‘Hello Kitty’ Provides Decor for Japanese Bullet Train

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What the world does not need is the design scheme of West Japan Railway’s latest bullet train:  It’s Hello Kitty theme extends from the exterior to interior carpets, seat covers and… too much more to mention. Even that much is too much, some contend, as the railway strives to boost tourism (simply to see Hello Kitty every time you turn around?).

This sounds like a scheme cooked up by ‘salary men’ (office workers) as they alcoholically transition from the work day to the commute home.

Hello Kitty, a pink and white cartoon character created in 19974 by Yuko Shimizu, has, according to Vogue, has ever since been “beloved” by the Japanese. The character’s image has been imposed on “everything from coin purses to backpacks, vending machines, and now, a hurtling technological marvel”.

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Americans often perceive Japanese (and Chinese) people to be “inscrutable” – hard to comprehend. While many Americans have been sucked into the Hello Kitty promotional cess pool, remember that, when all is said again, Hello Kitty is nothing, really, but a marketing device – and a rather silly one at that.

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What, at the end of the day, is the character meant to be portraying? Happiness? Silliness? Cuteness?

Once there was one ‘happy face’ image. Now there’s a bunches of them. Some have obvious meanings. Many don’t.

Interpersonal communication is becoming ever more complicated. Trying to make sense of what this or that person, this or that media outlet, is really trying to tell you, is getting tougher and tougher.

Young adults today seem to have a lot of trouble communicating with others  —  of their own age group and others. They don’t seem to understand that [1] complete sentences are communicative; fractional ones aren’t; [2] offering fractional answers without referring, clearly, to the question, is not communicating; (Are you in that much of a hurry to get on to…?)

While using a real or imagined animal for promotional purposes is hardly new – think the Geico insurance company’s mascot – we can only hope the Hello Kitty bullet train barely survives its initial 3-month trial run. To the annoyance of many, the talking gecko carries on years after it was introduced in 2005.

But its reign may be coming to an end: When Irish actor Jake Wood was axed from the gecko-voice roll in late 2015, fans (fans??) took to Twitter to complain, and it’s rumored they still haven’t taken well to the replacement voice. Me? I wouldn’t know: I have no interest in car insurance commercials; particularly Geico ones!

 

 

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More Than A Little About Lidl

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A year ago, Germany-based grocer Lidl ‘invaded’ the United States. The company (whose name is pronounced Leedl ) originally set its initial US goal at 100 stores. That was scaled back, early this year, to 50. There presently are Lidl stores in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, with more stores pending in New York’s Staten Island, New Jersey, Delaware, and Georgia.

The up-coming stores are likely to be closer to the company’s 15,000-20,000 sq ft (1393-1858 sq m) European model, for a few reasons:

(1) The US stores, judging from the one I’ve visited (several times), are seriously trying to do too much, as almost-full-service supermarkets, than they can deliver;

(2) they dedicate 12-25% of their floor space to nonfood items that might, might, generate high enough profits to justify the company’s investment in them… but they might not; and

(3) while in-store bakeries certainly are a potential draw, Lidl’s scratch versions – as opposed to bakeries doing bake-off of frozen or otherwise-‘almost-finished’ products, involve serious up-front and ongoing investments. And using only Europe-inspired recipes oay not be as good an idea as Lidl executives imagined, because European and American tastes differ.

A company website notes that, “At Lidl, our bread and baked goods are authentic European quality and they are always oven fresh because we bake several times a day. Take a deep breath – that smell is our croissants oven-baked on site! We melt the right amount of butter, dash the perfect amount of salt, and layer each luxurious taste to be the perfect flaky bite. The baked goods are made using the original recipes and baking processes that we perfected across Europe.”

Something Lidl may never (so far) have been recognized for is the quality of its shopping carts. Beyond the now-standard area for small, delicate items, their cars feature handles that are heavier than the types usually found at US supermarkets, and Lidl’s handles have shaped, plastic grips for the user’s hands. While the carts feel sturdy, they are easy to maneuver, and seem to be constructed so as to not face the fate of so many carts: jammed or broken wheels.

The care and attention that went into designing those carts wasn’t exercised when the entry into US market was planned.

