Friday, 22 March 2019

Coca-Cola admits it produces 3m tonnes of plastic packaging a year

Revelation comes as report calls on global firms to end secrecy over plastic footprint

Coca-Cola has revealed for the first time it produces 3m tonnes of plastic packaging a year – equivalent to 200,000 bottles a minute – as a report calls on other global companies to end the secrecy over their plastic footprint.

The data from the soft drinks manufacturer was provided to the campaigner Ellen MacArthur, who is pushing for major companies and governments to do more to tackle plastic pollution.

The figures – which the company has refused in the past to disclose – reveal the amount of plastic packaging Coca-Cola produced in 2017. The company did not reveal the scale of its bottle production but when its packaging footprint is translated into 500ml PET plastic bottles, it amounts to about 108bn bottles a year, more than a fifth of the world’s PET bottle output of about 500bn bottles a year.

Coca-Cola is one of 31 companies – including Mars, Nestlé and Danone – that have revealed how much plastic packaging they create as part of a drive for transparency by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Combined, they produce 8m tonnes of plastic packaging a year.

Coca-Cola’s packaging footprint is equivalent to 108bn bottles a year -
more than one-fifth of the world’s plastic bottle output.
Photograph: Richard Levine/Corbis via Getty Images
But the majority of the 150 companies who have signed up to MacArthur’s global commitment to reduce plastic pollution are still refusing to publicly disclose figures on their own plastic packaging production. These include Pepsi Co, H&M, L’Oréal, Walmart and Marks & Spencer.

In a report published on Thursday, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation said data published for the first time, alongside what companies say they are doing to tackle plastic pollution, offered a new level of transparency about plastics and efforts to stop plastic waste and pollution.

But the foundation said companies and governments across the world had to do more. “The decision by more than 30 companies to publicly disclose their annual plastic packaging volumes in the report is an important step towards greater transparency,” the foundation said.

“We applaud the companies that are publishing this data and encourage all companies that make and use plastics to disclose their plastics footprint.”

One hundred and 50 companies have signed up to the foundation’s global commitment to reduce plastic waste, which aims to:

Eliminate unnecessary plastic packaging and move from single-use to reusable packaging.
Innovate to ensure 100% of plastic packaging can be easily and safely reused, recycled, or composted by 2025.
Create a circular economy in plastic by significantly increasing the volumes of plastic reused or recycled into new packaging.
Sander Defruyt, from the foundation, said the action plans revealed by governments and companies in the report were a significant step forward. But he added: “They are still far from truly matching the scale of the problem, particularly when it comes to elimination of unnecessary items and innovation towards reuse models.

“Ambition levels must continue to rise to make real strides in addressing global plastic pollution by 2025, and moving from commitment to action is crucial.”

A first step by many of the companies who have signed the commitment was more openness. Alongside Coca-Cola’s data, Nestlé revealed it puts out 1.7m tonnes of plastic packaging annually, Unilever 610,000 tonnes, and Danone 750,000 tonnes.

Only two global raw material plastic producers have signed the commitment – Indorama and Borealis – and no airlines, food chains or hotels.

(Source: The Guardian)

Thursday, 21 March 2019

The winning photo of the $120K HIPA prize was apparently staged

The prestigious Hamdan International Photography Award (HIPA) has announced its 2019 winners, and Malaysian photographer Edwin Ong Wee Kee won the $120,000 Grand Prize with a photo shot in Vietnam showing a mother carrying two children. But the win is proving controversial today after a behind-the-scenes photo revealed that the shot was apparently staged.

The theme of this year’s HIPA contest was “Hope,” and the winners were unveiled on March 12th.

Here’s the image that was used to announce Kee’s winning photo:

“[H]is photo documented an intense humanitarian moment,” HIPA writes. “The feelings of a Vietnamese mother whose speech disorder did not prevent her from feeling hopeful and evoking a sense of strength for her children.”

And it seems that Kee has been promoting his photo as being the result of an unexpected and “unplanned” moment:

“In the world’s biggest single contest prize open to the global photography community, Malaysian Edwin hit big with his single image taken from a recent photo trip to Vietnam,” PDNPulse writes.

“Although he describes himself as a keen enthusiast, his full time profession is as a traditional Chinese medicine physician. His roadside shot of a Vietnamese woman and child was not planned and came about due to an unforeseen stop.”

But the photo seems to have been at least a little more planned or posed than Kee describes.

Photographer and Street Photo BD Magazine founder Ab Rashid shared a behind-the-scenes photo today that seems to have been taken at around the same time as the winning photo.

