“Wearing a mask cleans nothing:” Florida judge vacates CDC travel mask mandate

A sign advises people to wear a mask and stand six feet apart as travelers make their way through Miami International Airport on December 28, 2021.

Enlarge / A sign advises people to wear a mask and stand six feet apart as travelers make their way through Miami International Airport on December 28, 2021. (credit: Getty | Joe Raedle)

A federal judge in Florida on Monday struck down the Biden administration’s mask mandate for public transit and travel hubs.

The abrupt ruling throws passenger requirements into tumult when Americans are resuming pre-pandemic travel levels and while cases of the omicron subvariant BA.2 have begun ticking upward.

It’s unclear if or when the Department of Justice will appeal the judge’s order and seek a stay to reinstate the mandate until the matter is litigated further. According to the latest reports, administration officials confirmed that the mandate is no longer in place, though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends the use of masks on public transit. The administration is said to be reviewing the next steps.

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The toilet paper startup backed by Marc Benioff, Dara Khosrowshahi, and Robert Downey Jr. now sells paper towels

Cloud Paper, the startup whose bamboo toilet paper (and celebrity and billionaire backers including Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Marc Benioff, Dara Khosrowshahi, and Mark Cuban) made a splash last year, is getting into the paper towel racket.

Starting today, the company is taking pre-orders for its 12 pack boxes of sustainably sourced bamboo paper towels, which will retail for $34.99.

The Seattle-based company was founded by two ex-Uber employees, Ryan Fritsch and Austin Watkins, who went on to take roles at the logistics startup Convoy, before launching Cloud Paper. Their toilet paper (and now paper towel company) is one of several businesses trying to get consumers to make the switch to bamboo-based consumer products.

Cozy Earth and Ettitude sell bamboo sheets and bedding; The Bamboo Clothing Co., Thought, Tasc, Free Fly Apparel, all make bamboo clothing; and Bite has a bamboo toothbrush to go with its plastic-free toothpastes and flosses.

But (I’m quoting myself here) Cloud Paper may be the only one to get such super wealthy, high profile investors to flush it with wads of cash. Even so, companies like Grove, Tushy, Reel, and the aptly named Who gives a crap, Inc. are all angling to wipe up a piece of the $10.4 billion market for toilet paper.

The company’s founders are on a mission to make the paper industry more sustainable, according to co-founder Ryan Fritsch, and they’re looking to do it one roll at a time.

While other companies look at bamboo as a replacement for cotton or plastics, the Cloud Paper co-founder said this company is squarely focused on toilet paper and paper towels because those products make up most of the crap that’s most wasteful in the paper industry.

The company has already ordered 1 million rolls of toilet paper for production and shipped hundreds of thousands of toilet paper, but the rationale for adoption has shifted, the company said.

“It definitely had its moment when the COVID shutdowns happened,” said Fritsch. “But [consumption] shifted from a TP panic to ‘There’s an easy and convenient, sustainable, option out there.’ It’s less of an all-out craze,” Fritsch said.

No less august a body than the National Resources Defense Council has come out swinging against how much waste is sacrificed to the commode.

For instance, the logging industry in Canada degrades over a million acres of its climate-critical forest, in part to feed U.S. demand for toilet paper, according to the NRDC. Demand from the U.S. has grown so substantially that, in recent years, Canada has ranked third globally in its rate of intact forest loss—behind only Russia and Brazil—mostly due to logging, the NRDC said.

Ninety percent of that is clearcutting, which exacerbates climate change. By the most conservative estimates, “logging in the boreal releases 26 million metric tons of carbon through driving emissions from the forest’s carbon-rich soils and eroding the forest’s ability to absorb carbon,” the NRDC wrote in 2020 report. “Toilet paper’s impact is even more severe because, since it is so short-lived, it quickly releases its remaining carbon into the atmosphere. That is why, according to the Environmental Paper Network, toilet paper made from trees has three times the climate impact as toilet paper created using recycled materials.”

That’s why wiping out forested paper can be a real boon in the climate fight.

“The lion’s share of usage is number one is toilet paper and number two is paper towels, after that the size of the market really really shrinks. We’re going to be continuing on the paper space,” said Fritsch. 

The company’s next act will be working with businesses like restaurants, hotels, and even stadiums and arenas to make the swithc.

“We launched the company as a B2B company. We were working with WeWork and restaurants and the market — if you look at where our paper products were being used,” Fritsch said. “So another big focus will be building products for our commercial customers where there’s higher capacity.”

Cloud Paper box of paper towels. Image Credit: Cloud Paper

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Taiwanese reassurances that water shortages won’t hit chipmaking show climate change’s direct threat to tech

A weekend statement from the Taiwanese government over its ability to provide water to the nation’s chip manufacturers in the face of an unprecedented drought make it clear that climate change is a direct threat to the foundations of the tech industry.

