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Executive Summary for March 23rd

In our weekly news roundup, we report on activists pushing Starbucks to reduce plastic use, a marine heat wave that was deadly for seagrass and increasing conflicts in efforts to protect North Atlantic right whales.

Published on March 23, 2018 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Starbucks, Target of Plastic Activists, Offers $10 Million for Better Coffee Cup

Starbucks is sponsoring a $10 million design challenge to develop a recyclable, compostable coffee cup, it announced ahead of its annual shareholders meeting this week. But activists said Starbucks isn’t doing enough to reduce use of ocean-polluting disposable plastic.

As a coalition demonstrated outside the meeting in Seattle, the corporate responsibility group As You Sow filed a shareholder proposal to make the company accountable to its pledge, made in 2008, that all cups it uses will be reusable or recyclable, and one-quarter of its beverages would be served in reusable containers. As You Sow says Starbucks has so far fallen far short of these goals.

For example, the As You Sow proposal notes that today less than 2 percent of Starbucks beverages are sold in reusable cups. It also says the company has fallen behind peers like Costa Coffee, which has agreed to stop using plastic straws, and McDonald’s, which has committed to recycle all on-site packaging globally by 2025. As Starbucks expands rapidly in Asia, its recycling goals don’t apply there, the group said.

Starbucks’ board of directors recommended that shareholders vote “no” on the proposal that asks the company to develop a detailed plan for scaling up its efforts to reduce plastic. The board detailed the company’s progress over the last decade, such as its new recyclable lids. In 2016, the board said it already released more ambitious and comprehensive plastic packaging goals for 2022, so an additional report isn’t needed.

But in its hometown, Starbucks will have to stop handing out disposable plastic straws by July 1 to comply with a city ordinance that aims to reduce plastic pollution.

Marine Heat Wave Decimated World’s Largest Seagrass Carbon Bank

A 2010-11 marine “heat wave” in Western Australia damaged more than a third of the famed seagrass meadows across the Shark Bay World Heritage Site, according to a new study. Decomposing dead seagrass over the following years potentially released two coal-fired power plants’ worth of annual CO2 emissions, they found.

“It’s a carbon bomb,” University of Western Australia’s Gary Kendrick told the Guardian. “And it’s one that has gone off without documentation.”

The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, analyzed the seagrass losses from field studies and satellite imagery, and found unprecedented and widespread losses. Seagrass meadows are storehouses of “blue carbon,” in that they normally take up and retain carbon from the atmosphere.

Endangered Right Whale Deaths Cause Strife in Canada Fishery

Canada’s snow crab fishery in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence had its sustainability certification suspended this week as tensions increased over how to save the endangered North Atlantic right whale.

Last year was a deadly one for the species, with at least 16 deaths out of an estimated population of fewer than 500, caused largely by ship strikes and rope fishing-gear entanglements. Last July, Canada’s government closed the snow crab fishery in part of the Gulf as deaths mounted, and its proposal to ban snow crab fishing in a large zone this summer elicited outrage and disbelief at a recent fisheries meeting, according to the CBC.

The Affiliation of Seafood Producers Association of Nova Scotia said in a statement that there is “collective will to make sure [the deadly 2017 summer] is never repeated again.”

Adding to the concern: Scientists say no North Atlantic right whales were born this breeding season. One recent study has shown that the right whale species is feeding further north in Canada than it used to, increasing the likelihood of conflicts in the area.

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