Business

Chicago area recycling industry struggles after China bans waste imports

By Lucia Whalen
Medill Reports

Before China halted the importation of plastic and other recycling waste from around the globe, the majority of Americans were living in a fool’s paradise. For most people, recycling ended at dumping paper, plastic and glass in a large bin – blue in Chicago. From there, most people paid little attention where the stuff landed.

That all changed in 2018, when China implemented its “National Sword Policy,” implementing strict restrictions on waste and metal imports coming in from other countries. China’s plastic imports are now down by 99%, with paper imports down by a third. Suddenly recycling is front and center in the news, and the public is more aware of the fact that their recycling was, in fact, being exported to another country, and that suddenly the world was facing a crisis in waste.

“China, the biggest buyer of scrap material from the U.S., stopped buying and the tariffs came in.  You have the biggest buyer of scrap material saying, ‘We’re done. We don’t have enough mills to process the materials we have now,'” said Joshua Connell, a managing partner at Lakeshore Recycling Systems. “China was the biggest buyer of our plastic commodities and now they’re not buying from us anymore. We have too much supply and not enough demand in North America for that supply,” Continue reading

Predicting climate change depends on supercomputers and Germany has Europe’s only supercomputer dedicated to climate

By Lucia Whalen
Medill Reports

Hamburg is home to one of the fastest-thinking supercomputers in the world at the German Climate Computing Center (DKRZ). The supercomputer whizzes through global tsunamis of climate data to develop climate models used in landmark blueprints for the future, including the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. The German Climate Computing Center is the only high-performance computing center dedicated to climate research in Europe.

Supercomputers are responsible for some of the pioneering breakthroughs in modern science. From biology and space physics to projecting the effects of global climate change, supercomputers are necessary for quantifying the gargantuan mathematical projections and scientific problems assembled by scientists to create models and analyze data. Supercomputers have become an essential tool for climate forecasting because the large quantity of data required to create climate simulations would take years to calculate on a normal computer.

The Misra supercomputer system at the German Climate Computing Center was ranked 80th on the TOP500 list of supercomputers in the world. (DKRZ)

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Community drives three independent bookstores to thrive despite digital-heavy environment

By Hannah Farrow
Medill Reports

Between same-day shipping and instant Kindle ebooks, Amazon dominates book sales. Borders went out of business in 2011. Barnes & Noble was sold this year after its worst year in sales to date; they’ve also closed over 150 stores in the last decade. Yet the entire country is seeing a spike in independent brick-and-mortar bookstores and their sales. In Wicker Park alone, a neighborhood known for the arts, three thrive: Volumes, Myopic and Quimby’s.

“Myopic is the used books. Volumes is the family friendly. And we’re the weirdos,” said Liz Mason, 45, manager of Quimby’s. “We all have different vibes, and we all fulfill different needs. Honestly, in my mind, it feels like I have collaborators in getting Wicker Park to be more literary.”

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Chicago’s Illegal drug market likely to thrive in the wake of marijuana legalization

By Shirin Ali
Medill Reports

Illinois will soon become the 12th state in the country to legalize the sale and possession of recreational marijuana on January 1, 2020, but legalization doesn’t come without significant uncertainty and risk. In particular, the law establishes a high barrier of entry for individuals interested in entering the industry, which could allow the underground drug market to continue to flourish.

Malcom Gray is a 25 year-old native of Chicago’s Austin neighborhood who says he’s been dealing in Chicago’s illegal drug market since he was 10 years old. He is confident that Chicago’s illicit drug market isn’t going to suffer from legalization, because dealers will simply resell marijuana that was purchased legally from a dispensary.  “They’ll most definitely still do it because of the easy access. The price for cannabis on the streets is now going to go up because the access to it is more easy. Anybody can walk into a shop and get the top notch stuff.”

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Compulsive loyalty at Starbucks and clues to it from a neurology lab

By Annie Krall
Medill Reports

Starbucks has learned how to make customers keep coming back for more thanks to their rewards program.

And they’re not alone.

Thousands and thousands of businesses use rewards programs to draw customers in and keep them loyal. But why is potentially getting the next stamp or another level up so enjoyable to us?