While generally some 35% larger than their European counterparts, Lidl’s US stores’ shopping areas don’t employ space efficiently. Aisles are too wide, compared to most US supermarkets; the first-in-view produce section features multiple displays of some items and, in mid-June, had no available peaches – a serious summertime favorite across the US. (Meanwhile, a roadside stand a few miles up the road from the Danville VA Lidl was offering “South Carolina Peaches”); Non-food bins, which feature ‘specials’ on Thursdays and Sundays, were empty on Saturday – a huge waste of space and, no doubt, many missed opportunities to sell something – anything.

Americans like prepared foods. Lidl doesn’t, one must assume, like to sell prepared foods, at least not in assortments Americans are used to. Oddly, one of the widest ranges of packaged foods comprises sauces destined, as per package directions, to be used to turn plain pieces of chicken into Indian-Indian – as opposed to Native American “Indians” – dishes. It would amaze me if there’s an even middling demand for Indian food in Danville, population 42,000  or so, where there’s nothing vaguely resembling an Indian restaurant or Asian food market within 40 minutes (in Greensboro, NC, of all places!).

This Lidl offers frozen Indian entrees, as well. A generous assessment assumes they must sell, because the display is always well-stocked. (Alternatively, these long-shelf-life items, prepared in Canada, may not be selling well at all – but let’s  give the benefit of the doubt and assume stock is turning over nicely!)

Given the amount of space dedicated to them, Lidl clearly loves to sell cookies, packaged crackers and similar snack foods: The company’s Danville store has oodles of them.

The bring-your-own–bags – or buy Lidl’s for a few cents each – system seems to be widely accepted by shoppers. (I keep a bag full of Lidl bags in the trunk of my car so when I’m in Danville, I’m prepared. On my most recent visit, a departing customer tossed me a few Lidl bags he didn’t need, so I added them to my ‘bag stash’.)

I live an hour’s drive from that store, so I visit only when I’m in Danville for another reason. So I can’t report on day-to-day traffic there. Press reports have said the company hasn’t been converting fans of other local supermarkets – of which there are not a wide assortment in Danville – to Lidl regulars.

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My visit earlier this month was either the ideal time for encountering little in-store traffic… or a portend of problems to come: There were very few shoppers, at 5:30 on a Saturday afternoon. But the good news is, for Lidl, many of the few were loading carts with well over $100 in merchandise. That’s four to five times what a press report a few months ago said the average Lidl ‘buy’ was.

I like Lidl. It employs some clever time- and cost-savers such as price-labeling your own bakery and produce items. (Walmart’s self-checkouts require one to try to figure out how some produce items are listed in the system – corn, peppers, and chilies can be problematic  — or enter the PLU code. The latter often are as hard to locate as the product-look-up system is to navigate. Not so at Lidl.

A few months ago, writing in Forbes, noted retail analyst Walter Loeb  wondered why, rather than spreading stores from New Jersey to Georgia, Lidl hasn’t focused on a more condensed area and positioned stores closer together. The current scatter-shop positioning, he noted, makes it hard for any store to have more than a very local impact.

Well, the company recently appointed a new head of the US operation, a 15-year veteran of Lidl, and he’ll no doubt put that experience to good use getting Lidl USA back on the track envisioned by envisioned by Klaus Gehrig, director of the Schwarz-Group, which owns Lidl.

On average, competitors have lowered prices more than 9% in markets where Lidl sets up shop. That   suggests US consumers have every reason to hope Schwarz-Group becomes more profitable thanks to Lidl USA.

 

 

Filling In Where Food Retailers Drop Out

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Growing plants at Watson, Inc. for the West Haven (CT) Emergency Assistance Taskforce

While hardly a new phenomenon, community gardens currently are thriving across the US – and in several instances, they are doing what supermarkets are failing to do: Provide fresh food choices to people in ‘food deserts’ – areas where fresh produce is hard to come by.

I remember years ago – more than four decades ago, in fact  — some ambitious soul was growing sweet corn (maize) on a patch of barely-soil in between two pairs of subway tracks in Harlem, New York City. The tracks at that point are elevated, probably 40 feet (12 m) above Broadway. Despite the poor soil quality, the corn was thriving.

