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Africa wages war on scourge of plastic bags

Andrew Cawthorne, Reuters
They’ve become as much a symbol of Africa’s landscape as the stereotypical lions and plains.

Discarded plastic bags — in the billions — flutter from thorn-bushes across the continent, and clog up cities from Cape Town to Casablanca.

South Africa was once producing 7 billion bags a year; Somaliland residents became so used to them they re-named them “flowers of Hargeisa” after their capital; and Kenya not so long ago churned out about 4,000 tonnes of polythene bags a month.

“They’re an eyesore across Africa, but there are damaging health and environment … too,” said the U.N. Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Africa industry officer Desta Mebratu.

Produced — and then strewn — en masse in most countries, the flimsy bags block drains and sewage systems and can kill livestock who nibble and digest them.
(20 August 2007)

Japan eyes chopsticks for biofuel

Japan will try to turn the millions of wooden chopsticks that go discarded each year into biofuel to ease the country’s energy shortage, officials said Wednesday.

Biofuels are seen as an alternative clean energy resource that can reduce dependence on Middle East oil and lessen the impact of global warming. Japan has virtually no natural energy resources of its own.

Restaurants and convenience stores generally hand out disposable, wooden chopsticks without asking. Each of Japan’s 127 million people uses an average of 200 sets a year, meaning 90,000 tons of wood, according to government data.
(21 August 2007)

Dirty chopsticks picked up in new China scare

A Beijing factory recycled used chopsticks and sold up to 100,000 pairs a day without any form of disinfection, a newspaper said on Wednesday, the latest in a string of Chinese food and product safety scares.

Counterfeit, shoddy and dangerous products are widespread in China, whose exports have been rocked in recent months by a spate of safety scandals, ranging from pet food to medicine, tyres, toothpaste and toys.

Officials raided the factory and seized about half a million pairs of recycled disposable bamboo chopsticks and a packaging machine, the Beijing News said.
(22 August 2007)

Toys R Not Us

Sharon Astyk, Casaubon’s Book
t was a parable, but I didn’t listen. My neighbor and her husband gave her two boys a big Thomas the Tank Engine train set for Christmas. It had miles of track, a lot of trains, trees, buildings, bridges, you name it – and it had its own table to set the track up on, and a drawer to store it in. This was no small piece of furniture, either. Bigger than a coffee table, it was a substantial thing. And on Christmas morning, a half hour after providing everything a train-obsessed child could ever want, my neighbor came into see that her children had taken the trains away from the track, and were running them along the living room floor, and up over the “mountains” of the couch pillows. The track, the buildings, the bridges were all left behind as the two boys happily raced two small wooden trains around the room.

I should have listened. But a year later, when Grandma wanted to get my children a big gift for Chanukah, she proposed a train set, complete with table. My husband and I were excited – we had forgotten the lesson above. They could set up whole villages, we thought! It would be welcoming, exciting for any child who comes to visit. The kids would spend hours playing with it! And they did, for a little while. But half the time, they were racing the trains over the floors, or making up stories about the trains crossing bridges – not the premade wooden bridges that came with the set, but blocks. It turned out that the person who spent the most time playing with the trains, setting them up and arranging them “just so” was my husband. The kids didn’t care about just so – they just wanted to play train. The box it came in, the table, the track and the accessories make clutter in my house. And what my kids really wanted – four little two inch wooden trains – could have provided the same amount of pleasure for 1/100th the waste. With a little practice, Daddy could have made them.

The thing was, the people who wanted the toys were us. Oh, the kids envied their neighbors the train set and loved to play with it when we went over there. But their wanting was innocent – they weren’t supposed to notice that the neighbor kids only played with the trains when the guests were excited about them. And, of course, the trains themselves were the more wonderful and fascinating for living at someone else’s house. It was Daddy and Mommy and Grandma and Grandpa who wanted the children to have the trains. We had a fantasy of what pleasure the trains would give. We had a dream of providing them with something wonderful. And how often is that true about the toys we give our kids and grandkids, nieces and nephews? How often is it that we want to give them, more than the children themselves really want the toys?

…What’s the solution? Fewer toys. Many fewer, and better ones. Toys made of natural materials, that are demonstrably nontoxic. Toys you make yourself, or toys your children make. Toys made from non-dangerous recycled things. But most of all, fewer of them. Not fifty dolls, but four. Not 100 stuffed animals, but 10, or 5 or 2.
(20 August 2007)