Monday. 13/5/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Fiona Wilson

Slow progress

The Japanese have a deep affection for putting things in packets. Teabags come wrapped in individual packaging and single onigiri rice balls are ensconced in plastic bags. Even umbrellas get the treatment: shops have machines dispensing bags that stop your sheathed utensil from dripping on the shop floor.

But last week signalled the beginning of the end for Japan’s love of single-use plastics (see below). Seven & I Holdings, which operates Japan’s 21,000 Seven-Eleven shops as well as the Ito-Yokado supermarket chain, announced that it will be ditching plastic bags by 2030. Trials are apparently underway to find a less damaging alternative.

Japan ought to use its packaging heritage and expertise to pull ahead in the race to ditch plastic bags. We suggest a wider use of the more traditional Japanese shopping bag, the furoshiki, a large square of cloth that is used to carry everything from clothes to lunchboxes. Broadening the appeal of this might even speed up the rather relaxed deadline that Seven & I Holdings has given itself to get rid of single-use bags.

Diplomacy / USA

Breaking the ice

US diplomacy under the Trump administration hasn’t been much to write home about. Not only have dozens of senior positions in the state department been left vacant but Donald Trump has neglected to appoint ambassadors in 18 countries, including in nations that are strategically important such as Australia and Turkey. So the announcement late last week that the US was – after six decades – re-establishing a permanent diplomatic presence in Greenland indicates just how focused American interests are on the Arctic. The news came directly after secretary of state Mike Pompeo cancelled his visit to Nuuk last Thursday, citing pressing work in Washington. Yet details about the exact nature of the forthcoming permanent presence and, crucially, when that presence will be established, are still scarce. So don’t chalk it up as a Trump win just yet.

Legal / Sweden

Law of the land

Later today, Sweden’s deputy director of prosecutions will be holding a press conference to announce whether or not the state will proceed with prosecuting Julian Assange. Amid the media circus surrounding the renegade computer programmer, it’s easy to lose sight of why he sought refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in the first place – he was dodging deportation to Sweden where he was accused of rape. To his supporters these accusations have only ever been erroneous, to others they are anything but. To some Assange is a free-speech hero who holds power to account; now it’s time Assange were held to account himself.

Environment / Japan

Waste not, want not

Japan may soon end its longstanding practice of shipping plastics that it can’t recycle to other countries. The policy shift, now being debated, could take effect in mid-2020, forcing Tokyo to find a way to dispose of 1.4 billion kilograms of plastic rubbish that it has been shipping annually to countries in Asia. It comes in the wake of last week’s UN-backed environment conference in Geneva, where more than 180 countries discussed steps to minimise plastic waste. But Japan has been slow to change its ways and excessive packaging remains the norm. Weaning itself off single-use plastic straws, bags and umbrella sleeves won’t be easy but it’s a hopeful sign that one of the world’s biggest exporters of plastics waste could finally be cleaning up its act.

Technology / USA

Star players

Technology entrepreneurs seem to be clambering over each other to reach for the stars. Last week, Amazon founder and world’s richest man Jeff Bezos unveiled a moon-lander concept built by his Blue Origin company. Bezos is comparatively new to the space game and his announcement seemed to put Elon Musk’s nose out of joint. The founder of car-maker Tesla, who also set up SpaceX, reacted to the news with a derisive tweet that seemed to imply that he thought the lander looked like a blue testicle. But there is a bigger story: the Trump administration has set itself the goal of landing American astronauts on the moon by 2024. Bezos and the president have had their differences – but they seem to have at least one objective in common.

M24 / Meet The Writers: Monocle Reads

'Extraordinary Insects'

This week the UN told us that we’re facing a biodiversity crisis. Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson is a Norwegian conservation biologist and knows all about this. Her book ‘Extraordinary Insects: Weird. Wonderful. Indispensable. The ones who run our world’ is a bestseller in Norway and has been translated into more than 20 languages.

Film / Spain

The Monocle Quality of Life Conference: Madrid

Join us to discover all the Spanish capital has to teach us, be it inviting hospitality, nocturnal delights or the recipe for a long and happy life. Prepare to be challenged and inspired by a host of thinkers unpacking architecture, entrepreneurship, media, retail, entertainment and more.

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