Japan's plastic problem: Tokyo spearheads push at G20 to tackle waste

World’s second biggest producer of plastic waste per capita vows to put its plastic mountain on map at summit

One of the joys of traveling on Japan’s bullet trains is tucking into an ekiben “station bento”. But it is also a reminder of the country’s addiction to plastic.

The Guardian’s ekiben, eaten en route to this week’s G20 summit in Osaka, contained no fewer than nine individual pieces of plastic, from functional sachets for sauce and mustard to purely decorative slivers of fake grass.

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In the NBC TV show The Good Place, Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper) attempts to teach moral philosophy to Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell), to mixed results. | Ron Batzdorff/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images One study found that sitting in a discussion section on the ethics of meat led students to lower their meat consumption. One of my favorite running debates within moral philosophy as a discipline is whether moral philosophy, as a discipline, is any good or not. The latest salvo in the debate is an actual randomized evaluation of the effects of moral philosophy instruction. Describing their work in the journal Cognition, the authors — University of California Riverside’s Eric Schwitzgebel, University of Kansas’s Bradford Cokelet, and Princeton’s Peter Singer— describe it as “the first controlled experiment testing the real-world behavioral consequences of university-level philosophy instruction.” In other words: Does sitting in a moral philosophy class actually nudge you toward more moral decisions? The argument over the moral effects of philosophy dates to the ancient Greeks or earlier, but in recent decades a foundational article is Elizabeth Anscombe’s “Does Oxford Moral Philosophy Corrupt Youth?” Published in 1957 and commenting on the evolving nature of philosophical instruction in England’s premier university, Anscombe’s essay was an allusion to the criminal charge against Socrates — that he “corrupted the youth” of Athens — that led to his execution. And while Anscombe was an Oxford moral philosopher, she was also a devout Catholic. Her conclusion was that Oxford’s moral philosophy instruction could not corrupt the young elites of Britain any more than the base and vile culture of their upbringing had already corrupted them. More recently, the philosophers Annette Baier and Kieran Setiya have argued that the corruption charge was justified based on the fact that introductory moral philosophy courses, in particular, teach students that the discipline has come to no shared conclusions on the nature of morality. Instead, it has split into competing factions. There are some utilitarians and some Kantians (arguing that morality derives from the nature of rational thought), and some Aristotelians (emphasizing character and pursuit of the virtues), and learning about the profound differences between each can lead students to conclude we know nothing about the nature of morality — and thus that anything goes. In Baier’s words, “We, in effect, give courses in comparative moral theory, and like courses in comparative religion, their usual effect on the student is loss of faith in any of the alternatives presented. We produce relativists and moral skeptics, persons who have been convinced by our teaching that whatever they do in some difficult situation, some moral theory will condone it, another will condemn it.” In other words, students learn that experts disagree about the nature of right and wrong, which leads them to lose faith that there is a firm difference between the two. To date, the debate has mostly centered around individual philosophy professors — people who have much expertise but whose judgments are inevitably partial and contradict each other frequently. So I was pleased to see that three philosophers have actually conducted a large-scale randomized experiment to see if moral philosophy can alter student’s moral decision-making — and in what direction. Schwitzgebel, Cokelet, and Singer do not look at abstract outcomes, like how well students do after a class on tests of moral reasoning capacity. They instead look at a very concrete outcome: Do students eat less meat after learning about philosophical arguments against factory farming? Tracking students’ meat spending after philosophy class The experiment was conducted with 1,332 UC Riverside students across four different introductory philosophy courses. All the classes had small discussion sections (each capped at 25 students) run by graduate student teaching assistants. One week, the sections focused either on the ethics of charity (the control group) or the ethics of eating meat (the treatment group); students were informed that this was part of a “teaching experiment.” Neither of these topics was covered in lectures, so the discussion sections were the whole treatment. The study authors chose meat-eating for several reasons, but a key one was that “among philosophers who write on the issue there is widespread (though not perfect) consensus that it is generally morally better for the typical North American to eat less factory farmed meat.” Few ethical areas have that degree of consensus, but factory-farmed meat is so bad for humans and animals alike that it’s hard to construct a defense (though some have tried). That allows the authors to test if the instruction “worked” by seeing if the discussion caused people to eat less meat. And it worked! Not only were students in the meat ethics sections likelier to say they thought eating factory-farmed meat is unethical, analysis of their dining cards — basically debit cards issued as part of UC Riverside’s meal plan that students can use to buy meals on campus — suggested