McDonald’s pledges to phase out plastic in Happy Meal toys, new app addresses spider phobias and other stories you missed

PBS NewsHour’s “5 STORIES” feature the most interesting stories from around the world that you might have missed.

In this week’s episode:

McDonand’s commits to phase out plastic in Happy Meal toys

McDonald’s Happy Meals just get a little happier by going green.

On Tuesday, the company announced that it would significantly reduce its use of plastic by the end of 2025. One solution is to replace the billion children’s toys it sells each year with cardboard or plastics. recycled or plant-based.

Toys from McDonald’s children’s meals sit on a shelf at the Fifty Two 80s Totally Awesome store in Denver, Colorado. McDonalds said on Tuesday it would replace Happy Meals toys with recycled or plant-based cardboard or plastics. Photo by Anya Semenoff / The Denver Post / Getty Images

The move will help reduce the company’s use of fossil-fuel-based virgin plastic by 90% for Happy Meals. The transition has already started in some countries, such as France, where children can choose between a green toy or a book.

By 2025, McDonald’s also hopes to source 100% of customers’ packaging from renewable, recycled or certified sources and to recycle all packaging that customers use in its restaurants.

Kansas boy triggers federal investigation into invasive spotted lanterns

Imagine presenting a collection of bugs at your state fair and suddenly triggering a federal investigation. Well, according to the Washington Post, that’s what happened to a boy at a Kansas State Fair earlier this month. Among its specimens: a rare and dangerous insect known as the spotted lantern.

Spotted lanterns are an invasive species from China and are believed to first enter the United States in 2014 via Pennsylvania. Hitchhiking pests are known to feed on at least 70 species of trees and crops, including grapes, apples, and hops, and have been spotted in New York City, Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia. They haven’t gone further west than southern Indiana – so far.

Spotted lanternfly

An adult spotted lantern fly photographed in Pennsylvania in July 2018. Photo courtesy of USDA-ARS / Stephen Ausmus.

So why are spotted lanterns considered dangerous?

The problem is with their droppings, which promote a fungal growth called sooty mold that blocks sunlight from reaching the leaves, ultimately killing the plant. This could cause problems for agriculture and forestry industries in areas of infestation.

If you ever see spotted lanterns, experts say kill them right away and double the egg masses before throwing them in the trash.

Defenders successfully extend protections for isolated Amazon tribe

The Piripkura tribe in Brazil has virtually no contact with the outside world. They live isolated on their ancestral lands in central Brazil. Only two male members of the tribe had brief encounters with someone outside of their own community before disappearing into the Amazon rainforest.

Earlier this month, Brazil’s Indigenous Affairs Agency renewed a protection order for nearly 600,000 acres of the tribe’s ancestral land, but only for six months. Indigenous rights defenders had pushed for a three-year extension of the order, which has been in place since 2008.

Like other Amazonian tribes, members of Piripkura make their living off the land, but Brazil does not officially recognize tribal land ownership, which means they must continually resist the invasion of poachers, farmers, and miners.

These threats have increased since the election in 2018 of President Jair Bolsonaro. So while the six-month ordinance offers some relief to the tribe, that doesn’t stop Bolsonaro from supporting legislation that would open up tribal reserves for commercial mining and agricultural plantations.

Researchers succeed in potty training cows

When you have to go, you have to go. This is true for humans and for cows. And just like us, cows can apparently be toilet trained.

In a recent study, researchers from Germany and New Zealand showed that calves can be trained to use the toilet, or “MooLoo,” as they called it.

By collecting and processing cow urine, researchers say in their Current Biology study, farmers could reduce greenhouse gas emissions

According to the Guardian, when ammonia in cow urine enters the soil, microbes turn it into nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas. And nitrous oxide has nearly 300 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.

Clean cow

Calves that urinated in the MooLoo were given a treat like a sweet drink or mash barely as a reward. Image from video courtesy: Dirksen et al., 2021

To potty train the young cows, the team used a system based on reward and light punishment. If a calf urinated in the MooLoo, it was given a treat like a sweet drink or barely mash. If he went anywhere else, he would get a quick three-second shower. In a few weeks, the research team successfully trained 11 of the 16 calves. The others, they thought, just needed more time.

Emissions of nitrous oxide from human activities – including cattle ranching – have increased by 30 percent over the past four decades. And it’s not a question of laughing.

The app helps treat spider phobias using augmented reality

Fear of spiders is a fairly common phobia that in severe cases can really disrupt someone’s life – consider avoiding outdoor gatherings or over-checking rooms for signs of arachnids.

But since exposure therapy, where a patient directly interacts with their fear, is not a feasible option for many, a group of researchers at the University of Basel questioned whether patients could seek treatment at the using an application.

They created the “Phobys” app which uses augmented reality as a substitute for exposure therapy, allowing participants to virtually interact with a spider to slowly overcome their fear.

In the small study of about 60 participants, those who did six sessions with the app had a reduced fear of spiders and were able to get closer to a real specimen than those who did not fully use it.

It’s a small preliminary study, but the app – which is available for purchase – shows promise. Just be sure to use it under the supervision of a professional.

About Robert Moody

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