On Thursday, February 22, students from more than two dozen colleges demanded their institutions “cancel their contracts with Starbucks in protest against the company’s response to union organizing efforts,” according to TheGuardian (UK).
Students from California to New York - in conjunction with Starbucks Workers United - pointed to the coffee giant’s less-than-worker-friendly tactics in dealing with demands for unionizing. Restaurant Dive lists some of those tactics, which include “workplace surveillance and diluting the electoral pool at unionizing locations, firing workers involved with the union in alleged retaliation, and alleged solicitation of grievances in an effort to stymie union organizing.”
The powerful cede power only when forced to, and it’ll be most interesting to see what effect these and other protests have on Starbucks’ policy. The Guardian reports that . . .
“nearly 400 Starbucks stores around the US have won union elections to join Starbucks Workers United since December 2021...but a first union contract for any store has yet to be reached.”
As any giant corporation would, Starbucks claimed there’s nothing to see here, folks, just move along now...Several sources quote a spokesperson for the coffee chain: “While we remain longstanding advocates of civil discourse, our focus is on fulfilling our promise to offer a bridge to a better future for all partners – through competitive pay, industry-leading benefits for part-time work, and our continued efforts to negotiate fair contracts for partners at stores that have chosen union representation.”
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill student Haya Odeh puts about as much credence into that statement as you do. “We’re just not going to let Starbucks slide with the injustices they pass on to workers,” she’s quoted in The Guardian. “Their union busting is just the very tip of the iceberg. Their labor practices and how they treat their workers, we want to push the message that we’re not going to stand for this as students.”
Georgetown University’s paper TheHoya reported on a panel discussion held on February 22, sponsored by Georgetown Students Against Starbucks (GSAS). “Panelist Meghin Martin, a former partner at Starbucks and member of SWU, said Starbucks has refused to engage in good faith bargaining, a type of negotiation in which both parties must sincerely resolve to reach a collective bargaining agreement.
‘Their whole game plan is running the union dry, wait as long as they possibly can, and hope that we either just give up, we run out of money.’”
Speaking of money, Starbucks has quite a lot of it. Those protesting its labor practices have gumption, dedication to the cause of the worker, and the desire to end corporate exploitation.
Time will declare the victor. For the moment, a cup of coffee would be terrific. A nice, home-brewed cup in a porcelain mug that can be used time and again...
Scientists have accidentally boosted the enzyme that's breaking down ocean plastic—and that's a huge step.
In the Pacific Ocean, at least 79,000 metric tons of plastic waste are floating across an area exceeding 1.5 million square kilometers. The latest measurements of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch revealed that it's constantly growing and that its accumulation of plastic is accelerating. Also increasing is the world's plastic consumption. We use over 320 million metric tons annually, the majority of which ends up in our oceans. This decade saw more plastic produced than any other in history. Since 1992, China has been importing nearly half of the planet's plastic waste for recycling. But starting this year, the country is refusing all nonindustrial plastics and limiting imports of paper waste. Suddenly, this recyclable material is falling into landfills because recycling plants can't keep up.
Researchers estimate that after China's ban, 111 million metric tons of plastic waste will have to find room elsewhere. Too much of that plastic (as much as a third) will likely end up in our oceans.
Good news came in February, when Japanese scientists announced that they had discovered the first species of bacteria that break down polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Commonly called polyester, PET is one of the most commonly used plastics and makes up a significant amount of the pollution in rivers, lakes and oceans. The bacteria, called Ideonella Sakaiensis 201-F6, contains enzymes that can break down the molecular bonds of PET in under six weeks.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
It appears that the bacteria evolved their "appetite" for PET as global pollution increased over the past century. But, as the scientists investigated the bacteria's biological processes, a lucky accident unveiled the organisms' greater potential.
They had experimented on the plastic-eating enzyme to study its evolution. Subsequent testing showed the surprising result of their adjustments: they had made the enzyme even better at breaking PET's molecular bonds.
This astonishing discovery points directly to large-scale uses of this enzyme in reducing plastic pollution around the world. When the modified enzyme breaks down the PET, it reverts the plastic to its base components. Unlike standard recycling, which can only reuse the plastic in limited ways, such as clothing or bags, the enzyme's process could allow broken down PET to become new PET, turning plastic waste back into new plastic.
