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U.S. Asks China to 'Immediately Halt' Ban on Foreign Waste

Politics
U.S. Asks China to 'Immediately Halt' Ban on Foreign Waste
China has banned 24 kinds of foreign waste, including materials used in plastic bottles.

Last year, China—the world's largest importer of wasteannounced it no longer wanted to take in other countries' trash so it could focus on its own pollution problems.

This unexpected policy shift, which took effect Jan. 1, has left exporters in the U.S., Canada, Ireland, Germany and other European countries scrambling for solutions for their growing mountains of trash, the New York Times reported.


But rather than using this as an opportunity to improve and reshape domestic waste management and to force manufacturers to produce less waste, Washington has asked Beijing to reverse the ban.

On Friday, a U.S. representative at the World Trade Organization's (WTO) Council for Trade in Goods expressed concerns that China's foreign waste ban could cause a fundamental disruption in global supply chains for scrap materials, Reuters reported.

"We request that China immediately halt implementation and revise these measures in a manner consistent with existing international standards for trade in scrap materials, which provide a global framework for transparent and environmentally sound trade in recycled commodities," the official said at the meeting in Geneva.

"China's import restrictions on recycled commodities have caused a fundamental disruption in global supply chains for scrap materials, directing them away from productive reuse and toward disposal."

The request will likely fall on deaf ears amid President Donald Trump's threat to impose penalties on up to $60 billion in Chinese imports. He has also called China an "economic enemy" of the U.S. and announced steep tariffs on solar panels, steel and aluminum imports.

China's regulation, announced last July, is designed to reduce the country's environmental pollution by banning 24 types of imported waste, including plastics, mixed paper, mining slap and discarded textiles.

China defended its policy on Monday, according to Xinhua.

"The concerns are neither reasonable nor have any legal basis," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said at a daily press briefing in response to the U.S. official's remark.

"It's very hypocritical of the U.S. to say China is breaching its WTO duty," Hua said. She noted that if the U.S. thought it legitimate to restrict exports of high-tech and high-value-added products, then China's ban on foreign waste imports was not illegal.

"Restricting and banning the imports of solid waste is an important measure China has taken to implement the new development concept, improve environmental quality and safeguard people's health," Hua said, adding that the Basel Convention allows countries the right to restrict the entry of foreign waste.

"We hope that the U.S. can reduce and manage hazardous waste and other waste of its own and take up more duties and obligations."

The U.S. sends 13.2 million tons scrap paper and 1.42 million tons of scrap plastics to China every year.

Governments around the world are waking up to the scourge of plastic pollution and have implemented rules to stem the flow of plastic bags, bottles and other single-use items that clog landfills, pollute oceans and harm marine life.

While other developing countries such as Malaysia and Vietnam take foreign waste, Greenpeace East Asia noted that no other countries' waste services have the same capacity as China's.

The environmental organization said that waste-exporting countries will ultimately have to face waste problems at home. The ban should also prompt better waste management and recycling infrastructure in both exporting countries and China itself.

Greenpeace is also urging manufacturers of disposable products to take responsibility for their products through their entire life-cycle and invest in sustainable alternatives.

"This regulation will send shockwaves around the world, and force many countries to tackle the 'out of sight, out of mind' attitude we've developed towards waste," said Greenpeace East Asia plastics campaigner Liu Hua in December.

"The world cannot continue with the current wasteful consumption model based on infinite growth in a finite world. Rather than find new places to export waste, governments and the private sector must find ways to simply reduce the amount of waste we are creating."

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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