Similarly ambitious entities – some simply private citizens, others organized in one or another fashion – are providing food servings and sometimes space for community members to grow food for themselves and their families across the country.

Feeding Food Banks

In the town of Orange CT, Watson, Inc., which is primarily in the business of producing nutritional enrichment and similar products for food processors, four years ago opened what it calls its fellowship garden, where food is grown for food banks.

The company provides 4,800 plants each year, and those not used are donated to the food bank for use in its gardens.

More recently, having space to spare, the company created a garden where children with autism spectrum issues can grow pumpkins, melons and other items.

Christina Cole, 47, a graphic designer at Watson told The Guardian: “The plot for Milestones Behavioural Services gives kids with autism and developmental disabilities the chance to not only have fun and be outside, but also learn life skills and take home what they grow and learn to cook with their families.”

This year, they’re adding a corn maze to that garden, she noted.

Hunger, Often Hidden, Is Too Common

The Connecticut Food Bank told The  Guardian that one in eight citizens struggle with hunger.

In Louisville, KY, a non-profit restaurant called The Table is run by volunteers who use food grown in urban gardens in the Portland neighborhood. Founded by Pastor Larry Stoess and his wife, Kathie, along with John Howard, a volunteer, the restaurant was featured in AARP The Magazine’s April/May edition.

In 2016, the State Fair of Texas introduced Big Tex Urban Farms, a revolutionary, mobile agriculture system in the heart of Fair Park.

As a testing ground for the project, the Fair used an 80-by-80-foot area normally used to house the Gateway Pavilion during the State Fair season. Employees from various departments worked with a Fair Park TX-area company to develop 100 raised planting beds created out of products normally used for packaging and shipping.

Promoting Healthy Lifestyles

By the end of 2016, the project proved itself to be a successful experiment by investing financial and human capital into immediate Fair Park neighborhoods and companies. It connects like-minded agriculture entities and provides fresh, organic produce to organizations focused on hunger and healthy lifestyle programs.

This year, the project expects to grow more than 5,900 pounds of fresh produce, 77,882 total servings, 11,230 heads of lettuce, and, oddly, 303 eggs.

Considering the dynamics of Fair Park’s numerous events and National Historic Landmark designation, developing a mobile solution for the farm was imperative to the program’s success. Through a partnership with General Packaging Corporation, the urban farm’s 40-by-48-inch beds were designed and manufactured by a Fair Park-area company. Each bed, created with a shipping-pallet base, is easily constructed by one person, optimized for storage, and moved by forklift.

Throughout the growing season, all produce (more than 6,000 fruits and vegetables) was donated to Fair Park-area organizations including the Baylor Scott & White Health and Wellness Institute in the Mill City neighborhood, Cornerstone Baptist Church, and Austin Street Shelter.

As of 2017, Big Tex Urban Farms has grown to 520 boxes, a 15×30-foot-deep (4.5 x 9m) water culture bed capable of producing more than 20,000 greens a year, and various community locations throughout South Dallas.

One recipient, Glenda Cunningham, of the Baylor Scott and White health and wellness center, praised the project’s work. “The community looks forward to the Big Tex urban farm delivery each week. The food is fresh, free and beautiful,” she told The Guardian.

 

FDA OK’s A Medicine Tablet That Monitors When It Is Consumed; It Then Reports to a Cell Phone!

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Imagine this: You suffer from schizophrenia – a chronic condition described by the National Institute of Mental Health as “a severe mental disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves.” You’ve been prescribed medication to deal with the condition’s symptoms, but because of them, you aren’t always ‘religious’ about taking your meds when you are supposed to.

Not long ago, for a majority of schizophrenics, that could have posed serious problems for you – such as causing you to react to symptoms your meds would have controlled. A few years ago, though, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began overseeing tests of a new drug that sound like something straight out of science fiction: Called Abilify MyCite, it comes in tablets that contain an ingestible sensor that records – and sends to a skin patch – info on when the drug was taken. The skin patch can then transmit the information to a smartphone or computer.

But because there may be delays in transmission and/or reception of that information, specialists should not attempt to track Abilify MyCite in “real time”. Still, this is a remarkable medical advance that, earlier this week, was approved for general use by the FDA.

