cells were less efficient at combating <em>A. latus</em> compared to <em>A. nidulans</em>, suggesting the hybrid fungus may be trickier for our immune systems to identify and destroy.</p><p>In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, our quest to understand <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogens is becoming more urgent. Growing evidence suggests that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/myc.13096" target="_blank">a fraction of COVID-19 patients are also infected with <em>Aspergillus</em>.</a> More worrying is that these <a href="https://doi.org/10.3201/eid2607.201603" target="_blank">secondary <em>Aspergillus</em> infections</a> can worsen the clinical outcomes for those infected with the novel coronavirus. That being said, we stress that little is known about <em>Aspergillus</em> infections in COVID-19 patients due to a lack of systematic testing, and none of the infections identified so far appear to have been caused by hybrids.</p><p>So, when it comes to hybrids, some are fantastic (the minotaur), some are helpful (the mule) and some are dangerous (<em>Aspergillus latus</em>). Understanding more about the biology of <em>Aspergillus latus</em> may help in our understanding of how microbial pathogens arise and how to best prevent and combat their infections.</p>
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