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Cutting down trash with bamboo packaging

This zero-waste packaging is made from bamboo
To tackle Thailand’s mounting trash problem, one company is turning to the country’s plant life. Universal Biopack makes packaging that it sells to restaurants and manufacturers. But rather than plastic, it uses a mixture of bamboo and cassava, crops that are widely found across the country. After growing rapidly in recent decades, Thailand has become one of Asia’s biggest economies. But like many other countries in the region, it’s been slow to try to combat the millions of tons of trash produced each year. “Waste management is a big problem everywhere,” said Universal Biopack’s managing director, Vara-Anong Vichakyothin. Related: The company turning 4 billion plastic bottles into clothes The company is using a technology devised at a Bangkok university to make its zero-waste packaging. It hopes it will eventually replace many of the Styrofoam boxes and plastic bags that end up in huge garbage dumps across Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries. Its eco-friendly formula took five years to develop and is so adaptable it could end up being used to package things like furniture and even phones. The bamboo it uses comes from leftover scraps from the chopstick manufacturing process. In the cities of Bangkok and Chiang Mai, where takeout drink containers and noodle packets line the sidewalks, the company supplies restaurants, organic farmers and other businesses in the food and drink industry. But finding new clients can be tricky. Takeout food vendors in Thailand want to keep costs down in a competitive business with thin margins. Asking them to spend more on packaging for environmental reasons is a tough sell. “The local economy still does not support [this technology]” said Universal Biopack’s founder, Suthep Vichakyothin. But that hasn’t stopping other companies from entering the sustainable packaging market in Thailand. Like Universal Biopack, they’re betting on growing environmental awareness eventually leading to an increase in demand. To become more competitive, Suthep’s company is investing. It’s aiming to ramp up production by building a partially automated assembly line at its factory near Bangkok and doubling its staffing from 50 people to 100. The goal is to increase monthly capacity from 300,000 units to one million. Related: A startup that makes pencils that grow into vegetables A lot of the demand comes from overseas. One of its customers uses the natural packaging for coconut water it exports. Universal Biopack says it’s also getting interest in its products from other countries, particularly in Scandinavia.

'Lego Batman' producer, then Treasury sec?

CNN Review: ‘The LEGO Batman Movie’ falls short of awesome
Steven Mnuchin had a pretty good weekend. First the treasury secretary pick advanced a step closer toward confirmation on Friday. Then his latest movie claimed the top spot at the box office. Mnuchin is an executive producer on Warner Bros.’ “The Lego Batman Movie,” which pulled in an estimated $55.6 million from U.S. audiences during its opening weekend. CNN, like Warner Bros., is owned by Time Warner. The kid-friendly spinoff of 2014’s “The Lego Movie” handily beat its raunchy competitor, Universal’s “Fifty Shades Darker.” The sequel to 2015’s “Fifty Shades of Grey,” based on a best-selling series of romance novels, debuted at $46.8 million in the United States. Related: Possible pick for Treasury secretary makes his film debut Mnuchin is listed as a producer or executive producer on 34 films in recent years, including last summer’s “Suicide Squad,” which brought in $786 million worldwide. He also produced “The Lego Ninjago Movie,” another Lego franchise spinoff that will hit screens this fall. Mnuchin is widely expected to be serving as Treasury secretary by then. Following a 53-46 vote last Friday to break a Democratic filibuster, Mnuchin is scheduled for a final vote before the full Senate at 7 p.m. Monday. –CNNMoney’s Frank Pallotta and CNN’s Ashley Killough contributed to this story.

Nike stars champion 'Equality' in new ad

The best Nike ads ever
Nike says it’s time to stand up for equality in a new ad campaign. The company on Sunday launched a star-studded short film titled “Equality” to mark Black History Month. The ad features Nike-sponsored athletes LeBron James, Serena Williams, Kevin Durant, Gabby Douglas, among others, “amplifying their voices in an effort to uplift, open eyes and bring the positive values that sport can represent into wider focus,” the company said. Actor Michael B. Jordan voices the film, and singer Alicia Keys performs a rendition of Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come.” If we can be equals in sport, we can be equals everywhere. #EQUALITY— Nike (@Nike) February 12, 2017 “Is this the land history promised?” Jordan says. “Here, within these lines, on this concrete court, this patch of turf, here, you’re defined by your actions — not your looks or beliefs.” Nike will feature ads from the campaign on social media, billboards and posters throughout cities in the United States and Canada. It will also sell “Equality” branded T-shirts and shoes as part of its annual Black History Month collection. Apparel from the campaign will be worn by Nike athletes during NBA All-Star weekend. Nike said it is donating $5 million this year to organizations like MENTOR and PeacePlayers, which it says “advance equality in communities” across the country. Related: Pro-Trump boycott calls follow Super Bowl ads Nike’s new campaign comes one week after numerous companies launched ads about inclusion and acceptance during the Super Bowl. Budweiser, 84 Lumber, Coca-Cola (COKE), Airbnb, Kia and Tiffany (TIF) were among the brands that features messages about immigration, equality and environmentalism. — CNNMoney’s Ahiza Garcia contributed to this story.