Being able to track ingestion of medications prescribed for mental illness may be useful for some patients,” said Mitchell Mathis, M.D., director of the Division of Psychiatry Products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “The FDA supports the development and use of new technology in prescription drugs and is committed to working with companies to understand how technology might benefit patients and prescribers.”

The FDA’s press release noted that roughly 1% of Americans have been identified as being schizophrenic. Typically, symptoms are first seen in adults younger than 30 years of age. Symptoms of those with schizophrenia include hearing voices, believing other people are reading their minds or controlling their thoughts, and being suspicious or withdrawn. Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is another brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. It, too, can be treated with Abilify MyCite.

The symptoms of bipolar disorder include alternating periods of depression and high or irritable mood, increased activity and restlessness, racing thoughts, talking fast, impulsive behavior and a decreased need for sleep.

Abilify MyCite contains a Boxed Warning alerting healthcare professionals that elderly patients with dementia-related psychosis treated with antipsychotic drugs are at an increased risk of death. Abilify MyCite is not approved to treat patients with dementia-related psychosis. The Boxed Warning also warns about an increased risk of suicidal thinking and behavior in children, adolescents and young adults taking antidepressants. The safety and effectiveness of Abilify MyCite have not been established in pediatric patients. Patients should be monitored for worsening and emergence of suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Abilify MyCite must be dispensed with a patient Medication Guide that describes important information about the drug’s uses and risks.

In the clinical trials for Abilify, the most common side effects reported by adults taking Abilify were nausea, vomiting, constipation, headache, dizziness, uncontrollable limb and body movements (akathisia), anxiety, insomnia, and restlessness. Skin irritation at the site of the MyCite patch placement may occur in some patients.

Prior to initial patient use of the product, the patient’s health care professional should facilitate use of the drug, patch and app to ensure the patient is capable and willing to use the system.

Abilify was first approved by the FDA in 2002 to treat schizophrenia. The ingestible sensor used in Abilify MyCite was first permitted for marketing by the FDA in 2012.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today approved the first drug in the U.S. with a digital ingestion tracking system. Abilify MyCite (aripiprazole tablets with sensor) has an ingestible sensor embedded in the pill that records that the medication was taken. The product is approved for the treatment of schizophrenia, acute treatment of manic and mixed episodes associated with bipolar I disorder and for use as an add-on treatment for depression in adults.

The system works by sending a message from the pill’s sensor to a wearable patch. The patch transmits the information to a mobile application so that patients can track the ingestion of the medication on their smartphone. Patients can also permit their caregivers and physician to access the information through a web-based portal.

Being able to track ingestion of medications prescribed for mental illness may be useful for some patients,” said Mitchell Mathis, M.D., director of the Division of Psychiatry Products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “The FDA supports the development and use of new technology in prescription drugs and is committed to working with companies to understand how technology might benefit patients and prescribers.”

It is important to note that Abilify MyCite’s prescribing information (labeling) notes that the ability of the product to improve patient compliance with their treatment regimen has not been shown. Abilify MyCite should not be used to track drug ingestion in “real-time” or during an emergency because detection may be delayed or may not occur. 

Schizophrenia is a chronic, severe and disabling brain disorder. About 1 percent of Americans have this illness. Typically, symptoms are first seen in adults younger than 30 years of age. Symptoms of those with schizophrenia include hearing voices, believing other people are reading their minds or controlling their thoughts, and being suspicious or withdrawn. Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is another brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. The symptoms of bipolar disorder include alternating periods of depression and high or irritable mood, increased activity and restlessness, racing thoughts, talking fast, impulsive behavior and a decreased need for sleep.

Abilify MyCite contains a Boxed Warning alerting healthcare professionals that elderly patients with dementia-related psychosis treated with antipsychotic drugs are at an increased risk of death. Abilify MyCite is not approved to treat patients with dementia-related psychosis. The Boxed Warning also warns about an increased risk of suicidal thinking and behavior in children, adolescents and young adults taking antidepressants. The safety and effectiveness of Abilify MyCite have not been established in pediatric patients. Patients should be monitored for worsening and emergence of suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Abilify MyCite must be dispensed with a patient Medication Guide that describes important information about the drug’s uses and risks.