that they bought less meat too. Fifty-two percent of dining card purchases for both the control and treatment groups were of meat products before the class. After the class, the treatment group’s percentage fell to 45 percent. This effect wasn’t driven by a few students becoming vegetarians, but by all students buying slightly less meat. It’s possible this effect was temporary; the authors only had a few weeks of data. But it at least lasted for several weeks. This result is somewhat surprising. One of the authors, Schwitzgebel, has conducted surveys suggesting that the moral views and behaviors of moral philosophers aren’t appreciably different from those of other philosophers and non-philosophy academics (one exception to this trend appears to be meat-eating). Despite being “experts” on morality, ethicists don’t seem to behave differently or have different moral opinions than people in other fields, which arguably casts some doubt on the existence of moral expertise. In an email announcing the paper, Singer said that Schwitzgebel expected a null result on the new experiment too: that is, he didn’t think the moral instruction would do anything. “It’s an encouraging result for those challenging the ethics of eating meat, because it shows that what happens in a classroom can persuade people to eat less meat (even if the difference isn’t as sharp as I would have wished),” Singer concluded. I hope this is only the beginning of a large literature on the effectiveness of philosophical instruction. But it’s a promising start. Sign up for the Future Perfect newsletter and we’ll send you a roundup of ideas and solutions for tackling the world’s biggest challenges — and how to get better at doing good. Support Vox’s explanatory journalism Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. Vox’s work is reaching more people than ever, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Your financial contribution will not constitute a donation, but it will enable our staff to continue to offer free articles, videos, and podcasts at the quality and volume that this moment requires. Please consider making a contribution to Vox today.
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The history of modern Lebanon is a history of, among other things, governance failure—and the explosion in downtown Beirut is a tragic kind of capstone.But it is no defense of the Lebanese handling of the ship and its cargo that caused the explosion to say that perhaps this really isn’t the best time for Americans to be lecturing other countries about how their political choices contribute to disasters.I don’t mean to understate the magnitude of the Lebanese failure here. As Declan Walsh and Andrew Higgins of The New York Times reported with admirable speed after the blast, the explosion resulted from almost unfathomable regulatory negligence after a leaky ship showed up six years ago in Beirut bearing nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate—the same substance of which only two tons blew up the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995. The cargo of the abandoned ship was unloaded into a warehouse and left there. Repeated warnings about the danger of leaving the material in place produced no action.“In view of the serious danger posed by keeping this shipment in the warehouses in an inappropriate climate,” the director of Lebanese customs wrote to the country’s judiciary in May 2016, “we repeat our request to demand the maritime agency to re-export the materials immediately.”Officials, however, seemed more concerned about holding the indebted vessel’s crew until bills were paid than about safely disposing of the cargo that would eventually destroy a portion of the city. “They just wanted the money we owed,” the ship’s captain told the Times.No, the United States isn’t Lebanon. And no, our own catastrophe hasn’t unfolded with a shock wave and a mushroom cloud reminiscent of a nuclear detonation. It has played out in slower motion instead.[Read: The decline of the American world]Yet our own governance failures over the past several months have produced a still-growing body count orders of magnitude larger than the one the explosion in Beirut will produce. While the number of dead in Beirut will no doubt continue to grow, it will grow more slowly than the number of dead here, to which we will continue to add a thousand or two a day for the foreseeable future. Many Americans will no doubt comfort themselves that the situations are different. True enough. But there are some unnerving similarities too—the negligence of “corrupt and incompetent elites” chief among them.As the journalist Will Saletan wrote in an excellent article on the president’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis, “Trump collaborated with [Chinese President] Xi [Jinping], concealed the threat, impeded the U.S. government’s response, silenced those who sought to warn the public, and pushed states to take risks that escalated the tragedy. He’s personally responsible for tens of thousands of deaths.” The president’s “interference or negligence” contributed to “every stage of the government’s failure: preparation, mobilization, public communication, testing, mitigation, and reopening.”Like the Lebanese authorities, our government had fair warning. Just as the Lebanese authorities knew that a ship bearing deadly cargo was stuck in Beirut, American officials knew what was happening in China. They saw what was happening in Iran and Italy. The outbreaks came late on our shores, though the coronavirus was clearly here somewhat earlier. Unlike the Italians, we had time to prepare. And our public-health officials, like the Lebanese customs officials who warned about leaving a giant stockpile of ammonium nitrate in downtown Beirut, warned about the likely costs of complacency. Like the