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Clutching At Straws

Stuart White

The World in Black-N-White
 

Last night at a restaurant in Gaborone I ordered a diet coke which, when it was delivered, was presented with a plastic straw. My dinner guest was horrified and proceeded to throw some shock-and-awe plastic pollutant statistics this way in order to enlighten me on the negative impact my consumer behaviour has.

Of the eight million tons of plastic trash that flow every year into the world’s oceans, the plastic drinking straw, this small, slender tube, utterly unnecessary for most beverage consumption, is at the centre of a growing environmental campaign aimed at convincing people to stop using them to help save the oceans – and I had not got the memo.

 

A few years ago like me you may have seen the eight-minute video of a four-inch section of straw being removed from a Costa Rican sea turtle’s nostril. The video is painful to watch, and has been viewed more than 11 million times on you tube. I have now seen it a few times as it has been replayed recently on SKY news alongside coverage of sharks and other marine life being dissected to reveal masses of plastic waste inside their stomachs.

Despite this I have not changed my behaviour and it’s not because I am fond of straws – I rarely use them and although I certainly never ask for one,  I never not ask either – and therein lies the point that I wish to make. “If you have the opportunity to make this choice and not to use a plastic straw, this can help keep this item off our beaches and raise awareness on plastic in the ocean,” says Jemma Jambeck, the University of Georgia engineering professor whose ground-breaking 2015 study was the first measurement of how much plastic debris enters the ocean every year. “And if you can make this one choice, maybe you can do even more.”

 

Except for people with medical needs, straws are not needed to consume beverages or water.  It is estimated that Americans use 500 million straws daily and citizen activists, my dinner guest being one, want to shrink that number. As it stands, being small and lightweight, straws often never make it into recycling bins; the evidence of this failure is clearly visible on any beach.

And while straws may amount to only a tiny fraction of ocean plastic, their size and shape make them one of the most insidious polluters because they entangle marine animals and are consumed by fish. Straws are the latest on an expanding list of individual plastic products being banned, taxed, or boycotted in an effort to curb seaborne plastic trash before it outweighs fish, a calculation projected to come true by 2050, according to one study.

 

Last year, California became the first state in the US to ban plastic bags, joining a host of nations that already do so (Kenya, China, Bangladesh, Rwanda, and Macedonia). France has not only banned bags, it has become the first country to also ban plastic plates, cups, and utensils, effective from 2020. San Francisco banned polystyrene, including Styrofoam cups and food containers, packaging peanuts, and beach toys. And in Rhode Island, the release of celebratory balloons is being targeted by activists, after almost 2,200 balloons were picked up on the shores of Aquidneck Island in the last four years.

 

Naturally, the plastics industry opposes bans at every turn. Bag manufacturers have persuaded lawmakers in Florida, Missouri, Idaho, Arizona, Wisconsin, and Indiana to pass legislation outlawing the bag bans, but that’s a topic for another argument on corporate greed versus global survival; and with the way the US is going under the Trump administration who knows if all of this goes backwards instead of progressing.
 

And in this vein, Keith Christman Director for plastic markets for the American Chemistry Council, says they will fight the banning of plastic straws but, what sets the anti-straw campaign apart from other efforts—and why the anti-straw campaign may succeed—is that activists are not seeking to change laws or regulations. They are merely asking consumers to change their habits and say no to straws.

 

Linda Booker, a North Carolina filmmaker, whose documentary, ‘Straws’, is making the rounds of the spring film festival circuit in the United States, says the turtle video, in part, inspired her to take on straws as a film project. She interviewed the scientists and included them in her film.  “I believe a lot of the catalyst for these straw campaigns was the video of the straw in the turtle’s nose,” she says.  

My thinking is that I guess part of the problem is that people see straws as insignificant and unimportant. I saw the turtle thing but never objected when a can would be provided with a straw. I try to make sure that when I go to the supermarket I take by environment friendly bag and resist buying plastic bottled water but is it enough as I provide plastic water bottles in droves to clients who visit our offices for fear that we may offend them if we offer water from a purifier – so I may threaten the marine life just to keep my clients happy and free of offence.


Many times people are overwhelmed by the bigness of the problem and often give up says an actor and activist Christopher Griener. “We need something achievable for everyday humans. The challenge is if we can get rid of plastic straws, let’s start there. Then we can move on from there.” 


Here’s a thought. There is a succinct old saying in English which goes ‘Don’t do as I do, just do as I say’, so maybe I need to put my morals where my mouthpiece is and offer my guests tap water in a straw-less glass (even clear glass is green!). And I would like to challenge you to resist taking straws, specifically asking waiters not to bring them and share this message or is this too much to ask or am I just clutching at straws?

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Export Processing Zones: How to Get SEZA to Sizzle

23rd September 2020
Export Processing Zone (EPZ) factory in Kenya

In 2005, the Business & Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) pitched the idea of the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to the Mogae Administration.

It took five years before the SEZ policy was formulated, another five years before the relevant law was enacted, and a full three years before the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) became operational.

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Egypt Bagged Again

23rd September 2020
Samson

… courtesy of infiltration stratagem by Jehovah-Enlil’s clan

With the passing of Joshua’s generation, General Atiku, the promised peace and prosperity of a land flowing with milk and honey disappeared, giving way to chaos and confusion.

Maybe Joshua himself was to blame for this shambolic state of affairs. He had failed to mentor a successor in the manner Moses had mentored him. He had left the nation without a central government or a human head of state but as a confederacy of twelve independent tribes without any unifying force except their Anunnaki gods.