In the clinical trials for Abilify, the most common side effects reported by adults taking Abilify were nausea, vomiting, constipation, headache, dizziness, uncontrollable limb and body movements (akathisia), anxiety, insomnia, and restlessness. Skin irritation at the site of the MyCite patch placement may occur in some patients.

Prior to initial patient use of the product, the patient’s health care professional should facilitate use of the drug, patch and app to ensure the patient is capable and willing to use the system.

Abilify was first approved by the FDA in 2002 to treat schizophrenia. The ingestible sensor used in Abilify MyCite was first permitted for marketing by the FDA in 2012.

To bison, a ‘discouraging word’ is a helicopter’s repeating ‘whoosh’

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Something wonderful may be on the hooves of happening in Colorado: There’s a move afoot to open land adjacent to Denver’s international airport – which occupies a calf-sized chunk of the 50 square miles (129.5 sq km) it occupies – to the US’s largest, and closest-to-being-extinct mammal – the bison.

Often erroneously called ‘buffalo’, these four-hooved monsters can weight more than 2,000 pounds (907 kg). They once roamed the Great Plains in the tens of millions. But over-hunting, aided by human population growth resulting from the westward expansion of what would become the transcontinental railroad, when “hunting by rail” was a popular sport, which left countless bison rotting where they were dropped, cut sharply into their numbers. The population decline persisted well into the second half of the 20th century. Then the federal government, recognizing (at long last!) that the nation’s ‘National Mammal’ was at serious risk of fading out if existence, placed restrictions on killing them, and slowly the population began to recover.

Now, thanks to several federal programs (including severe penalties for killing them) their numbers are continuing to increase – but at a rough count of around 30,000 in total, they continue to need all the protection they can get to return to something like their former majestic population.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service is coordinating efforts across several federal agencies to give the giants of the plains back land that was once all theirs. As much as 200 acres (81 hectares, abbreviated as 81 ha) of the Denver Airport property is expected to opened up to bison grazing through an expansion of their ‘reservation,’ as it were, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge. No timetable has been established for the plan, but it has been noted by the feds that, while the local bison would no doubt by happy to have all that land to themselves, since they don’t need such a large grazing area (in addition to the land they already call home), their population is due to be supplemented by bison from elsewhere in the west.

Sadly, or fortunately, saving the bison isn’t the only aim of opening up more grazing land for them: They’re also seen as a tourist attraction – something to (hopefully) be visible to arriving and departing airline passengers.

It’s likely that some enterprising person will also arrange for helicopter flights over the area for paying passengers, for their photographing pleasure. Never mind the fact that some enterprising individual or company will overlook the fact that the helicopters’ whoop-whoop-whoop aural signature will tend to frighten the animals more than the railroad apparently did.

It’s sad how often man does something good, then shoots himself in the foot: Bison are used to a quiet environment. Having an airport as a neighbor is bad enough, but having helicopters flying the photograph-mad masses over their heads is likely to be more than some will be able to bare – causing them to go back where they came from: The far more peaceful Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge.

Paper Towels As Hurricane Relief

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Paper towels: Really? That’s what the president of the United States offers as ‘help’ to Puerto Ricans whose homes, whose whole island, was essentially destroyed by Hurricane Maria. That’s precisely what he threw, by the roll, to crowds in San Juan on his October 3rd visit to the island.

The 3.5 million people there – American citizens because this country saw the island as a good defense post and ‘adopted’ it in 1898 under terms of the Treaty of Paris — was devastated by Maria, leaving most of the main island, and its smaller related neighbors, with no electricity, no water, no properly functioning services of any kind.

In my youth, in my early 20’s, as a new resident of New York City, I developed an intense dislike of Puerto Ricans because I saw them as freeloaders seeking to suck the greatest possible amount of milk and honey from the ‘American dream’ and ship it back to PR.

Sometimes it’s hard, particularly when you’re young, to separate the people from the territory where they call home. It’s especially hard to make that distinction when you regularly hear how Puerto Ricans come to New York City, go on welfare (public assistance) and then, some months later, take the bulk of their hardly-earned, taxpayer-funded ‘loot’ back to their island paradise.