Visa crackdown puts these rural doctors at risk

How Trump’s travel ban hits this South Dakota doctor
At his pediatrics practice in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Dr. Alaa Al Nofal sees up to 10 patients a day. He’s known some of them since they were born. Others, he still treats after they’ve graduated from high school. “I treat these children for Type 1 diabetes, thyroid problems, thyroid cancer, puberty disorders and adrenal gland diseases,” he said. Al Nofal’s expertise is critical. He is one of just five full-time pediatric endocrinologists in a 150,000 square-mile area that covers both South and North Dakota. Like most of rural America, it’s a region plagued by a shortage of doctors. “We’re very lucky to have Dr. Al Nofal here. We can’t afford to lose someone with his specialization,” said Cindy Morrison, chief marketing officer for Sanford Health, a non-profit health care system based in Sioux Falls that runs 300 hospitals and clinics in predominantly rural communities. Related: Visa ban could make doctor shortage in rural America even worse Yet, Sanford Health may lose Al Nofal and several other doctors who are crucial to its health care network. Dr. Alaa Al Nofal [here with a patient] is one of just five pediatric endocrinoloists in South and North Dakota combined. A Syrian citizen, Al Nofal is in Sioux Falls through a special workforce development program called the Conrad 30 visa waiver — which basically waives the requirement that doctors who complete their residency on a J-1 exchange visitor visa must return to their country of origin for two years before applying for another American visa. The Conrad 30 waiver allows him to stay in the U.S. for a maximum of three years as long as he commits to practicing in an area where there is a doctor shortage. After President Donald Trump issued a temporary immigration ban restricting people from seven Muslim-majority countries — including Syria — from entering the U.S., Al Nofal is unsure about his future in America. “We agree that something more has to be done to protect the country, but this executive order will have a negative effect on physicians from these countries who are badly needed across America,” said Al Nofal. “They may no longer want to practice in the United States.” The action is currently in legal limbo after a federal appeals court temporarily halted the ban. Related: Trump furious after court upholds block on travel ban Over the last 15 years, the Conrad 30 visa waiver has funneled 15,000 foreign physicians into underserved communities. Sanford Health has 75 physicians in total on these visa waivers and seven are from the countries listed in the executive order. “If we lost Dr. Al Nofal and our other J-1 physicians, we would be unable to fill critical gaps in access to health care for rural families,” said Sanford Health’s Morrison. And the ban could hurt the pipeline of new doctors, too. The Conrad 30 visa waiver program is fed by medical school graduates holding J-1 non-immigrant visas who have completed their residencies in the U.S. Cows in a field just outside of Sioux Falls. More than 6,000 medical trainees from foreign countries enroll every year in U.S. residency programs through J-1 visas. About 1,000 of these trainees are from countries caught up in the ban, according to the American Association of Medical Colleges. J-1 visa holders who were out of the country when the ban went into effect were prohibited from entering the U.S. and unable to start or finish school as long as the ban is in place. The State Department told CNNMoney that the government may issue J-1 visas to people who are from one of the blocked countries if it is of “national interest,” but would not confirm whether a doctor shortage would qualify for such consideration. “The stress and concern generated by the short-term executive order could have long-term implications, with fewer physicians choosing training programs in the states and subsequently magnifying the deficit in providers willing to practice in underserved and rural areas,” said Dr. Larry Dial, vice dean for clinical affairs at Marshall University’s school of medicine in Huntington, West Virginia. Related: Obamacare’s impact on this Alaska town with only one doctor’s office Al Nofal went to medical school in Damascus, Syria’s capital, and completed his residency at the University of Texas on a J-1 visa. He proceeded to a fellowship at the Mayo Clinic and then applied for a J-1 waiver, which placed him in Sioux Falls. Nineteen months into his three-year commitment, Al Nofal is either directly treating or serving as a consulting physician to more than 400 pediatric patients a month on average. He sees most of his patients at the Sanford Children’s Specialty Clinic in Sioux Falls, where families often drive hours for an appointment. Once a month, he flies in a small plane to see patients in a clinic in Aberdeen, about 200 miles away. Many of Dr. Al Nofal’s patients drive hours to see him at the Sanford Children’s Clinic in Sioux Falls.Once a month Dr. Nofal flies to Aberdeen, S.D. to see patients at an outreach clinic. “It’s not easy being a doctor in this setting,” said Al Nofal, citing the long hours and South Dakota’s famously frigid winters. “But as a physician, I’m trained to help people whatever the circumstances and I’m proud of it.” It’s one of the reasons why Al Nofal and his American wife Alyssa have struggled to come to terms with the visa ban. “I have a 10-month old baby and I can’t travel to Syria now. My family in Syria can’t come here,” he said. “Now my family can’t meet their first grandson.” “I know if we leave I probably can never come back,” he said. Neither does he want to travel anywhere in the country right now. “I’m afraid of how I will be treated,” he said. He’s also afraid he will be stopped at the airport — even if he’s traveling to another state. Related: Trump travel ban and what you need to know Almatmed Abdelsalam, who’s from Benghazi, Libya, had planned to start practicing as a family physician in Macon, Georgia, through the visa waiver program after he completed his residency at the University of Central Florida’s College of Medicine in July. Everything was going smoothly. Abdelsalam, who treats hospital patients and veterans, applied for the visa waiver and was accepted. He signed an employment contract with Magna Care, which provides physicians to three hospitals in the Macon area and he had started looking at houses to relocate himself, his wife and their two young kids over the summer. Dr. Almatmed Adbelsalam with his family. But there was one last step. For his J-1 waiver application to be fully completed, it needs to get final approval from the State Department and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. “The executive order came in the middle of that process, stalling my application at the State Department,” he said. Because he’s a Libyan citizen (Libya is also subject to the visa ban), Abdelsalam is fearful of the outcome. “The hospital in Macon urgently needs doctors. Even though they’ve hired me, I’m not sure how long they can wait for me,” he said. “No one can argue it’s necessary to keep the country safe, but we should also keep the country healthy,” he said. “Doctors like me, trained in the U.S. at some of the best schools, are an asset not a liability.”

