Styrofoam ban, a naming game, pollinators in trouble: 3 big stories you might have missed

Butterfly

A butterfly, one of the world’s pollinators, in the Philippines. Globally, pollinators are in trouble because of human activity, including pesticides and development. (© Conservation International/photo by Haroldo Castro)

Editor’s note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Human Nature shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.

  1. Maine passes the U.S.’s first state ban on foam food packaging

Foam food containers (better known by the brand name Styrofoam) will be banned in Maine beginning in 2021.

The story: Many cities and counties within the U.S. have already imposed foam food container bans, but Maine is the first state to do so, Laura Parker reported for National Geographic last week. Foam containers are made of an expanded plastic called polystyrene and can take decades to break down in the environment.

The big picture: Plastic bottles are often the main focus of plastic pollution, but foam food containers are one of the top 10 most littered products in the United States. Even if the containers do make it to the trash can, the material is so lightweight that they easily escape the waste collection process and end up in the environment, harming wildlife as they slowly break down into microplastics.

Read the story here.

  1. Taxonomy for sale to the highest bidder

Since 2005, auctioning off the naming rights for newly discovered species has taken off — to the chagrin of a few taxonomists.

The story: Individuals and organizations can purchase the right to name a new species in “naming auctions,” Shaena Montanari reported for Undark in April. The profit from the auctions often funds conservation initiatives in the area where the species were discovered. One recent outcome of these auctions is the Dermophis donaldtrumpi, a blind worm-like amphibian named after U.S. President Donald Trump.

The big picture: Certain names, such as the donaldtrumpi, raise a question in the scientific community: Is the money generated from auctioning off naming rights worth it? Taxonomy — and conservation at large — is not a well-funded field, so the money from naming auctions can go a long way, but can you put a price on permanently naming a species?

Read the story here.

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  1. Pollinators are vital to feeding the world, but they need our help

Seventy percent of our flowering fruits, vegetables and plants depend on pollinators — but they’re in danger.

The story: There are 200,000 species of pollinators globally, but pesticides, pathogens and human development are causing their numbers to dwindle, Laurie Adams, CEO of the Pollinator Partnership, said on Podship Earth’s podcast in April. Bats, birds, bees and many other species pollinate plants by moving genetic material (male and female reproductive parts) either within one flower, or from flower to flower, which enables the plant to produce the fruits or vegetables that end up in our grocery stores.

The big picture: To save pollinators — and crops worldwide — Adams has a few recommendations: Vote for people that care about the environment and plant native flowers or plants in your yard or windowsill to attract pollinators. You can also look for a bee-friendly certification on food products, which means the farmer dedicates 3 to 6 percent of their farmland solely to pollinators.

Listen to the podcast here.

Olivia DeSmit is a staff writer for Conservation International. 

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