Lebanese authorities, our government did not act effectively. We know that effective action was possible, because other governments took it. Other governments removed the ammonium nitrate from the downtowns of their major cities. Donald Trump, like the Lebanese, chose not to.In some ways, at least, the negligence of the Trump administration actually exceeds that of the Lebanese government. An explosion, after all, is a sudden thing that happens all at once. There is no intervening once it begins.A pandemic, by contrast, takes place over time. Each day thus offers a new opportunity either for negligence or for leadership. And each day since the pandemic arrived in this country, Trump has awakened with what amounts to a renewed commitment to negligence. Sometimes the commitment takes the form of denial. Sometimes it takes the form of blame-shifting. Sometimes it takes the form of conspiracy theorizing. Sometimes it takes the form of magical thinking.[Read: How the pandemic defeated America]There is no such thing as leadership during an explosion. There is such a thing as leadership during a pandemic. And there is also such a thing as its absence.We should compare our government’s performance unfavorably with that of Lebanon’s for another reason too: Lebanon has excuses—a lot of them. It is a poor country. It is riven by sectarian divisions. It fought a horrible civil war not too long ago. It has been occupied by two of its neighbors. And it still has to deal with political forces such as Hezbollah and foreign meddling from Iran and Saudi Arabia. It has 1 million refugees from the Syrian conflict with whom to contend.What exactly is our excuse?“The people demand the fall of the regime,” protesters chant in Beirut. And maybe people would be demanding the fall of the regime here too had our catastrophe unfolded in a flash, had it sheared the faces off of buildings and buried children, instead of taking place in slow motion over great distances and involving ever-so-many people we don’t know in nursing homes and hospitals we will never visit.Yes, democratic remedies are available here—an election coming up in less than three months—through which we can channel our rage. At least assuming the election goes off okay, we have a means of effecting the fall of the regime that the Lebanese, whose political system divides the people’s vote to ensure that every sect has a share of power, do not have. There is, at least in theory, a way for Americans to demand accountability of their leadership. And that is a crucial difference.Yet even if we do that three months from now, and even if a Biden administration sweeps into office and acts decisively and effectively to get the pandemic under control, it will be a long time before the United States is in a position once again to lecture other countries about the relationship between responsible government and disaster preparedness, prevention, and management.Because we too left thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate downtown.
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Getty Images Lipstick sales are way down, but fancy skin care gadgets are actually on the rise. Leonard Lauder, the current chairman emeritus of the Estée Lauder Companies, noticed that people were buying a lot of lipstick during the economic downturn of the early 2000s. He coined the term “lipstick index,” hypothesizing that consumers were willing to spend $30 on a small indulgence during a recession rather than shell out for a bigger-ticket luxury item like expensive shoes or a handbag. That specific theory doesn’t really hold up during a pandemic in which the best way to prevent the spread of a deadly disease is by wearing a mask over the lower half of your face. Lipstick sales have tanked in the last six months, according to NPD Group beauty adviser Larissa Jensen, as the dual public health and economic crises brought on by the coronavirus pandemic have worsened. It makes sense that lipstick isn’t really practical in this environment — no one can see it anyway, not to mention it would make a mess on the inside of the mask. “People are still spending, but they’re shifting their dollars around” Sales of all beauty products are down 25 percent in the last six months compared to last year, according to NPD, but that doesn’t mean the beauty industry isn’t finding a way to adapt or that consumers aren’t buying products, including some that cost hundreds of dollars. The beauty industry is kind of like a cockroach; it always figures out how to survive. Chalk it up to human nature. “Humans groom themselves. It’s just what we do,” says Doreen Bloch, the CEO and founder of Poshly, a beauty data company. “People are still spending, people are still engaging in the category, but they’re shifting their dollars around.” Those dollars are buying things like hair dye, fake eyelashes, “sexy” hand sanitizers, stick-on nail polish, and $300 gadgets that zap your face with electrical microcurrents or scrape your pores. Lipstick may be out, but the pandemic has pushed other things to the front of shoppers’ minds and faces. Makeup in the mask age Prestige makeup, meaning the more expensive brands sold at places like Sephora and department stores, has seen sales drop 37 percent in the last six months, according to NPD’s Jensen. Seventy-one percent of women surveyed by the firm said they “wear makeup less often due to Covid-19 lifestyle changes.” Beauty companies are astute at either finding a problem people are talking about and trying to solve it, or manufacturing one. In the beginning of the pandemic, beauty brands attempted to push the narrative that work-from-home employees should care about their makeup because of Zoom calls, with media outlets publishing helpful beauty tips for video calls. But as Zoom fatigue has set in and we’ve become used to seeing the