The Trials And Tribulations Of Living Without Plastic

But just try brushing your teeth with bamboo.

The Trials And Tribulations Of Living Without Plastic
Jonas Hermann

BRUNSWICK — Marian Klapp's friends can always tell which presents are from him because their wrappings are never held together with Scotch tape, only string. That's because tape contains plastic, and Klapp believes it is appalling stuff.

So he tries, whenever possible, to live without it. He likes to say it's not a sacrifice. On the contrary, "every step I take to a completely plastic-free life feels great."

The 25-year-old studies psychology in Brunswick, Germany, where he lives with his girlfriend Eva. She also avoids plastic products, and not, he insists, because she's showing solidarity out of love. "She feels the same way about it that I do," he says.

The couple's daughter Anna was born seven months ago, and they want her to grow up as plastic-free as possible. Friends and acquaintances know that, but Anna still received one plastic baby gift. Eva returned it to the giver, "but I did praise how beautifully gift-wrapped it had been," she says.

Little Anna wears cloth diapers. Luckily, the family lives in a small apartment building with an attic where laundered diapers dry quickly. And of course, their self-imposed ban on plastic also applies when they go shopping. By now, the sales people are used to Marian Klapp showing up at the cheese counter with a metal receptacle to pack his cheese. Only once did a sales girl refuse to put the cheese in the box. She thought she smelled a trick — that he somehow intended to sneak the cheese past the cashier without paying for it.

Marian buys shower gel in drug stores that are willing to fill the container he brings with him for that purpose. He buys his Kleenex in paper packaging, and carries everything home in used paper sacks.

It isn't just plastic that Marian rejects, but also other common consumer practices. He wants to live an alternative life. He eats "mostly vegetarian." He doesn't drink alcohol because it's possible to have plenty of fun without it, he says. A couple of days ago, he organized an alternative bachelor party with a treasure hunt, an organic picnic, and a hand-painted, second-hand T-shirt as a gift for the groom. The party started at 10 a.m., and they were all back home that evening in time for dinner.

He won't take planes and doesn't own a cell phone, but he does have an Internet connection and a car — a Volkswagen Polo. He needs the vehicle primarily to transport drums. His group, wearing gaudy clothing, drums at demonstrations to bring some "joy and relaxation" to the atmosphere, he says.

Marian buys as few new things as possible, which is sometimes difficult for his parents to understand because they want to give the young family gifts. "But we don't need a lot," he says. "And for sure nothing made out of plastic!" It has been three years now that he has been largely plastic-free, since an acquaintance told him that plastic is dangerous.

Alternative lifestyle, for good reason?

Plastic is not just an environmental burden, but it also poses health risks to humans. That's particularly true of the plasticizers that make their way into the food chain. According to the European Commission, they can cause both cancer and sterility and lead to genetic changes. The German Federal Ministry for the Environment claims that the concentrations present in food are generally not high enough to warrant a health hazard. But the ministry doesn't exclude it and recommends avoiding packaged foods as much as possible.

There is no conclusive information about how much harmful matter gets into our bodies from packaged food or plastic water bottles. Marian knows this, which is why he's afraid to drink water that's heated in a plastic kettle. His is made of stainless steel.

By now, nearly all plastic containers have been banished from his apartment. He has joined a purchasing association that requires him to put in four hours of work time every month. In return, he can stock up on food items directly from jumbo sacks.

Marian doesn't want to "preach" his lifestyle to anybody. He wants to inspire. "I don't tell anybody "you're doing it wrong," but I will sometimes mention how I do it, or that there are other ways of doing things."

A couple of his friends took his words to heart and now bring glass bottles of water to the university rather than plastic. Unlike water in plastic bottles, the water in glass bottles still tastes fresh after several days, Klapp says.

A couple of weeks ago he went to a department store to buy a non-plastic garbage can. It looked like the trip would be unsuccessful, but then he found inspiration in a big cooking pot in the household goods department. For a plastic-free diaper pail, he scoured the streets of his neighborhood for stuff that was being thrown away. He found a ceramic container, got a glass lid from a junk store, and voilà: diaper pail.

But it's not always so simple. The electrical appliances in his home are made of plastic, and his attempts to use a bamboo toothbrush failed, so now he's back to a normal toothbrush — a plastic one.

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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 but the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

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 (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, 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. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

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. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he 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".

Finding culprits 

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.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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