Talia Lerner, a neurobiologist at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, and her team of researchers are trying to answer that question and many more. Using mice as test subjects they are analyzing the neurological pathways that make compulsive behaviors so difficult to stop, especially when it comes to alcoholism or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

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Local guitar pick vending machine business donates a share of profits to Planned Parenthood

By Lucia Whalen
Medill Reports

Chicago music venues Gallery Cabaret, The Empty Bottle and Cole’s Bar have new additions to their décor: adult vending machines that, for the price of four quarters, deliver a small plastic container that holds a one-of-a-kind guitar pick and a condom.

The business, Glitter Picks, is owned by local Chicago musician-turned entrepreneur Alen Khan, and 10% of all proceeds are donated to Planned Parenthood. Rock and roll meets safe sex.

According to Khan, the idea for Glitter Picks came to him while in search of a guitar pick at the Gallery Cabaret music open mic in early 2019.

“I went up there to play and no one had a pick, and I’m notorious for never having a pick. So I said, ‘Hey, why don’t places like this have a machine that just has picks?’ And that’s kind of how it started,” Khan explained.

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Campus Kitchen back in action amid recent move

By Selah Holland
Medill Reports

Campus Kitchen, a Northwestern University student organization that redistributes unused food to nonprofit organizations and food insecure individuals in Evanston, recently moved into the Great Room kitchen in Great Hallon campus  a few weeks ago.

This relocation, into a 1920s dining hall that later morphed into a café and catering space, keeps volunteers busy revamping the space to match the scale lost with the move from Allison Dining Hall.
Campus Kitchen president Laine Kaehler said the group is gradually working to rebuild its food stock and work volume. Over the summer, the group operated for only two months before coming to a temporary halt early in September when the university chose to relocate them to Great Hall.

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Comer Conference scientists show global impacts of climate change

By Chris McConaghey
Medill Reports

The glaciers are melting faster, accelerating sea level rise. Ocean currents are changing, altering weather and rainfall that millions of people rely on. And wind patterns are shifting as the climate heats up. These are among the global climate challenges deliberated at the annual Comer Climate Conference in southwestern Wisconsin this fall.

Veteran researchers with some of the most decorated backgrounds in climate science as well as the next generation of researchers gathered to present their findings from Nepal, the North Pacific, the Indian Ocean, and the glacial mountains of Uganda, Mongolia and Europe. They came to present findings that can help tackle the troublesome state of our planet with the urgent need to address climate change.

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Scott Travis: On call for farm, foundation and science

By Chris McConaghey
Medill Reports

Scott Travis didn’t know what to expect when he put in an application to work for Lands’ End clothing company in 1987. He was 32 years old then and got the position.

During that time, he had several opportunities to meet and talk with the late Gary Comer – founder and owner of Lands’ Ends – and was promoted from the sales and packaging department to eventually becoming a safety manager of the plant in Dodgeville, Wisconsin.

Comer never forgot those conversations. Six years later, Travis got a call from the boss asking if he wanted to help build and manage a new corporate retreat to host meetings and conferences for business leaders across the globe in southwestern Wisconsin.

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Rat-eating monkeys hold promise for sustainable agriculture

By Elena Bruess
Medill Reports

A macaque sits patiently on the forest floor, waiting by an oil palm tree.

There’s a rustling and a thump as two more macaques gripping a nearby trunk remove some of the tree’s leafy base. A large rat falls from its hiding place. It attempts to run, but the macaque is faster. A scuffle, a jump, a chomp. The pest hangs limp from the macaque’s mouth, a tasty snack. The monkeys move on to the next tree.

On the oil palm plantations of Malaysia, the southern pig-tailed macaque – a primate primarily found in Southeast Asia – loves to feast on rats. In a recent study, researchers spent three years following two groups of these monkeys around forests and plantations, monitoring their daily activities. The findings showed that, not only do macaques go out of their way to eat an outstanding number of rats, but their eating preference also a proved to be a great benefit to the oil palm plantations by ridding the workers of their greatest pest. According to the research, the rat-eating monkeys are astonishing and make a pretty good case for wildlife preservation and reconnection.

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