Are we heading for another Greek debt crisis?

Eurozone vs. EU: What’s the difference?
How’s this for déjà vu? Another debt crisis is brewing in Europe. Greece needs European creditors to release cash from a bailout agreed in 2015 so it can make debt repayments, but officials are at loggerheads. Investors are starting to worry, demanding higher returns on Greek debt. Adding to the confusion is a warning from the International Monetary Fund that Greece’s debt is unsustainable and on an “explosive” path, an assessment that prevents the fund from participating in a rescue. The timing could hardly be worse. European leaders have a lot on their plate. Elections are looming in the Netherlands, France and Germany. Brexit negotiations will begin within weeks. Yet the threat of Greece tumbling out of the euro demands attention. Here’s why the next few weeks will be key: Hammer to fall Greece is running out of cash, but it needs to make repayments to creditors including the European Central Bank. Major bills are coming due in July. If Greece cannot make the payments, it will default on its debt and spiral out of the eurozone. Meanwhile, its latest bailout — the third since 2010 — is effectively frozen. The negotiating positions of major players are further apart than at any point since the bailout was agreed in June, 2015. There is even disagreement over the size of the problem facing Greece. “The IMF’s latest review of Greece’s debt position was surprisingly pessimistic,” said Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister who chairs meetings of top eurozone finance officials. “It’s surprising because Greece is already doing better than that report describes.” I want it all The IMF, Greece and creditors led by Germany all have very different priorities. Here’s what each wants: The IMF has called on Greece to make more ambitious changes to its economy, including labor market reforms. The IMF didn’t join the third bailout when first agreed in 2015 because it did not view Greece’s debt as being sustainable. It still maintains that Greece cannot be self sustaining without major debt relief. Greece’s main creditors agree that Athens should implement the reforms proposed by the IMF. However, they have categorically ruled out any debt relief, a position reiterated by eurozone finance officials on Tuesday. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, meanwhile, shows no sign of yielding to demands for additional reforms. He insists that debt relief is needed before any new concessions are made. It’s a classic standoff and investors are watching to see which party blinks first. Put out the fire The next major milestone is a meeting of eurozone finance ministers on Feb. 20 — the last before elections start muddying Europe’s political waters. Agreeing yet more financial aid for Greece will become even harder once voters start casting their ballots. After that, bills will start coming due. Greece faces a payment to the ECB of roughly €1.4 billion in late April and another €4.1 billion in July. The stake are high. The unemployment rate in Greece is expected to run above 21% in 2017. Investment is down by more than 60% and output has contracted by more than 25% since the financial crisis. The country’s social fabric is fraying. If European creditors refuse further help, Greece’s debt will spiral out of control no matter how quickly its economy grows, according to the IMF. That will leave only one option — abandoning the euro. Ted Malloch, President Trump’s expected choice for U.S. ambassador to the EU, told Greek television on Tuesday that the eurozone’s future would be decided in the next 18 months. “Certainly there will be a Europe, whether the eurozone survives, I think it’s very much a question that is on the agenda,” he said. “I think this time I would have to say that the odds are higher that Greece itself will break out of the euro.”

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