As you can see, a crowd of photographers was apparently gathered around the mother at the same time as Kee, meaning his photo was just one of a large number of nearly identical photos that emerged from the portrait session.

“Another classic photo of a photography tour group gathered around one subject, shooting the same image from almost the same angle,” writes picsofasia.

It’s important to note that HIPA is a general photography award and not a photojournalism contest, so there isn’t any rule that was broken in this case. But it’s the fact that one of several similar photos won a prestigious $120,000 cash prize that seems to be leaving a sour taste in many photographers’ mouths.

“Staging a photo and winning a competition, is THE fastest way to reach this stage,” picsofasia continues. “This is the fastest shortcut you can take to obtain fame. Fame that will of course make you become very rich. Because we all know that once you have won a competition, it rains money and National Geographic just can’t get enough of you for their exotic assignments around the world.

“It is sad, very sad…”

Update: We’re hearing from a source (who does not wish to be named) that the mother in the photo had walked into the group of photographers who were shooting at the location and that she agreed to pose for portraits when asked by the group.

This description is reminiscent of the controversy that erupted back in January 2018 when photojournalist A. M. Ahad shared a behind-the-scenes video of multiple photographers shooting photos of a young man who was leaning out of a train window and striking a prayerful pose.

“For the last couple of years […] there are hundreds of Malaysian and Chinese tourists carting cameras and doing things,” Ahad told PetaPixel. “They are all around making images and ruining things for professional photographers. […] [P]eople think it’s natural to give a pose if a photographer asks […] Bangladesh is not for people like this who [come] to ruin professional photographers etiquette for the sake of winning medal[s].”

(Source: Peta Pixel)

The truth about wasabi

Have you ever eaten wasabi?

If you answered “yes” to that question, you are likely mistaken. Most sushi eaters—even in Japan—are actually being served a mixture of ground horseradish and green food coloring, splashed with a hint of Chinese mustard. Worldwide, experts believe that this imposter combination masquerades as wasabi about 99 percent of the time.

The reason boils down to supply and demand. Authentic wasabi, known as Wasabia japonica, is the most expensive crop in the world to grow. The temperamental semiaquatic herb, native to the mountain streams of central Japan, is notoriously difficult to cultivate. Once planted, it takes several years to harvest; even then, it doesn’t germinate unless conditions are perfect. Grated wasabi root loses its flavor within 15 minutes.

The Japanese have grown wasabi for more than four centuries. The 75-year-old Shigeo Iida, the eighth-generation owner of his family’s wasabi farm in Japan, takes pride in his tradition, which is profiled in Edwin Lee’s short documentary Wasabia Japonica, co-produced by Japan Curator. “Real wasabi, like the ones we grow, has a unique, fragrant taste that first hits the nose,” Iida says in the film. “The sweetness comes next, followed finally by spiciness.”

The film details Iida’s method of sustainable farming, known in Japan as tatamiishi. “It’s one of the most intricate organic farming systems,” Lee told me. Tatamiishi farms like Iida’s are built on sloped hillsides near rivers, harnessing the power of nature. Despite the plant’s finicky nature, Iida doesn’t use chemicals or fertilizers.

“In this day and age, where mass farming and manufacturing are dominant, it's refreshing to see a farming method that eschews modern technology,” Lee told me. “Tatamiishi farming results in some of the best wasabi in the world.”

Lee believes that many people would be surprised if they were afforded the chance to try real wasabi. “Like me,” he said, “it'll be difficult to go back to the fake stuff.”

(Source: The Atlantic)

We translate our thoughts into words, but words also affect the way we think

Have you ever worried in your student years or later in life that time may be starting to run out to achieve your goals? If so, would it be easier conveying this feeling to others if there was a word meaning just that? In German, there is. That feeling of panic associated with one’s opportunities appearing to run out is called Torschlusspanik.

German has a rich collection of such terms, made up of often two, three or more words connected to form a superword or compound word. Compound words are particularly powerful because they are (much) more than the sum of their parts. Torschlusspanik, for instance, is literally made of “gate”-“closing”-“panic”.

If you get to the train station a little late and see your train’s doors still open, you may have experienced a concrete form of Torschlusspanik, prompted by the characteristic beeps as the train doors are about to close. But this compound word of German is associated with more than the literal meaning. It evokes something more abstract, referring to the feeling that life is progressively shutting the door of opportunities as time goes by.

English too has many compound words. Some combine rather concrete words like “seahorse”, “butterfly”, or “turtleneck”. Others are more abstract, such as “backwards” or “whatsoever”. And of course in English too, compounds are superwords, as in German or French, since their meaning is often distinct from the meaning of its parts. A seahorse is not a horse, a butterfly is not a fly, turtles don’t wear turtlenecks, etc.