As reported by Bloomberg, Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen took to Facebook on Sunday to post about the nation’s capacity to provide water to its citizens and businesses in the face of the worst drought the nation has faced in 56 years.

The nation said that it would have sufficient water reserves to ensure manufacturing of semiconductors by companies like Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing wouldn’t stop.

These chips sit at the foundation of the tech industry and any disruption in production could have disastrous consequences for the global economy. Already, supply constraints have caused stoppages at automakers like General Motors and Volkswagen, and chip manufacturing facilities are running close to capacity.

The Biden administration has emphasized the need for the U.S. to strengthen its semiconductor manufacturing supply when it issued an executive order last month to address ongoing chip shortages that have idled manufacturing plants around the country.

“Taiwan’s water shortage and its effect on semis is a wake up call for every technology investor, every founder and the entire venture ecosystem. It is complexity theory made manifest and only serves to show that scalable, data-driven solutions rapidly deployed across large industrial markets are our only hope in correcting the course,” wrote Vaughn Blake, a partner at the energy-focused investment firm Blue Bear Capital.

Taiwan’s water woes and their ability to severely impact the semiconductor industry aren’t new. They were even flagged in a 2016 Harvard Business School case study analysis. And TSMC is already working to address its water consumption.

By 2016, TSMC had already worked to improve its water purification and recycling efforts — necessary for an industry that consumes between 2-9 million gallons of water per day. (Intel alone used 9 billion gallons of water in 2015). At least some of TSMC’s fabrication facilities have managed to achieve recycling rates of 90% on industrial wastewater, according to the Harvard case study.

But as Moore’s Law drives down the size and increases the demand for even more precision and fewer impurities in the manufacturing process, water use at fabs is going up. Next generation chips may be consuming as much as 1.5 times more water, which means better recycling is needed to compensate.

For startups, we need to be looking at ways to lower the cost and improve the performance of wastewater recycling and desalination, both increasingly energy-intensive propositions.

Some companies are doing just that. These are businesses like Blue Boson out of the UK, which purports to have developed a quantum-based water treatment technology. Its claims sound more like science fiction, but its website touts some of the best research universities in the world. Fido, a leak detection company also out of the UK tracks potential spots where water is wasted, and both Pontic Technology and Micronic are American companies developing water and fluid sterilization systems.

Numix, another purification startup, seems designed to remove the heavy metals that are part and parcel of industrial manufacturing. And Divining Labs out of Los Angeles is using artificial intelligence to better predict and manage stormwater runoff to collect more resources for water use.

“Upton Sinclair said, ‘It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on him not understanding it,’” Blake of Blue Bear Capital wrote. “Well, to all the founders and investors out there, it looks like all tech is climate tech for the foreseeable future, lest there be no tech at all.”

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Bogota’s Tül raises $4 million to improve the supply chain for construction in Latin America

With a new $4 million round, the Bogota-based supply chain logistics technology developer Tül is prepping to expand across the Latin American region.

Founded by Enrique Villamarin Lafaurie and Juan Carlos Narváez, Tül’s technology connects construction manufacturers to the small businesses across Latin America that are responsible for handling half of the inventory for construction jobs in the region, Lafaurie said.

Lafaurie previously spent ten years working in the construction industry for Cementos Argos, the Colombian company responsible for a huge chunk of cement sales in North and South America.

“We’re connecting big construction companies in the back to hardware companies at the front end. It’s a way where producers can connect to those stores and can talk to those stores and do promotions straight to those stores,” said Lafaurie. 

By digitizing what had been a primarily analog industry, the company has managed to hit a $10 million run revenue run rate and sign up 3,000 stores since its launch 8 months ago.

And that’s just in Colombia alone, said Lafaurie. The company will soon open up operations in Ecuador, which Lafaurie said was the second largest hardware market (per capita) in Latin America.

The company now counts nine employees on staff and expects to ramp up hiring significantly with the new capital.

“Colombia, was the most locked down country in the whole world. People were not allowed to leave their houses, but construction was deemed an essential business,” said Eric Reiner, an investor with Vine Capital Management, which led the company’s seed round. “Tül allowed hardware stores to ship products directly to the construction workers. With their logistics network they started a separate brand delivering sanitation equipment so that schools and laundromats could become sanitation stations.”

As Lafaurie describes it, Tül’s online service became a lifeline for the industry.

“The whole industry just shut down and we managed to keep those business open by not only helping them deliver straight to the jobsite, but by becoming the sanitation stations in the neighborhood. The outcome of that is very loyal customers to us that we helped,” he said. “We have huge retention of customers just from that.”

#articles, #colombia, #ecuador, #hygiene, #latin-america, #logistics, #north-america, #sanitation, #south-america, #tc