Plastics are made from feedstocks derived from natural gas processing and crude oil refining. If the enzyme can successfully break down plastic into its original parts on a large scale, it will simultaneously reduce the amount of plastic polluting the oceans and reduce the amount of fossil fuels used to produce new plastic. It would be a step toward true recycling, where the recycled material contributes no waste to landfills.
The researchers only made a 20% improvement to the efficiency of the enzyme but the "only," in this measurement, is optimistic. Their goal is to optimize its performance even further, until its widespread use is practical and effective. They have even considered inserting this enzyme into other super-resilient bacteria that can survive in extremely harsh conditions.
Scientists continue to search for other strains of bacteria and fungi that have evolved similar skills. Enzymes are an ideal agent for plastic breakdown because they have no environmental side effects. This discovery opens another source of hope to a world facing increasingly dire warnings and little help from its governments. Perhaps nature has, once again, found its own solution in the absence of human innovation. And, perhaps, this bacteria offers exactly the creative spark that human scientists need to design their own long-term solutions.
What can we do to fix it?
As we thrust forward, full-throttle into a modern era defined by convenience and consumption, it's easy to blind ourselves to the effects our everyday lives have on the environment around us. Whether it's the choking yellow clouds that pour from our smokestacks or the heaps of refuse we leave behind us every trash day, one thing is clear: we're living with the garbage we create. We've only mapped about five percent of our oceans, but our garbage has reached seemingly every corner. 19 billion pounds of trash, a large portion of which is plastic, is dumped into the sea every year. This number is set to double by 2025.
Most trash that ends up in the ocean lands somewhere in five "patches," located in our oceans' various doldrums. The largest of these is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a debris-ridden swath of ocean that's thousands of miles wide. Currently, it is estimated that the combined weight of the world's garbage patches is somewhere near 200 millions tons. To make matters worse, fish have begun consuming microplastics, creating a health crisis not just for marine life, but for the people who rely on the ocean for food. So, what's the solution?
Trash, trash, and more trash.
Unsurprisingly, it's pretty difficult to scoop up and remove millions of tons of plastic from our oceans. While nets are partially effective, they have a tendency of picking up fish and by extension, inadvertently destroying the ecosystems they (the nets) are trying to protect. Boyan Slat, a Dutch Inventor, famously came up with another solution in which he places gigantic trash capturing barriers in the ocean. According to his site, the plan is to launch a set of these barriers into the Great Pacific Garbage Patch later this year. Slat's own estimates assure investors that his company (The Ocean Cleanup) can reduce the amount of trash in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by 50% within five years. Still, there are detractors. Many scientists insist that focusing on collecting trash with this method is a waste of time. According to a report by marine biologist Jan van Franeker, the negative effects of plastic in the water tend to dissipate after laws governing plastic use are put into place. It's "something that disappears in 10 to 20 years, if you stop the input," says van Franeker. The concern among scientists is that Slat's flashy invention could possibly move the spotlight off of more tenable solutions, such as legislation to prevent plastic dumping and the use of plastic bags.
The Ocean Clean Up project in action
Considering the fact that 80% of ocean pollution comes from land-based garbage, reduction of input is the definitely the more clear-cut way to fix this problem. One step would be the enactment of a federal container deposit law. Essentially, a deposit law forces consumers to pay a small fee (typically between 2 and 15 cents) for each bottle or can at purchase. This fee can later be refunded when the recycling is brought back to an eligible return center, such as a supermarket.
Presently, only ten states have programs in place to buy used plastic and aluminum containers, despite the fact that about 50% of Americans have access to curbside recycling. In states where bills regarding container deposits have been passed, the amount of aluminum and plastic beverage containers has dropped by as much as 84%. In many ways, these programs seem like a no-brainer but, unfortunately, many lawmakers conflate (purposely or otherwise) container deposit laws with their larger ineffective cousin, the litter tax. A litter tax is imposed on manufactures and retailers of recyclable goods and is used to fund various anti-littering campaigns. These taxes haven't proven to be effective. A deposit law actively incentivizes consumers to recycle, because they lose money if they don't. The problem is, beverage manufacturers don't want these laws, as they raise the in-store price of everything from beer to bottled water. For obvious reasons, this translates to lower sales.In order to correct our current course, Americans will need to adopt new attitudes and policies around how we produce and deal with our trash. Putting the health of our planet above our desire for profit may be a good place to start.