3 of everyone's favorite cities are getting serious about trash.

Big cities have a lot of trash.

Right now you're probably thinking, "Yeah sure, handsome guy, tell me something I don't know."


A trashy city. Photo by Laura Lezza/Getty Images.

But the problem is actually way worse than you think.

In 2012, the world's cities produced about 1.4 billion tons of garbage. Which is really hard to imagine.

Picture a large, fully grown polar bear:

From left: polar bear, lady. Photo by Sebastian Bozon/AFP/Getty Images.

Now picture 1.3 billion of them. In terms of weight, that's about how much we're trash we're talking about.

Again, it's hard to imagine.

Besides being unsightly, smelly, and an obstacle we step over on our way to the subway, the trash problem in our cities is pretty serious.

In general, when we throw something in the garbage, it's either burned or relocated, and both of those processes come with a host of problems for the environment.

A trash incinerator in Amsterdam. Photo by John D. McHugh/AFP/Getty Images.

Burning trash can release toxic fumes into the air, which contributes to air pollution and even acid rain, which is a very harmful chemical reaction in the sky (not a Frank Zappa album).

When we relocate trash to a landfill or dump, it just sits there, festering, which isn't good either. Some of it can take literally millions of years to break down, and the rest can release big clouds of methane gas, which causes a greenhouse effect.

In its current form, our trash situation is a real lose-lose.

Cities around the world have to majorly step up if they want to get their trash problems under control.

Luckily, a few of them have.

San Fransisco is tackling the trash problem through a recently approved ban on Styrofoam.

It's the biggest ban of its kind in the country, stopping all uses of polystyrene foam (which is commonly, albeit incorrectly, referred to as Styrofoam) in the city.

The ban is set to take effect next year and is an extension of the city's already strict bans on plastic shopping bags and nonrecyclable or noncompostable to-go food containers.

San Fransisco also has some of the strictest recycling and composting laws in the country. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

Some have spoken out against the foam ban, saying that it will hurt small businesses and even cut jobs, as the alternatives to polystyrene packaging (such as compostable or reusable packaging) tend to be more expensive.

Still, the damaging effects of polystyrene use, especially on a city-wide scale, are too big to ignore. Polystyrene doesn't decompose, animals can die from ingesting it, it can leach chemicals into food, and it makes that annoying squeaky sound when you you rub it.

Meanwhile, in New York City, the mayor challenged businesses to cut their waste in half — and, incredibly, they did.

That's right. In just five months, 31 major businesses around New York, including Whole Foods, Viacom, and Anheuser-Busch, managed to keep 35,000 tons of trash off the streets.

This is great news because if you've ever been to New York and opened your eyes, you've probably seen firsthand how bad the trash problem can be.

Photo by Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images.

New York City produces way more trash than any other city in the world — twice as much garbage as Tokyo, a city with 12 million more people.

In early 2016, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio challenged New York's businesses to cut their waste in half by June as part of an ongoing effort to eventually become a zero-waste city. So far, it's been successful.

Businesses have switched to reusable materials, cut packaging, and donated leftover food to rescue organizations like City Harvest, which donated hundreds of tons of leftover food to pantries and homeless shelters.

Finally, Londoners are pushing their city to handle food waste in a more environmentally friendly way, in a facility separate from the trash system.

You probably don't have a separate garbage can just for food, right? Even if you do, are you sending that waste to a facility that's specifically outfitted to treat biodegradable compost instead of regular garbage? Probably not.

Bio Collectors, a food recycling organization, says that only 18 of London's 33 boroughs have facilities specifically for handling food waste, and many of them aren't operating at full capacity. About 980,000 tons of food goes into the regular garbage system, where it contributes to those harmful environmental effects I mentioned earlier.

Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images.

Bio Collectors thinks London can do better. It launched a campaign to put pressure on London councils to use the plants more effectively and address food waste from the ground up (pun very intended).

Responsibly handling food waste is all part of what Bio Collectors' managing director Paul Killoughery calls the "circular economy."

“The focus of shopping locally and eating locally sourced food should extend to how we deal with our food waste," Killoughery says. "This would then feed into the circular economy of food that travels from farm to fork, then back to farm."

Let's face it: You probably don't spend a lot time thinking about garbage.

If you do, you're either a weirdo or a garbage collector! In which case, have fun hanging onto the back of that truck! It looks super cool.


Photo by Ilvy Njiokiktjien/AFP/Getty Images.

Most of us just throw our trash into the bin and don't think about where it goes or how it all adds up. Those of us who live in big cities probably see the piles of bags on the street every week but don't necessarily think of them in a broader context.

That's understandable. But you do need to know that this waste problem is huge and needs to be addressed. In cities, especially, there is a massive amount of work that needs to be done to cut down on trash.

It's awesome to see that some of our biggest cities are having success through programs like these — but this is just the start.

Responsibly handling trash and waste is the big, smelly, disgusting key to our future on Earth.

Other cities should learn from what New York, San Francisco, and London are doing — and do what they can to get ahead of the game too.

When a person gets to a point where they are actively considering taking their own life, helping them out of that state is a delicate endeavor. Sometimes a major intervention is necessary. Sometimes being reminded by an anonymous stranger that life is worth living is helpful. And sometimes, a non-human touch can be the catalyst that pulls someone away from the edge.

When first responders were called to a bridge near Exeter in southwestern England where a woman was standing over the guard rails, threatening to take her own life, the Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service (DSFRS) showed up to help. In a post on Twitter, DSFRS explained that multiple agencies had responded to the scene, and that police negotiations weren't going particularly well.

"The situation was becoming increasingly worrying," they wrote.

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When a person gets to a point where they are actively considering taking their own life, helping them out of that state is a delicate endeavor. Sometimes a major intervention is necessary. Sometimes being reminded by an anonymous stranger that life is worth living is helpful. And sometimes, a non-human touch can be the catalyst that pulls someone away from the edge.

When first responders were called to a bridge near Exeter in southwestern England where a woman was standing over the guard rails, threatening to take her own life, the Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service (DSFRS) showed up to help. In a post on Twitter, DSFRS explained that multiple agencies had responded to the scene, and that police negotiations weren't going particularly well.

"The situation was becoming increasingly worrying," they wrote.

Keep Reading Show less
True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."