imperfection of people’s homes, with pets and children running in and out of frame, is that really a concern anymore? View this post on Instagram A post shared by Glossier (@glossier) on Jul 15, 2020 at 3:41pm PDT “No, nobody cares,” says Kirbie Johnson, a beauty writer and co-host of the beauty-focused podcast Gloss Angeles. “Zoom has the beautify feature! If you’re really worried about it, you can click that and you’re done.” That isn’t to say people aren’t wearing or caring about makeup. Johnson said she’s seen a push from brands for products that play up eyes, like mascara, fake lashes, brow products, and eye shadow, which is consistent with NPD’s sales data. More people are buying eye makeup than lipstick or foundation because that’s what’s more visible these days. To reflect this new reality, Cosmopolitan is running a feature on eye makeup in its September issue, according to the magazine’s beauty director Julee Wilson. She says it’s about “having fun with makeup around your eyes because that’s how we can express ourselves now.” Jensen expects this eye trend to endure. “Face masks are part of our future for a bit longer term.” Skin is in Skin care is the real pandemic go-to, though. Johnson says that even makeup companies are pushing products that they think will appeal to the skin care crowd, such as Becca’s new Zero, which the company calls a “no pigment virtual foundation.” In other words, skin care. Skin care sales are also lower than pre-pandemic levels thanks to store closures, but they haven’t suffered nearly as badly as makeup has. Skin care was already incredibly popular pre-pandemic, and now that people have lots of extra time at home to evaluate their pores, interest in the category remains relatively strong. Face masks, serums, and moisture products are all popular. One of the reasons is because of “maskne,” a neologism seen everywhere in beauty circles now. “Buttne” and “backne” should give you a clue about what maskne means: acne occurring around the area where one wears a mask. “Beauty loves a good buzzword to throw around. I’ve been getting pitches probably every single day for the last two months about maskne,” says Johnson. According to Poshly data, 43 percent of people have experienced irritation due to mask-wearing. Maskne is a real thing, says New York City dermatologist Dr. Carlos Charles, though not a new concept. He chalks maskne up to a situation called acne mechanica, which is inflammation and irritation caused by physical friction. Humidity inside the mask and dirt on the mask itself can exacerbate the problem, slowing cell turnover, clogging pores, and providing an ideal home for acne bacteria to thrive. It’s not treated any differently from regular acne. The same topical products like benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and retinoids like Differin will work. Ultimately, though, it’s a great way for beauty brands to market products during this time. “It’s gotten attention because it’s something new and exciting to talk about,” Charles says.“But I’m always wary of people doing [DIY treatments] at home when they don’t know what they’re doing. We always overdo it because we want things to go away quickly.” Skin care devices like the GloPro and NuFace have seen triple-digit sales increases Gadgets, which are having a real moment, play into this impulse of wanting quick improvement. Skin care devices like the GloPro (a $199 microneedle tool used to puncture tiny holes in the skin to stimulate collagen production and increase product absorption) and NuFace (a $325 device that runs an electric current through the facial muscles to provide lift and toning) have both seen triple-digit sales increases since the pandemic started. The category overall, which had been experiencing declining sales in 2019, was up 8 percent the first six months of this year. “People are definitely using tools, and if they didn’t have one, they now want to know what they should be getting. They’re thinking, ‘I’m at home, I’m not going to be seeing anybody, so I might as well take the time now to really go hard on my skin care and gadget routine so that when we are able to go out and see people I look my best,’” says Gloss Angeles’s Johnson. Ultrasonic skin spatulas, or “skin scrubbers,” are popular too, especially on TikTok. The vibrating device features a flat metal head that helps to scrape out blackheads and other gunk in pores. If a product is ubiquitous on Amazon, it’s generally a sign that it’s popular; there are 270 different options available there now. Tiara Willis, an esthetician and skin care influencer, likes these devices but warns against another popular one, blackhead “pore vacuum” tools. She says they can cause inflammation and hyperpigmentation, especially in those with darker skin tones. She’s also seen a lot of her followers resorting to at-home chemical peels with products like The Ordinary’s popular Peeling Solution and using blunt eyebrow razors to perform facial dermaplaning on themselves, a procedure that’s meant to exfoliate and remove facial peach fuzz, but one that is normally done in medi-spas with a medical-grade razor. She’s concerned about the irritation and skin sensitization these DIY treatments can cause. Chemical peels and dermaplaning should only be done by professionals like doctors or estheticians, Willis says. “There’s a lot of training, not only in technique but also there are contraindications for certain people, and you may not know as a consumer if you qualify,” she says. The salon problem One of the reasons DIY treatments are popular now is that the pros simply haven’t been available to us. From the early days of the pandemic, products like hair dye and hair removal products flew off shelves after spas and salons were shut down. As states like California have had to close salons a second time due to