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‘RO, ‘RO ‘RO YOUR ‘BOT

23rd September 2020

If I say the word ‘robot’ to you,  I can guess what would immediately spring to mind –  a cute little Android or animal-like creature with human or pet animal characteristics and a ‘heart’, that is to say to say a battery, of gold, the sort we’ve all seen in various movies and  tv shows.  Think R2D2 or 3CPO in Star Wars, Wall-E in the movie of the same name,  Sonny in I Robot, loveable rogue Bender in Futurama,  Johnny 5 in Short Circuit…

Of course there are the evil ones too, the sort that want to rise up and eliminate us  inferior humans – Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator,  Box in Logan’s Run,  Police robots in Elysium and  Otomo in Robocop.

And that’s to name but a few.  As a general rule of thumb, the closer the robot is to human form, the more dangerous it is and of course the ultimate threat in any Sci-Fi movie is that the robots will turn the tables and become the masters, not the mechanical slaves.  And whilst we are in reality a long way from robotic domination, there are an increasing number of examples of  robotics in the workplace.

ROBOT BLOODHOUNDS Sometimes by the time that one of us smells something the damage has already begun – the smell of burning rubber or even worse, the smell of deadly gas. Thank goodness for a robot capable of quickly detecting and analyzing a smell from our very own footprint.

A*Library Bot The A*Star (Singapore) developed library bot which when books are equipped with RFID location chips, can scan shelves quickly seeking out-of-place titles.  It manoeuvres with ease around corners, enhances the sorting and searching of books, and can self-navigate the library facility during non-open hours.

DRUG-COMPOUNDING ROBOT Automated medicine distribution system, connected to the hospital prescription system. It’s goal? To manipulate a large variety of objects (i.e.: drug vials, syringes, and IV bags) normally used in the manual process of drugs compounding to facilitate stronger standardisation, create higher levels of patient safety, and lower the risk of hospital staff exposed to toxic substances.

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY ROBOTS Applications include screw-driving, assembling, painting, trimming/cutting, pouring hazardous substances, labelling, welding, handling, quality control applications as well as tasks that require extreme precision,

AGRICULTURAL ROBOTS Ecrobotix, a Swiss technology firm has a solar-controlled ‘bot that not only can identify weeds but thereafter can treat them. Naio Technologies based in southwestern France has developed a robot with the ability to weed, hoe, and assist during harvesting. Energid Technologies has developed a citrus picking system that retrieves one piece of fruit every 2-3 seconds and Spain-based Agrobot has taken the treachery out of strawberry picking. Meanwhile, Blue River Technology has developed the LettuceBot2 that attaches itself to a tractor to thin out lettuce fields as well as prevent herbicide-resistant weeds. And that’s only scratching the finely-tilled soil.

INDUSTRIAL FLOOR SCRUBBERS The Global Automatic Floor Scrubber Machine boasts a 1.6HP motor that offers 113″ water lift, 180 RPM and a coverage rate of 17,000 sq. ft. per hour

These examples all come from the aptly-named site www.willrobotstakemyjob.com    because while these functions are labour-saving and ripe for automation, the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace will undoubtedly lead to increasing reliance on machines and a resulting swathe of human redundancies in a broad spectrum of industries and services.

This process has been greatly boosted by the global pandemic due to a combination of a workforce on furlough, whether by decree or by choice, and the obvious advantages of using virus-free machines – I don’t think computer viruses count!  For example, it was suggested recently that their use might have a beneficial effect in care homes for the elderly, solving short staffing issues and cheering up the old folks with the novelty of having their tea, coffee and medicines delivered by glorified model cars.  It’s a theory, at any rate.

Already, customers at the South-Korean  fast-food chain No Brand Burger can avoid any interaction with a human server during the pandemic.  The chain is using robots to take orders, prepare food and bring meals out to diners.  Customers order and pay via touchscreen, then their request is sent to the kitchen where a cooking machine heats up the buns and patties. When it’s ready, a robot ‘waiter’ brings out their takeout bag.   

‘This is the first time I’ve actually seen such robots, so they are really amazing and fun,’ Shin Hyun Soo, an office worker at No Brand in Seoul for the first time, told the AP. 

Human workers add toppings to the burgers and wrap them up in takeout bags before passing them over to yellow-and-black serving robots, which have been compared to Minions. 

Also in Korea, the Italian restaurant chain Mad for Garlic is using serving robots even for sit-down customers. Using 3D space mapping and other technology, the electronic ‘waiter,’ known as Aglio Kim, navigates between tables with up to five orders.  Mad for Garlic manager Lee Young-ho said kids especially like the robots, which can carry up to 66lbs in their trays.

These catering robots look nothing like their human counterparts – in fact they are nothing more than glorified food trolleys so using our thumb rule from the movies, mankind is safe from imminent takeover but clearly  Korean hospitality sector workers’ jobs are not.

And right there is the dichotomy – replacement by stealth.  Remote-controlled robotic waiters and waitresses don’t need to be paid, they don’t go on strike and they don’t spread disease so it’s a sure bet their army is already on the march.

But there may be more redundancies on the way as well.  Have you noticed how AI designers have an inability to use words of more than one syllable?  So ‘robot’ has become ‘bot’ and ‘android’ simply ‘droid?  Well, guys, if you continue to build machines ultimately smarter than yourselves you ‘rons  may find yourself surplus to requirements too – that’s ‘moron’ to us polysyllabic humans”!

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