The Pandemic And The Perilous Return Of Plastic

Mask floating in the Mediterranean
Mask floating in the Mediterranean
Anne Sophie Goninet

In normal times, we might be writing this month about the annual momentum gathering for the Plastic Free July challenge. Launched in 2011 by the Australia-based Plastic Free Foundation, the idea is simple: refusing single-use plastics, from bags to packaging, for 31 days.

But in 2020, that simple desire to go fully plastic-free for at least a month has suddenly gotten complicated. Facing the coronavirus pandemic, masks, gloves, visors, medical gowns, hand sanitizer bottles, screens in shops and supermarkets are multiplying, as short-term safety has taken precedence over the longer-term destiny of the planet. And it doesn't seem that it will abate any time soon: The World Health Organization has estimated that 89 million masks and 76 million gloves are required each month around the world to face the pandemic.

These plastic items are already finding their way into nature, and especially in the sea: the first signs of an alarming new pollution that can only get worse. As early as February 2020, OceansAsia found masks on the shores of uninhabited islands near Hong Kong. In June, the French association Opération Mer Propre released pictures and videos of dozens of gloves, masks and bottles of hand sanitizer on the Mediterranean floor.

For Laurent Lombard, who's part of the association, "we'll soon run the risk of having more masks than jellyfish in the Mediterranean", especially since the French government ordered 3.7 billion masks last month to face a potential second wave, Le Figaro reports.

It's somehow even more frustrating as progress had been made in recent years to reduce our consumption of single-use plastics, with the ban of items such as straws, plastic bags or the increasing use of reusable glass bottles. But with the fear of catching the virus through contaminated surfaces, plastic items that can be thrown away after use now feel safer for many than their washable or cloth counterparts.

In the United Kingdom, a survey conducted by the organization City to Sea found that 36% of British people felt pushed into using more single-use plastic at the moment. In Canada, the Journal de Québec found that since the beginning of the pandemic, the number of customers bringing their own reusable bags in shops have decreased by more than 40%, while packaging manufacturers increased their production by 20%.

Food deliveries have become increasingly popular in Thailand — Photo: Yuttachai Kongprasert/SOPA Images/ZUMA

With restaurants closed, food deliveries have also experienced significant growth — and with them, knives, forks and plastic containers big and small. In Thailand, urban waste nearly doubled between January and March compared with 2019 because of soaring demand for home food deliveries, the president of the Thailand Environment Institute told Asia Times.

The benefits of plastic as a protector against coronavirus can actually be questioned. There have been numerous studies to measure how long the virus could live on different surfaces; and while it is true that the virus can be found on objects after several days, recent researches found that the risk of transmission through surfaces is actually quite small and has been "exaggerated".

As for masks, an analysis led by scientists at University College London suggests that "reusable masks perform most of the tasks of single-use masks without the associated waste stream." So the least we could do is use ecological alternatives for masks, whether they are made of washable cloth, biodegradable natural fibers, or even, ironically, from old fish nets or recycled ocean plastic waste.

The urgency right now is to find a way to simultaneously raise (and balance) consciousness of the risks of pollution and the pandemic. And we can start this month, by taking the "Reusable Mask July" challenge.

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New Delhi, India: Fumigation Against Dengue Fever In New Delhi

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 வணக்கம்*

Welcome to Thursday, where America's top general reacts to China's test of a hypersonic weapon system, Russia is forced to reimpose lockdown measures and Venice's historic gondola race is hit by a doping scandal. French daily Les Echos also offers a cautionary tale of fraud in the crypto economy.

[*Vaṇakkam, Tamil - India, Sri Lanka, Singapore]


Top U.S. general says Chinese weapon nearly a "Sputnik moment": China recently conducted a "very concerning" test of a hypersonic weapon system as part of its push to expand space and military technologies, Gen. Mark Milley, the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Bloomberg News. America's top military officer said that this was akin to the Soviet Union's stunning launch of the world's first satellite, Sputnik, 1957, which sparked the Cold War space race. Milley also called the test of the weapon "a very significant technological event" that is just one element of China's military capabilities.

Brexit: France seizes British trawler: A British trawler has been seized by France while fishing in French waters without a license, amid escalating conflict over post-Brexit fishing rights. France's Minister for Europe said it will adopt a zero-tolerance attitude towards Britain and block access to virtually all of its boats until it awards licenses to French fishermen.

COVID update: Russia confirmed a new record of coronavirus deaths, forcing officials to reimpose some lockdown measures, including a nationwide workplace shutdown in the first week of November. Germany also saw its numbers spike, with more than 28,000 new infections yesterday, adding to worries about restrictions this winter there and elsewhere in Europe. Singapore, meanwhile, reported the biggest surge in the city-state since the coronavirus pandemic began. Positive news on the vaccine front, as U.S. pharmaceutical giant Merck granted royalty-free license for a COVID-19 antiviral pill to help protect people in the developing world.

Iran nuclear talks to resume: Iran's top nuclear negotiator said multilateral talks in Vienna with world powers about its nuclear development program will resume before the end of November. The announcement comes after the U.S. warned efforts to revive the deal were in "critical phase."

First U.S. passport with "X" gender marker: The U.S. State Department has issued its first American passport with an "X" gender marker. It is designed to give nonbinary, intersex and gender-nonconforming people a marker other than male or female on their travel document. Several other countries, including Canada, Argentina and Nepal, already offer the same option.

China limits construction of super skyscrapers: China has restricted smaller cities in the country from building extremely tall skyscrapers, as part of a larger bid to crack down on wasteful vanity projects by local governments. Earlier this year the country issued a ban on "ugly architecture."

Doping scandal hits Venice's gondola race: For the first time in the history of the Venice Historical Regatta, a participant has tested positive to marijuana in a doping test: Gondolier Renato Busetto, who finished the race in second place, will be suspended for 13 months.


"End of the ice age," titles German-language Luxembourgish daily Luxemburger Wort, writing about how the ice melting in the Arctic opens up new economic opportunities with a new passage for countries like Russia and China but with potentially devastating effects for the environment. The issue of the Arctic is one of the topics that will be discussed at the COP26 Climate Change Conference which kicks off in Glasgow on Sunday.


$87 billion

A new United Nations report found that extreme weather events such as tropical cyclones, floods and droughts have caused India an average annual loss of about $87 billion in 2020. India is among the countries which suffered the most from weather hazards this year along with China and Japan.


Air Next: How a crypto scam collapsed on a single spelling mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy from Laurence Boisseau in Paris-based daily Les Echos.

📲 The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system. Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation.

📝 On Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, the CEO admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

⚠️ What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond". Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

➡️


"A weapon was handed to Mr. Baldwin. The weapon is functional, and fired a live round."

— Following the Oct. 21 on-set shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, Sante Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza told a press conference that the "facts are clear" about the final moments before Hutchins was shot. The investigation continues to determine what led up to that moment, and any possible criminal responsibility related to how the "prop" gun that actor Alec Baldwin fired was loaded.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Share with us your favorite gondola memories or worst crypto scams — and let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world!

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