One remarkable feature of compound words is that they don’t translate well at all from one language to another, at least when it comes to translating their constituent parts literally. Who would have thought that a “carry-sheets” is a wallet – porte-feuille –, or that a “support-throat” is a bra – soutien-gorge – in French?

This begs the question of what happens when words don’t readily translate from one language to another. For instance, what happens when a native speaker of German tries to convey in English that they just had a spurt of Torschlusspanik? Naturally, they will resort to paraphrasing, that is, they will make up a narrative with examples to make their interlocutor understand what they are trying to say.

But then, this begs another, bigger question: Do people who have words that simply do not translate in another language have access to different concepts? Take the case of hiraeth for instance, a beautiful word of Welsh famous for being essentially untranslatable. Hiraeth is meant to convey the feeling associated with the bittersweet memory of missing something or someone, while being grateful of their existence.

Hiraeth is not nostalgia, it is not anguish, or frustration, or melancholy, or regret. And no, it is not homesickness, as Google translate may lead you to believe, since hiraeth also conveys the feeling one experiences when they ask someone to marry them and they are turned down, hardly a case of homesickness.

Different words, different minds?
The existence of a word in Welsh to convey this particular feeling poses a fundamental question on language–thought relationships. Asked in ancient Greece by philosophers such as Herodotus (450 BC), this question has resurfaced in the middle of the last century, under the impetus of Edward Sapir and his student Benjamin Lee Whorf, and has become known as the linguistic relativity hypothesis.

Linguistic relativity is the idea that language, which most people agree originates in and expresses human thought, can feedback to thinking, influencing thought in return. So, could different words or different grammatical constructs “shape” thinking differently in speakers of different languages? Being quite intuitive, this idea has enjoyed quite of bit of success in popular culture, lately appearing in a rather provocative form in the science fiction movie Arrival.

Although the idea is intuitive for some, exaggerated claims have been made about the extent of vocabulary diversity in some languages. Exaggerations have enticed illustrious linguists to write satirical essays such as “the great Eskimo vocabulary hoax”, where Geoff Pullum denounces the fantasy about the number of words used by Eskimos to refer to snow. However, whatever the actual number of words for snow in Eskimo, Pullum’s pamphlet fails to address an important question: what do we actually know about Eskimos’ perception of snow?

No matter how vitriolic critics of the linguistic relativity hypothesis may be, experimental research seeking scientific evidence for the existence of differences between speakers of different languages has started accumulating at a steady pace. For instance, Panos Athanasopoulos at Lancaster University, has made striking observations that having particular words to distinguish colour categories goes hand-in-hand with appreciating colour contrasts. So, he points out, native speakers of Greek, who have distinct basic colour terms for light and dark blue (ghalazio and ble respectively) tend to consider corresponding shades of blue as more dissimilar than native speaker of English, who use the same basic term “blue” to describe them.

But scholars including Steven Pinker at Harvard are unimpressed, arguing that such effects are trivial and uninteresting, because individuals engaged in experiments are likely to use language in their head when making judgements about colours – so their behaviour is superficially influenced by language, while everyone sees the world in the same way.

To progress in this debate, I believe we need to get closer to the human brain, by measuring perception more directly, preferably within the small fraction of time preceding mental access to language. This is now possible, thanks to neuroscientific methods and – incredibly – early results lean in favour of Sapir and Whorf’s intuition.

So, yes, like it or not, it may well be that having different words means having differently structured minds. But then, given that every mind on earth is unique and distinct, this is not really a game changer.

(Source: The Conversation)

How Manohar Parrikar became my friend over chats about a moped, red shirt & green tea

Reporter Rohini Swamy first met Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar, who passed away Sunday, at Panaji in 1999, when the Lok Sabha elections were underway. 

Chief minister Manohar “Bhai” Parrikar, who passed away Sunday, was a household name in Goa, a real “aam aadmi” politician.

Often, you would be discussing his politics and governance over tea and Goan pav bhaji at a restaurant, only to find him sitting at the next table, enjoying the chai and charcha (tea and discussion).

And if he met you once, he never forgot you.

On the streets of Panaji
This reporter first met him at Panaji in 1999. The Lok Sabha elections were underway and this reporter, fresh into adulthood and armed with her voter ID and first-ever driver’s licence, was set to ride her moped to cast her vote for the very first time.

One day, Parrikar, who was actively campaigning for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the time, stopped at a grocer’s in Dona Paula for a cold drink, just as I came in to purchase some household items.

While waiting at the counter, he started chatting with me in his typical composed manner.

“Are you going to be voting this time?” he asked. I nodded, telling him it would be my first time and admitting that I was confused about my choice.