Well, Puerto Rico is hardly a paradise now. But it is home to some 3.4 million American citizens facing a serious crisis that will, in all likelihood, continue ceaselessly well into 2018. Imagine trying to survive with little or no drinkable water, no electricity, severe food shortages, and scarce medical services. (Hospitals depend heavily on electricity to accomplish their life saving missions.)

On my sole visit to Puerto Rico, in the late 1960’s, I met many hard-working, peace-loving citizens. I’ve met and worked many like them in the years since then. No longer an innocent youth, I have come to have more than a little sympathy for members of an island community entitled to pay taxes to Washington but not allowed to fully participate as American citizens – they have no voting rights for national officials (congressmen, senators or the president) so long as they remain on the island. But Puerto Ricans living on the mainland do have full voting rights. (Go figure!)

When President Trump told Puerto Rico aid in the face of their disaster was slow in coming “because we have to take care of Americans first,” he was not only wrong, he was insensitive. In other words, he was acting fully in character.

Paper Bag or … What? Plastic Ones Are Getting Banned

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Shoppers in Kenya use an estimated 100 million plastic bags a year, many of which wind up in landfills like this one in Nairobi. Credit: Ben Curtis/Associated Press

A few decades ago – sometime in the ’80’s – I attended a competition at an A&P supermarket on Eighth Avenue in Manhattan. It was a face off between baggers using paper versus plastic bags. The winner’s name (and bag type) is long lost to history. ‘Just as well, too, as the whole idea was ill conceived – as, it turns out, was the idea of introducing plastic bags in supermarkets.

An increasing number of American communities are, or are considering, banning them altogether. England instituted a 5p (pence) per bag charge a few years ago – resulting in a drop of more than 75% in the use of them within a year.

Then there’s Kenya. That country, with a population of 48.5 million, used to use something approaching 100 million plastic grocery bags a year. No more. It is now illegal to either manufacture in or import plastic bags to that country. Even visitors are required to leave plastic bags containing duty free goods at their port of entry – usually the international airport in Nairobi.

The accumulations of plastic bags in land fills had reached an alarming level. So had the death of cattle who’d ingested plastic bags.

The New York Times reported that, “The new rule, announced in March and put into effect on Monday August 28), also means that garbage bags will be taken off supermarket shelves and visitors entering Kenya will be required to leave their duty-free shopping bags at the airport.

Kenya joins more than 40 other countries including China, the Netherlands and France that have introduced taxes on bags or limited or prohibited their use,” The Times noted.

In Rwanda, plastic bags are illegal, and visitors are searched at the airport. As noted, Britain introduced a 5 pence charge at stores in 2015, leading to a plunge of more than 80 percent in the use of plastic bags. There are no nationwide restrictions on the use of plastic bags in the United States, though states like California and Hawaii ban nonbiodegradable bags.

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Fruit and vegetable sellers were at a loss for how to market their produce, and some residents mistook ordinary traffic controllers for law enforcement officials looking to punish consumers who violated the new law. In informal settlements, where most of the city’s residents live, plastic bags are used as “flying toilets” — holding human waste in the absence of a proper sewage system.

Judy Wakhungu, Kenya’s environment minister, tried to allay people’s fears, telling Reuters that the ban was primarily aimed at manufacturers and suppliers. “Ordinary wananchi will not be harmed,” she said, using a Kiswahili word for “common person.”

Kenya tried to ban the use of plastic bags in 2007 and 2011, but the limits were not put in place.

The new regulations call for a fine of $19,000 to $38,000 or a four-year jail term for those manufacturing or importing plastic bags in Kenya. Plastics used in primary industrial packaging are exempt, according to the National Environment Management Authority, although it said that the new regulation would prohibit retailers from selling garbage bags.

Kenyans have had several months to adjust to the idea of the new rules, a period during which big supermarket chains like Nakumatt and the French multinational retail giant Carrefour began offering cloth bags instead of plastic. The country’s High Court last week rejected a case filed by two plastic bag importers to drop the ban, saying that protecting the environment was more important than the companies’ commercial interests.

Please also check out our other blog, FoodTradeTrends.com. Between, them, these two blogs have reached at least 90 countries.