rising case counts, home root touch-ups are becoming the new normal. Perhaps it will even encourage former salon stalwarts to prolong the time between visits to save a bit of money even once hair pros become more accessible. “I think it has given people a little more confidence for being able to go a bit longer. We’re going to have to be more flexible and get more comfortable with doing our hair on our own,” saysCosmo’s Wilson. Ditto manicures. Nail polish sales had been suffering pre-Covid-19 but are now booming. Brands like Olive and June, whose LA-based salons had to shut down, have been selling at-home manicure kits and providing tutorials via Instagram Live. Wilson says she hasn’t been to a nail salon since March and has been using products from ManiMe, a company that provides custom fit nail stickers to mimic the look of a sleek manicure or nail art. When masks and sanitizers become beauty products In the early days, large multinational beauty companies including Estée Lauder and L’Oreal pivoted to produce hand sanitizer as a way to both keep their factories operating and to fill a shortage. They donated the sanitizer to hospitals and other entities rather than selling them to consumers. But plenty of other beauty and fragrance brands are now making hand sanitizer to sell. Perfume is mostly alcohol, after all, so beauty has been well positioned to make sanitizer that is a lot less utilitarian than the stuff you find at drugstores. Bath and Body Works, whose keychain sanitizers have been popular with tweens for decades, now finds its products especially in demand. Plenty of other brands are offering aspirational and expensive versions, too. “The sexy-looking hand sanitizers are pretty popular right now,” says Johnson, mentioning the $10 credit card-shaped, bergamot-scented Noshinku. Skylar and DS & Durga, both fragrance brands, now offer sanitizers that smell more like fancy soap than Purell. Countless other skin care and nail care brands now sell the category. View this post on Instagram A post shared by Slip Silk Pillowcase (@slipsilkpillowcase) on Jul 27, 2020 at 1:03pm PDT Even cloth face masks have been repurposed as beauty products. To prevent the dreaded maskne, brands have touted silk as a gentler material. Brands like Slip and Night offer silk masks that cost upward of $50. Some brands have even started infusing compounds like zinc into cloth masks, claiming they have antimicrobial properties and can protect against irritation. (The FTC has been cracking down on manufacturers making claims on Covid-19 related products, so do your research before purchasing items like this.) To some, it may seem frivolous and vain to think about and purchase beauty products during a pandemic and a period of incredible social unrest. But for many, it’s a stress reliever and a source of self-care. People may not be buying lipstick, but they’re still buying beauty. “I do think that beauty, much like during the recession in 2008, will continue to thrive because people want small luxuries to help them feel better both physically and mentally,” says Johnson. Support Vox’s explanatory journalism Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. Vox’s work is reaching more people than ever, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Your financial contribution will not constitute a donation, but it will enable our staff to continue to offer free articles, videos, and podcasts at the quality and volume that this moment requires. Please consider making a contribution to Vox today.
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Hilary Tisch, daughter of Giants co-owner, dead at 36
Giants co-owner Steve Tisch announced Monday the death of his daughter Hilary Anne Tisch following a bout with depression. She was 36.
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It's illegal to criticize Thailand's king. They're doing it anyway
Student-led protests are calling for curbs on King Maha Vajiralongkorn's wealth and power, openly defying laws against insulting the monarchy.
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MSNBC skips coverage of Chicago riots during prime time, CNN airs less than 3 minutes
Mass destruction took place in the heart of Chicago in the early hours on Monday morning as looters raided the shopping district and other stores across the city, but MSNBC and CNN offered little to no coverage of the unrest during their network's most-watched shows. 
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Belarus presidential challenger flees to Lithuania amid protests
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya insists she won but says she wanted to be with her kids. Belarus was hit with two nights of mass protests over the supposed election results.
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Vladimir Putin says Russia has approved 'world first' virus vaccine. But questions over its safety remain
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the approval of a coronavirus vaccine for use on Tuesday, claiming it as a "world first," amid continued concern and unanswered questions over its safety and effectiveness.
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Coronavirus live updates: Russia says it has a vaccine for COVID-19; Big Ten other football conferences grapple with halting fall season
Russia officially registers a vaccine. Mississippi lawmakers return to work after outbreak. Virus updates.       
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Powerful storm leaves devastation across Midwest
A rare storm packing 100 mph winds and with power similar to an inland hurricane swept through the Midwest on Monday, blowing over trees, flipping vehicles, and causing property damage and power outages from Nebraska to Indiana and Michigan. (Aug. 11)       
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