“Don’t worry,” he replied.

“It’s easy. Just cast your vote, but don’t forget to think it through, as the person you vote for will change your life and make a difference,” he said.

He had seen me park my moped by the shop, because he pointed towards it and asked, “Do you have a licence for that?

“You are young now, don’t speed,” he added, smiling, before getting on a white Kinetic Honda and setting off, followed by a few BJP workers. Just as he was leaving, the local poder (breadman), passing by on a bicycle, waved at Parrikar. They exchanged pleasantries before parting ways.

File image of Manohar Parrikar | Praveen Jain/ThePrint
That image of Parrikar, sitting astride a two-wheeler in his signature half-sleeved shirt and open sandals, was a common sight in Panaji and Mapusa during his chief ministerial days.

During polling campaigns, he would ride pillion as party candidates rode across town, canvassing for support.

‘Moped girl’
The next meeting came a couple of years later, when this reporter started training as a cub with a local Goan English daily called The Navhind Times.

One day, the then chief reporter, Umesh Mhambre, suggested a joint assignment covering a midnight session of the Goa assembly. Parrikar was chief minister at the time.

After the session, just as we were leaving the assembly building, we saw Parrikar approach us. “I remember you,” he said, looking at me. “You are from Dona Paula, right?

“You have become a journalist? You have more responsibility than me now,” he added, laughing.

That day, he once again saw me mount my moped and, from then on, I became “moped girl” for him.

In the years to come, each time I visited Goa, we would meet for a short while because Parrikar wanted a youngster’s vision for how the state should be developed.

A leader of the people
Parrikar was a leader known for compassion. A young woman sexually harassed by a government official, discouraged by her family from filing a police complaint, once approached the CM for help.

She stood outside his official residence, Mahalakshmi, at Altinho in Panaji and waited for an appointment. When she was allowed to meet the CM, she found herself in a room full of people, unable to narrate her ordeal.

Quick to gauge the hesitation, Parrikar asked the room to be cleared of the public, letting just two of his staff members stay back, and asked her what the issue was.

When she revealed the incident, he stood up and said, “Do not worry. I will not let a beast remain in Goa. You do not need to go to police. I will ensure that he does not look at or touch a woman like this ever in his life.”

In a matter of days, the official was arrested.

A gift from his deeply-missed wife
In 2011, during a visit back home to Goa, we met near the BJP office. He was wearing a red shirt and the colour gave him a flushed appearance, which this reporter mistook for an allergy. I asked him if he was well.

“It’s the shirt that makes me look red,” he replied.

“This is one of my favourite shirts. I am very attached to it as my late wife bought it for me. I wear it almost every alternate day and it shows my true Goan blood,” he added.
Parrikar lost his wife Medha to cancer in 2000.

Years later, when he had assumed charge as defence minister and overseen India’s post-Uri-attack surgical strikes of September 2016, we chanced upon each other at Aero India. “Koshem Asa (how are you in Konkani)?” he said, walking up to me after spotting me from a distance. Parrikar spoke in Konkani every time we met. It was his way of keeping our Goan connection alive.

He invited me to his official residence for a chat, and began talking about how the political scenario in Goa had changed. However, the reporter in me was curious to know about the surgical strikes and he didn’t shy away from the query.

“It has taken me a long time to learn the ropes,” he said. “I know I will receive flak for everything I do. But as the Raksha Mantri, I will not allow a man with an AK-47 to walk onto our soil and cause bloodshed. We don’t want war, but if the enemy tries to incite one, we will tear into them, mercilessly,” he added.

We met again as he took oath as the CM for the fourth time. It was the last time I saw him in fine health.

“Why did you leave Delhi and come back to Goa?” I asked him. “I love my Xitt Kodi (fish curry rice) and nobody knows how to make it well there,” he added. “Don’t you miss it too?” he asked with a smile.

When tea arrived, he promptly took out a small bag of green tea from the pocket of his bush shirt and placed it in the cup of hot water kept in front of him.

“I carry these bags in my pocket these days,” he said.

“I cannot be having tea all the time. I don’t like the taste, but too much tea acidity. I should be healthy to be a CM, right?” he added.

Losing a friend
When a frail Parrikar, who had undergone several rounds of therapy by then, climbed the steps to inaugurate the Atal setu in Goa this January, the people who knew him recognised the familiar glint of confidence in his eyes.

He proved them right too when he asked the cheering crowd, “How’s the josh (spirit)?”

Clearly, it was his josh that always kept his spirits high. With his passing away, Goa has lost its “bhai” and I have lost a good friend.

(Source: The Print)